How cool your jeans were is one of the ridiculous things – amongst many – that I remember from my teenage years. I think everyone growing up in the ’90s remembers the pursuit of brand-name jeans: Guess, Levi’s, B.U.M. Equipment, and Bugle Boy are a handful of brands I can remember.
You could easily tell who had Guess jeans by the red-outlined, white triangle on the back-right pocket. Wearing Guess jeans was probably the biggest deal among the girls, especially red ones (why red mattered, I’ll never know). Among the boys, I vividly remember the great debate about the colour of the tab on a person’s Levi’s jeans. Yes, a folded piece of coloured ribbon was the make or break for a person’s social standing.
If a kid at school had silver tab Levi’s jeans, you knew they were loaded (well, their parents were loaded). Red tab carried a respectable status (thanks, Mom, for unknowingly helping my rep) but orange tab? That put you on the lowest rung of the social ladder. The only way for you to get any lower was to wear black, orange tab jeans that were actually a hideous grey because your mom sent them through the dryer. I remember we had a shop teacher in junior high who wore faded black/grey orange tab Levi’s and I thought, “Phew, at least I’m not that guy.”
I laugh as I think about how preposterous that was and how ironic it is that faded black jeans are in style today (they won’t be shortly after I publish this of course). It makes me wonder what really matters to teenagers today and what life will be like for my kids in 10 years. A colleague of mine told me about her teenage daughter’s experience and it seems that this current generation of teenagers are much more accepting of people’s self-expression through fashion, appearance, and what they find interesting. I won’t say gone are the days of teenagers judging one another and being jerks (it’s become easier and more damaging in a lot of ways), but it does seem like the “nerd culture” of whatever you’re into – books, coding, games, fashion, cars, drama, astronomy, music, food, science, and so on – has gained an overall mainstream acceptance.
Which makes me optimistic that we’re moving along the right path as a society. I’m hopeful that today’s teenagers will become tomorrow’s great leaders who recognize the value in diversity of interests, experience, and thought. And I believe we’re seeing it more each day as this next generation of leaders finds its voice online and in the world. As adults, the role and responsibility we have is to model and support the behaviour. Because fundamentally it doesn’t matter how “cool” your jeans are, what matters is how good of a person you are and what you bring to the table.