I Need to Talk About Jennifer Garner’s Outfits in ‘13 Going on 30’

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.

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  • Laurel Kemp

    The very fact that this article has been written is making me squeal at my desk with glee! (My managing director is now extremely confused-squealing doesn’t happen much in our offices.)

  • Andrea Raymer

    Looking through that slideshow I can picture you wearing literally every one of those outfits.

    • Harling Ross

      thank you so very much

  • I LOVE THIS and suddenly need to recreate the pink slip with the trench. You know what else is a great nostalgic-movie-outfit that I just thought of? The pink dress Paige wears in The Prince and Me

  • Cristiana

    I have this exact sentiment of subconsciously (now, consciously) relating fashion and identity with Fran Fine in The Nanny. I would switch closets with her in a HEARTBEAT

    • You and I both! Omg!!

    • sara_math

      there’s an Instagram devoted to what fran wore

      • Cristiana


    • Charlie

      Miss Babcock is amazing too!

  • Sophia

    I’m so glad this has been written. I always loved the style in this film and still do as an adult. I try to dress as my child self would imagine an adult dressing, which is how Jenna naturally dresses in the film <3

  • Agnes

    I love that she unselfconsciously has a belly in her belly shirts. I miss 2004.

    • Harling Ross

      had exact same thought

    • Sarah

      Going to sound a little weird but a similar thing I noticed when watching stuff from the 90s/early 2000s – not only are tums less toned, but arms too. While still thin, they’re often more soft than toned. Thinking of movies like Clueless or The Princess Diaries, the lead actresses were always very slim, but in a way that seemed more commonplace to real life.

      It’s crazy to see how body standards have changed in ways that we don’t even notice until we see something different!

      • enC

        Yes… somehow the very sculpted bodies we are used to now seem almost generic and not as unique by comparison.

      • Isabel

        Well I guess grass is always greener- I think back then super strong and athletic women were considered ‘bulky’ and not feminine and I’m glad that ship has sailed.
        There is always pressure on women’s appearances- the trend just changes.

    • I was just thinking how much I always appreciated her shape – it looks like her natural build is soft and athletic without trying to be super petite. It’s funny how that sticks out in the context of her working at a fashion magazine.

  • Ali Koch

    OMG, THANK YOU FOR THIS HARLING. I think about Jenna Rink’s fashion choices on a bi-weekly basis. I also loved her lisa frank folders, and I tried to replicate her signature, despite my name not being Jenna Rink. On a similar note, I went through a phase in high school where I tried to replicate all of Molly’s outfits in “Uptown Girls.”

    • Harling Ross

      YES lisa frank and YES uptown girls !!!!!!!

    • mags

      YES I was just going to mention uptown girls. Brittany Murphy plucking a lamp shade off her vanity and pinning it in her hair is one of those movie moments my brain likes to play over and over.

    • jugarboo

      Same, same, same. That freakin’ blouse and yellow skirt combo—on my mind at least once a week!

  • Maggie Lanham

    Did anyone experience the same kismet and watch this movie on cable just last night?! Man Repeller always somehow taps into my mind and it’s starting to freak me out!

  • ValiantlyVarnished

    I’m a bit older than you and my favorite fashion frame of reference when I was a teen was Clueless. I was basically Cher. Except black and minus the enormous wealth and California mansion. But her style…that was how I dressed as a teen. My gift for patterns and color-coordination was something I was very proud of. I had a teacher tell me that I always looked like I was “going somewhere”. I didn’t know the meaning of the word “casual”. I wore heels (chunky ones cuz that was what was in at the time – trends always come back around…) everyday and my bags always matched. I look back now at the amount of effort I put into each ensemble and am awed – and slightly exhausted.

    • Miss Crystal

      We’re the same person!

  • This movie was so sweet and fun, and the clothing pretty much sums up all my adolescent dreams!

    Eva | http://www.shessobright.com

  • Amelia Diamond

    ok but my style takeaway from this movie is the redhead girl in the polo dress + headband https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/7403beb11655e564a1495699c03f58fbd5f8125a6efa7b41d9519eab3b8e38df.png

    • Harling Ross

      U WOULD

  • Marta

    oh what a coincidence, I just saw the movie yesterday for the first time. I thought the entire time how ridiculously 2000ish her outfits were and remembered how I sported (more like, tried to sport) similar looks at that time. nostalgia! and she looked so great, slim and beautiful but so realistic and just like a normal good-looking woman who doesn’t live on salad without the dressing.

  • elpug

    I think about that rainbow dress. All. The. Time! And that elevator encounter about “can you tell I’m wearing underwear, because I totally am” and “I think that’s kinda the point”… I didn’t understand that for so long. I probably saw that for the first time when I was about 13 anyway. Rewatching that movie recently, I have such a different take on growing up than I did at 13. Then I thought: I can’t wait! and now I remember to cherish the days when I was younger.

  • Madalyn Hamann

    Oof, does that mean poor 13 year old Jenna was tossed headfirst into her first Saturn Return? What a crazy concept!

    And yes, that rainbow dress is an absolute classic.

  • Ruth

    This is the best article!!! I vividly remember seeing this movie (it was actually called Suddenly 30 in Australia, which I think is way more jazzy lol) at age 12 with a whole bunch of other 12 year olds (our school booked a whole cinema for a ‘bonding’ night) and it was the best. thing. ever. It totally kicked off my continuing love for both Jennifer Garner and Mark Ruffalo, and obvs every outfit Jenna wears is goals <3

  • sleepwithme

    Thanks for sharing this .
    nice post.

  • Allie

    This feels like a weird thing to know but the very same rainbow dress makes a background appearance in the episode of Sex and the City where they go to see Smith’s play

  • Fat Tony

    The clothing and the soundtrack in this film shaped my adolescence, and introduced me to America’s Husband, Mark Ruffalo

  • Devon

    I have a similar pop up memory related to a 2001 episode of Will & Grace where Grace wears this amazing orange coat (episode is Swimming Pools…Movie Stars, Sandra Bernhard guested). I have dreamed of that coat for so long that if I could find it, I would probably buy it. It seems like no one else in the internet loved this coat as much as me because finding info on it is impossible.

  • Shelby Kate

    Does it count if I think about a young Mark Ruffalo swooping in and taking me away from my desk job only for him to turn into the Hulk and me still be into it…almost weekly? No? Just me? Alright I’ll see myself out then

  • Natalie Schulte

    Just watched this movie last weekend and thought the same exact thing!! Her outfits were so iconic in this movie and definitely influenced some of my, perhaps questionable, outfit choices as a pre-teen.

  • Troublepuss

    I currently have a Facebook* rant about a coworker who’s been wearing the same pair of low-rise flared Seven jeans since 2004. Just because you can fit into clothes from your 20s doesn’t mean you should wear them to work.

    Of course, I worked at Contempo Casuals in my early 20s and no one should be subjected to the colorblocking and shoulder pads we endured!

    *Yes, Facebook. I’m old and still proud to say my teenage fashion idols were Debbie Harry and Siobhan from Bananarama!

  • GiuliaV

    Amelia predicted this! See “fashion is getting dangerous close to the 2000s”

  • Allison Russo

    I was literally just thinking about this the other day!! The iconic rainbow dress.

    – Allison (nycismyboyfriend.wordpress.com)

  • Grace Elizabeth

    LOVE! I swear I will one day acquire the Versace dress (or at least, it’s super similar RTW counterpart). Out of curiosity – it would be AMAZING if you could super sleuth the brands of the outfits. I am obsessed w her shoes she wears for Thriller/Versace dress!