At least once a year, someone like
does a feature about, “What’s up with teenagers, anyway?” They always wind up asking kids a load of horseshit questions like, “Do you think you have enough free time?” or “Are you worried about college?” They never get to the stuff that matters like, “What are punks wearing these days?” or “What happened to all the metalheads?” or “Who’s zoomin’ who?”
We were sick of this media blackout, so we went out to
contributor Chris Nieratko’s store, NJskateshop, to ask
some local kids what the current high school scene is like. Then we asked some kids who started school ten years ago to tell us what the deal was when they were in high school in the same area (northern New Jersey). Then we went even further and asked a few ancient dudes (30 and 31 years old) to tell us what it was like back in the Paleolithic era. Basically, this is cultural anthropology but about stuff that we give a shit about.
Let’s start with the old and work up to the new…
1989 - 1993
Both guy and girl guidos (guidas?) wore almost nothing but Z. Cavaricci button-up shirts and pants (those ones that bunch down into the crotch like it’s a black hole). Sometimes the ladies would mix it up with a tasteful-by-comparison Benetton combo. Both genders used an obscene amount of product in their hair, though to opposite effect: The guys gelled theirs into slick, impenetrable black helmets while the gals sprayed theirs out as high and wide as it would go, framing in their excessive makeup. All guidos adorned their exposed cleavage with gold cross necklaces, and they always had shoes on that were way too fancy to wear to school—usually leather loafer-type things with shiny buckles for the guys, heels for the ladies. The guys all drove suped-up Trans Ams from which they would blast the early favorites of the 90s mainstream house scene (LaBouche, Snap, and C+C Music Factory).
The girls mostly caught rides from the dudes. A lot of the guys were juicing to aid their body-building, and made a little extra car-money by selling off their excess ’roids to the jocks. Along with some of the football players and the burnouts, the guido guys were the only honest-to-god tough kids at school, though most of the fights they’d get into were with each other. Unless you’ve been avoiding TV for the past 20 years, you should already have some idea of how relentlessly yappy the girls were.
Punks and Hardcore Kids:
The kids into punk and those into hardcore were definitely distinct elements, but because there were so few of each they were all generally buds and hung out together. Also, because the suburbs were still really tame back then and just wearing a bunch of buttons was enough to be considered “weird,” both crews’ looks were very subdued. Typically, just jeans and a band shirt, then a pair Vans or Docs, were enough to make you a punk alternateen. Nobody gave a shit about either the skinhead thing with the Docs or any sort of “skate cred” with the Vans like in some other places. They were just fucking shoes. The kids who were more into skateboarding would wear looser clothes and shoes like Vision Streetwear or Skate Rags and Ghetto Wear.
The chief differences within the big group were that the hardcore kids were generally into NY guys like Agnostic Front, Youth of Today, and the Cro-Mags, and they shaved their heads. The punks pretty unanimously rocked a haircut we called “the Surge” (hair trimmed down really short except for one swooping bang across the eye) and were big on classics like the Exploited, the Misfits, and Dead Kennedys. DRI was also really huge with the punks (people were always doing that stupid fucking dance from the logo). Roughly 99 percent of the punks and HC kids were straight-edge, so “party-time” generally consisted of going to shows, playing shows, or sitting around at the Chicken Holiday where there was a curb to skate. (Though that’s not to say they wouldn’t show up at parties thrown at the local clay pits.) These kids would every so often borrow the parental car, but their transportation was mostly limited to skating, bikes, and walking.
For some reason during this period, drama club was a haven for latterday Deadheads and early 90s hippie revivalists. Maybe it was something to do with herd mentality or a collective response to acid experimentation, but everybody who got involved with theater ended up in tie-dyed Doors shirts and torn-up jeans or those loose hippie dresses, smoking weed out behind the aforementioned Chicken Holiday.
There was a tiny goth contingency, almost entirely female, who were buds with a lot of the punk kids. Bauhaus and its assorted offshoots were still their big musical guys, though there was also a lot of support for folks like Nitzer Ebb and
Pretty Hate Machine
-era NIN. Both girls and guys shied away from ostentatious deathrock-y stuff and just wore really long and blousy black shirts and dresses, the bare minimum of makeup, and long and tangly dyed black hair. They also often did this haircut where they would make a tight ponytail and then shave everything below it in the back. The general vibe could be pretty well summed up as “witchy.” There was a fair amount of crossover between them and the theater kids, which was probably either the result of or paved the way for their occasional dabbling in acid.
