Chris Kelly’s Kris Kross Style Remembered

Chris Kelly and Chris Smith of Kris Kross in the “Jump” music video.
Photo: Courtesy of Sony BMG Music

In 1992 there were two kinds of trends. Stuff that actually reached me living all the way in Hong Kong before the Internet and stuff that entirely escaped my notice. As a seventh grader going to British school, I thought Kris Kross was the greatest. Shipping tariffs were astronomical for CDs, all of our magazines were about six months behind, we had one bootleg English-language channel that showed music videos infrequently, and we knew that they’d never tour us so it was awesome to be able to at least bounce in time and wear clothes backwards. Of course this was only on weekends since we had to wear school uniforms that featured little neckties and grey blazers.

There was an art to it. Your jeans had to be massive but in a certain way and they had to sag really low because, “everything is to the back, with a little slack/’cause inside out is wiggity wiggity wiggity wack” etc which meant you had to wear boxers which was sort of a rarity in my school since boxers were really American and those kids had their own school. It was an easier transition for the skate kids since they were already wearing 34″ jeans (for the record, Chris Smith wore 36″ and Chris Kelly wore 34″ at the time) or chinos but the American kids had an advantage in full-out mimicry since they could have family members ship in things like wool varsity jackets and massive jerseys.

Chris Smith and Chris Kelly of Kris Kross.
Photo: Getty Images

That said, I do also remember how you couldn’t crib the entire look and wear the backwards jersey with a contrast hoodie underneath and backwards pants (like in the middle bit of the video) because that was trying way too hard. Besides which, the trend would be over by the time all that stuff got to you and it’s not like anyone could find someone to braid your hair the way they had theirs anyway. The only way to get around that was to be so badass and sufficiently neglected by your parents to get away with shaving lines into your eyebrows like Chris Smith. This was also a surefire way of being cool because then you got sent home from school.

Chris Kelly and Chris Smith of Kris Kross in 1993.
Photo: Getty Images

It’s astounding when you consider how appealing the look was to EVERY kid. It’s was like the trend we’d been waiting for. Late last night on Twitter when we all collectively discovered Chris Kelly’s passing, there was a flurry of testimonies about wearing backwards clothing from kids who were in third grade, all the way up to the million-year-olds that I was in school with. You had to be profoundly confident to pull it off, you kinda had to be the alpha in your group or the class clown because you could only really have one Krossed Out kid in your crew. It helped if you had a cute face and were small. Tomboys had a field day but even then you had to have swag on a trillion to not get made fun of.

Chris Smith and Chris Kelly of Kris Kross in the “Jump” music video.
Photo: Courtesy of Sony BMG Music

People are quick to dismiss Kris Kross as a contrivance. As the origin story goes, they were plucked from an Atlanta mall where they were playing video games by a then 18-year-old Jermaine Dupri who asked them if they sang or danced. This Teen Summit video from YouTube sums it up nicely but the take away is that nothing about their appearance indicated they’d be good at either but JD just recognized that they looked rad. “They looked like something I could do something with,” he says to the lovely young lady with the impeccable hair and exquisite pant suit in the clip. He was right. They felt young even though they were 13 and we were 11 because they were babies for being that internationally renowned and we weren’t used to all of our famous people being two years old and having thumping fontanelles like how we do now (there was that French kid Jordy around the time but that’s neither here nor there.).

It wasn’t until later that I found out there had been beef with Another Bad Creation (the ATL R&B kid group that was discovered by Michael Bivins) about who started wearing clothes backwards first. And it wasn’t until I was reading up on a late-night research spree that I saw this interview with Chris Kelly earlier this year about how he still wears back-to-front trousers.

How uncomfortable was it to wear your pants backwards?
I don’t know. Everybody always ask me that. But you have to understand I’ve been wearing my pants backwards for 21 years. Really since ‘91 ‘cause we started a year before we even came out with a record. When I wake up that’s how my pants get put on.

Are you saying that you’ve continued to wear you pants backwards all these years?
Yeah. I’ve worn my pants backwards since 1991; never frontwards.

If you go back to 1991, did people tell you you were crazy for wearing your pants backwards?
Yeah. Yeah. And you know people today are like, “Well, I can’t believe you still wear your pants backwards.” Even if I put on a suit, I put my suit pants on backwards. It’s just a way of life for me.

Chris Smith and Chris Kelly in the “Warm It Up” music video.
Photo: Courtesy of Sony BMG Music

The fact that in his mid-30s he was still dressing the way he was at 13 is bittersweet and makes you feel feelings. In this ancient relic from the defunct geocities, they talk about how the song came about because of how huge that “House of Pain” song was and for the clothes Chris Kelly says the following:

“That was once again Jermaine’s idea. He knew that we had this level of cuteness that could work with the general public and a hot track, but we just needed something killer to make sure that we were money. And, so, the beginning of wearing clothes backwards.”

In a pre-Scooter Braun world, Kris Kross and JD’s contribution to youth fashion is astounding. And regardless of the circumstances surrounding his untimely death or how unsettling it is to have a career peak at 13, we should all just be grateful and remember how wonderful and innocent we all were when backwards clothes were sufficiently subversive to take the world by storm. Our thoughts go out to Chris Kelly’s family.





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