The end stanza to Maya Angelou’s poem for the John Singleton-helmed ’92 classic, Poetic Justice, reads like the star of the film’s live-by axiom. I’m a woman / Phenomenally / Phenomenal woman / That’s me. During this period, Janet Jackson, was the woman. She was in control of the nation at that very moment in time, had established herself beyond the name of her famous family, and enlisted her own production team [Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis] to craft her now-epitomous sound. Fresh off the mega-selling Rhythm Nation era (’89-’91), Jackson was at a turning point in her life. She’d shed her bulky layers for the late photographer Herb Ritts at the turn of the decade (for the final video off Nation, “Love Will Never Do Without You”), but had yet to come utterly undone for the notoriously bare, pre-wardrobe malfunction ’93 Rolling Stone cover. Once Jackson finished her RN1814 tour in 1991, she took a breather from recording to indulge her first true love: acting (she played Penny in Good Times once upon a time).
And with the return to acting came a fresh new look, which in turn, inspired her janet. era aesthetic into 1993. Janet’s character in Singleton’s film; Justice, dressed like any true Compton girl in ’92 would: midriff revealed, micro-braids to her knees, hoops, baggy, acid-wash Levi’s cinched together with her boyfriend’s belt or by a tied flannel buttondown. The lax look may not have been revolutionary at the time, but looking back, it’s one hell of a defining, iconoclastic moment that sticks in our brains and eventually disseminated through-and-through society. Combining soft-and-hard, tight-and-loose, Jackson could stand amongst the boys (while still luring them into her pheromone-spewing web) and eventually set the standard for many a mainstream gender-bending chick and backup dancer: see Aaliyah and TLC for instance.
There was always something feverishly sexy about the youngest Jackson (besides her top-heavy physique and washboard abs). She’d purr instead of sing, she’d elude instead of state, and move unlike anyone else. The Justice look, in a way, was the perfect set-up to the casually oversexed reinvention that was the janet. LP. The look was seductively street in its form while being fully utilitarian for her oft-athletic choreography. The woman could command a stage in baggy bottoms and taut tops, making her dance moves appear fluid-yet-militant, feminine-yet-masculine. No longer did she need to hide behind layers upon layers of shoulder pads to seem powerful. The ’80s were over. Jackson came into her own through the style of Justice, making the look perhaps the most intriguing transition within her three-decade career. Always the underdog to Madonna, Janet’s style is one of the things that’s notably separated the two. While Madonna morphed seemingly day-to-day, Jackson remained more or less settled in certain phases, developing them at slower, more gradual paces. And thank god, because it’s what’s made her so real and relatable. It’s time to welcome back the style of Miss Jackson.