For all the importance placed on football, you’d have thought we were going to school in mid-50s Texas. A little bit of Z. Cavaricci would sneak into the mix when jocks were feeling classy, but for the most part they dressed in t-shirts, jeans, and their varsity jackets. They kept their hair short and in gelled spikes and acted like they owned the place. They got up to more shit than the popular kids, who had to worry about not pissing off their parents to keep up their financial support, but weren’t quite as tough or balls-out as the guidos, presumably because they didn’t want to fuck up their place on the team.
The jocks were also generally more working-class than the straight-up popular kids, so instead of a brand-new Jetta they’d usually drive some parental hand-me-down like an old Buick or their father’s Oldsmobile. Also for some reason, every time they hosted a party you were guaranteed to hear most, if not all, of the Eagles’ Greatest Hits.
Mainly longhaired dudes in tight jeans and denim jackets. The other key components of their outfits were ratty Reeboks or work boots and a hair metal shirt, typically either Def Leppard or Bon Jovi. There was a subsection of burnouts who were into heavier shit like Slayer and Sepultura, as established by their shirts, and were a little more sullen and intense-seeming than the rest of their ilk. A lot of the burnouts were walkers, but those who had wheels either had old 70s muscle cars they tooled up in auto class (where they could smoke) or trucks with huge fucking tires they’d take out mudding in the woods. They were easily responsible for the bulk of the school’s weed, acid, and pills consumption.
If the popular kids’ style was just a toned-down take on the guidos’, these guys were the next step down the restraint chain. They stuck with plain jeans and button-ups or sweatshirts and Reeboks with the tongue sticking out over unrolled cuffs. Because it was kind of a small school, there wasn’t that much shit being dished out to these guys from the popular kids and the jocks, and a lot of them would make stalwart showings at bigger house and pit parties.
STEVE LENARDO, SAYREVILLE NEW JERSEY HIGH SCHOOL CLASS OF 1992
DRAWINGS BY MILANO CHOW
1996 - 2000
Jocks and Cheerleaders:
The de facto heads of the school. The guys who were on the team took football really seriously, but nobody else gave a shit. About half the guys and girls in this group weren’t really involved sports, and could better be described as something like “friends of jocks.” This was at the height of that baggy, vibrant preppy thing’s popularity with white kids, so the guys were all decked out in Hilfiger cargo jeans and big Nautica polos and jackets, while the girls wore CK or DKNY shirts under a pair of overalls or those flared black stretchpants with a Wet Seal blouse and jellies. On weekends they’d head to the house of whomever’s parents were out of town to binge drink. The biggest cars with them were Celicas and Accords—you could tell the gender of the driver from a distance by the presence or absence of a spoiler. The slightly timid girls would often go more in the direction of “cute” with one of those then-new VW Bugs or Jettas. Hair was always pretty basic: The girls folded theirs back into an alligator clip, while the guys ran one dollop of gel straight up the front and left the rest untouched, making it look like they were wearing an invisible visor.
At this stage in guido evolution, the guys wore wife-beaters with really thin ribbing, multiple gold chains, and Paco jeans or shorts. The girls were big proponents of the scrunchie, using it to cinch their dyed-platinum hair into so tight a ponytail that they had the constant appearance of mild surprise. They generally wore something along the lines of a bright pink scoop-necked FCUK shirt with black Blue Asphalt stretch flares, though it bears mention that breakaway track pants were a pretty big guido unisex option. By the time they were old enough to get a license every one of them had at least one eyebrow ring. Also, sometime between the early and mid-90s the Trans Am was fully replaced by the Honda Civic as the tricked-out guidomobile de rigueur.
South American Immigrants:
Not sure what caused the glut of these guys at this time, but they easily outnumbered the Asian and Indian kids you’d expect to dominate the immigrant scene. Learning English wasn’t too big a priority for most of them. They seemed to know only the bare minimum to avoid being kicked off the soccer team.
For all their fervor in trying to imitate American hip-hop culture, none of them seemed concerned with nailing down the details. The result was a hodgepodge of slight missteps, like shorts with not one NBA team’s logo but all of them, and hair gelled straight up, which ran straight down into a sloppy fade. The girls may have been similarly cribbing the black girls’ disgust with their classmates, but nobody could ever be sure since they would not speak to anyone except for each other.
