New York Magazine’s The Cut has a series called “I Think About This a Lot,” in which writers wax nostalgic about incredibly specific things (like Cal and Lovejoy’s relationship in Titanic, or the Facebook debate over Dunkin’ Donuts hot cups) they can’t get out of their heads. I love the name of this installment because it speaks to the amusing truth that certain moments of cultural absorption, no matter how random, drop like a weighty stone in the pool of your memories, only to surface completely arbitrarily for years to come.
I experienced such a surfacing just last week when one minute I was responding to an email about Manuka honey, and the next minute I was thinking about Jennifer Garner’s rainbow party dress in 13 Going on 30. The mental transition was swift and inexplicable, and yet wholly familiar at the same time. I’ve thought about that dress numerous times since I first saw the movie upon its release in 2004, usually while I’m doing or thinking about something completely unrelated. I never examined why this fictional ensemble lodged itself so firmly inside my psyche until this past weekend when I decided to re-watch the movie for the purposes of journalistic introspection.
The first time I saw it, I was 12 years old, just a year younger than 13-year-old protagonist Jenna Rink. It was one of the first PG-13 movies I was allowed to see, and I watched it flanked by both my mom and my dad in the family room of our apartment. I remember leaving “to go to the bathroom” during the scene when Jenna’s parents catch her stuffing her bra, self-conscious of my own nascent puberty which seemed to suddenly appear as a fourth presence in the room.
Watching it now, at age 26, reaffirmed why not only the rainbow dress but all of Jenna’s clothes had dazzled my adolescent self so thoroughly. When 13-year-old Jenna magically leaps forward in time to inhabit 30-year-old Jenna’s body and life, her style becomes a showcase for the identity-grappling that ensues. It’s worth noting that almost all of her outfits aged mysteriously well despite their very clear 2000s influence, but beyond that, unlike many movies or TV shows in which getting dressed is simply a necessity, in 13 Going on 30 it is an integral part of the plot.
A pink slip dress under a trench with silver heels. The aforementioned rainbow party dress accented by a hot pink baguette bag and a sparkly butterfly pendant. A yellow skirt and lace-up floral top I want to reproduce and wear all summer. Pajamas and ballet flats. A rose-patterned bustier and corresponding necklace. A T-shirt adorned by a pink ribbon belt. A perfect paisley sundress and sparkly choker. Low-rise bell bottom jeans and a midriff-baring wrap shirt.
As Jenna discovers the rather terrible person she’s become as an adult, her outfits become a bridge to the person she wants to be instead — someone who doesn’t take herself too seriously; someone who cloaks her insecurities in head-to-toe pink instead of using them as weapons to get ahead; someone who is comfortable in both her clothes and her skin. Sure, it’s a little corny, but to my almost-teenaged self, it was medicinal. Looking back, it was one of the first times my subconscious tapped into the powerful link between style and identity. It was also one of the first times I realized style could be really, really good and really, really fun at the same time.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go see about a rainbow dress.
Photo by Arnaldo Magnani/Getty Images.