Mainstream fashion in the 1990s was highly brand-oriented--much of the statement the wearer chose to project was based on prominent name or logo emblazoned across every emblazonable area of a garment. It was as if 90s fashion was an insecure pre-adolescent, constantly seeking to reaffirm its worth by donning extremely visible status symbols. Children of the 90s often wore their affiliations on their sleeves; in this case, literally.
Of course, it was not only brand name endorsements that drove clothing status and potentially determined your place in the cafeteria and/or grade school popularity pecking order. In some cases, people relied on bold declaration of support for a sport team as their affiliation of choice. And when I say bold, well, I mean bold.
Let's be honest with ourselves here: 90s fashion was never one for subtlety. As much as we try to defend our childhood fashion mishaps, in retrospect it is fairly apparent that many of these clothing choices were at best misguided. In numbers disproportionate with the style's actual appeal, these unfortunate clothing choices frequently feature the once-coveted Starter Jacket. They were not flattering or even particularly comfortable, but dammit they were socially significant. Who was I, a mere fifth grader, to question the wind-and-rain resistant hooded power of the almighty Starter Jacket?
For your reference (that is, in case a time machine ever mysteriously drops you back in the 90s and requires you make quick-witted fashion decisions), here are some of the major components that made Starter Jackets universally attractive to young people in the 1990s:
1. They were expensive
While this may seem like a deterrent, it usually gave brands the allure of exclusivity. In actuality, the real deterrent was to our parents, who justifiably questioned the need to shell out vast wads of cash for a glorified windbreaker. Anyone who has a child, has met a child, or was ever a child themselves can verify that a parent's disapproval is the number one contributing factor to making anything immensely attractive. In the case of Starter jackets, it just took one or two spoiled brats at our schools to start the wave of inevitable begging and temper tantrums on every subsequent trip to the mall or sporting goods store. Sure, it was mildly demeaning to throw yourself screaming and crying onto the floor at the Sports Chalet, but it wasn't about the process. It was about the purchase.
2. They were ostentatious
Now more aptly classified as obnoxious, this level of eye-stabbery was once considered a good thing. The team colors were never muted or subtle, rather they were vibrant to the point of necessitating protective eyewear. The point was to show your commitment to a team as publicly as possible. If someone could not identify which team you rooted for from a distance of at least 100 yards, you probably weren't all that dedicated of a fan.
Of course, some team's color schemes were more desirable than others. You weren't putting yourself out on much of a limb by selecting a blue, white, and silver Dallas Cowboys puffy confection-style coat (pictured above), but God forbid you were a serious Charlotte Hornets fan. Sentencing yourself a long winter spent in flamboyant Teal and Purple was a risky choice, though it certainly showed admirable team loyalty. Extra credit for wearing it with matching Zubaz.
Rapper Omarion obviously doesn't shy away from broadcasting his flamboyantly-colored Hornets allegiance, even more than a decade later
3. They easily associated you with popular sports teams while requiring no input of personal athleticism
In essence, you acquired immediate and undeserving street credibility merely by purchasing an overhyped jacket demonstrating your support for a specific team. If the popular kids on the playground were huge Chicago Bulls fans and you showed up one day sporting one of these red-and-black nylon monstrosities parading as outerwear, you were in. Of course, many would consider that route to be sort of a cop out, as it was generally safe to select a universally beloved team behind which to heave your support. The true rebels would pick a team relatively disparate to their geographic location. We could only assume these kids really knew a thing or two about football or basketball to have selected favorites outside of the easy "root-for-the-home-team" alliance paradigms most of us adhered to. More likely, they just had parents who grew up elsewhere.
4. They had enormous pockets
This might not seem like much now, but as a child this was a fairly important feature. Imagine the toys and distractions you could smuggle into math class with one of these babies. It certainly had more than ample room to accommodate a splat of Nickelodeon Floam, a Tamagotchi, a pack of Dunkaroos, a jawbreaker, and an egg of glow in the dark Silly Putty. What more could you really ask for?
5. They resisted everything
We're not just talking wind and rain here. These jackets were actually poufy enough to deflect rogue snowballs or frisbees. Starter jackets were not only made of water-resistant material, they were also voluminous to a point of making children appear distinctly Oompa Loompa-ish in silhouette. The only thing they couldn't fully protect you from was the shame of choosing the wrong team.
These days, when you're sporting your demure baseball caps and quiet jerseys, just remember the path of loud fandom from which you came. Try as you might to deny your flashy Starter roots, the popularity of the photo scanner will likely replant these junior high memories into wince-inducing flashback Facebook albums. So be proud, children of the 90s. Your childhood selves certainly were in their outlandish displays of loud jacket-based team support.