In tribute to Bone Thugs-n-Harmony and Latrell Sprewell, everybody on the basketball team had cornrows that hung stiffly off the back of their heads like braided pipe-cleaners. Another big thing with the ballers was tattoos, mostly consisting of a boastful word or phrase in gothic typeface and often misspelled (one particularly huge dude named Arsernie had a piece on his arm reading “Un-Stopable” that no one ever called him on). If not really buds with the football jocks, the black guys at least were chill with the rest of the kids in school, whereas the girls absolutely hated the white kids they were surrounded by and made their feelings expressly known very, very often. Because the regular cheerleading squad didn’t cater to their more boisterous and rhythmic style of spirit, they had a separate group called “Drill Squad,” which was way more accomplished than any of the other athletic programs at the school.
The basic guy outfit consisted of some manor of outsized denim pants, a replica jersey of their fave player (meaning those really expensive authentic ones with the lettering stitched in and all the official patches, no ratty bootlegs), and a weekly rotation of brand-new Nikes. The girl version was basically the same clothing but extremely tight instead of billowing and with logo tees subbed in for the jerseys.
It was not uncommon to see them hanging around the school parking lot in velour jumpsuits
after classes had finished.
The Dave Matthews crowd. These guys were all old buds from Jewish summer camp and would typically hang out in the backyards of the condo buildings their parents lived in, smoking copious amounts of weed and talking about how there was no more acid around anymore. Maybe sublimating their parents’ aspirations for them, they rocked kind of a pre-collegiate vibe: Light beer at all the parties, ultimate Frisbee in the park, visors, flip-flops, and khaki shorts year round. The girls they mixed with were generally more low-key about their pot intake and into the tail end of the jam-band spectrum, like Guster and MOE.
The advent of grunge, coupled with skating’s rise to mainstream glory, made it acceptable for the type of dudes who earlier might have been burnouts to fraternize with the popular scene—or at least try to fuck their girls. These guys preserved the weed-smoking and long hair of their forerunners—parted buttwise straight down the center—but drifted away from torn-up denim toward bowling shirts and Pac Sun-style skatewear with Etnies or DCs shoes. Thankfully by this time pants were deflating down to more sensible volumes. The majority of these kids were jamming out to middle-of-the-road third-wave ska like Goldfinger and the Suicide Machines.
Marching band mostly drew its participants from this pool of saddies, though some of them managed to spread out into the math scene a little bit. Their social development had been permanently arrested at age 11. Their hair was always dirty and messed-up, none of the guys seemed to know how to shave, and they’d wear those shirts that have the front of Bugs Bunny or whoever in a backwards cap and overalls on the front and then his back on the back. The only kids who were a bigger bum-out were the “special needs” students, and at least they were kept in their own wing most of the day and away from everyone’s merciless ridicule.
By this time, all the goths were in full-on spooky kid/rave mode, which was actually a little impressive. Hot Topic hadn’t hit the local malls quite yet, so all those red pleather bustiers and UFO pants and bondage crap probably took a fair amount of scrounging at some sketchy and out-of-the-way locales to come by. All of them wore kind of tatty, poor-fitting trenchcoats, which caused about three seconds of concern after Columbine. In evidence of their complete obliviousness of being at the absolute ass-end of the pecking order, most did their hair into huge neon red and blue anime swoops then strutted into school with this asshole beacon bobbing on top of their head. A few exhibited a modicum of humility and just went with growing their hair really long on top then shaving up the sides.
RYAN DUFFY, WEST ORANGE NEW JERSEY HIGH SCHOOL, CLASS OF 2000
DRAWINGS BY MILANO CHOW
Football and baseball are the big sports still, even though everyone realizes our football team is a joke. Wrestling was big my freshman year, but after that it kind of died out. The jocks will do that thing where they act all tough and try to push people around in the hallways and outside of school, but then the second a teacher or someone’s around they’re like the biggest suck-ups. In any case they never get into fights, it’s all just acting. A big part of it is they don’t want to get in trouble with their parents ’cause they’ll stop giving them money or take away the Jeep they gave them when they turned 16. They all tend to wear sports shirts and Abercrombie gear and listen to really established white-kid rap like Biggie and Tupac and Dipset.
MATT KOMAR, EDISON NEW JERSEY HIGH SCHOOL, SENIOR
DRAWINGS BY MILANO CHOW