Flares: the comeback (walking back to happiness)

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The Independent Culture
I WAS a schoolboy in short trousers the last time it happened; a little kid living in a pre- adolescent dream of bubblegum cards and catapults. So don't ask me how it happened. One day it just did; one day, everything was fine, and the next day, something had changed in the section of the national consciousness that deals with trousers. By the time I was old enough to choose my own clothes, the whole thing was already stitched up. Flares were the norm.

So I never had a chance to feel revulsion, to register a protest, to fight back. My aesthetic predisposition to flared trousers was something I inherited. I loved them. We all did; they just felt . . . right. The idea of not feeling that reassuring weight on the front of your feet, not experiencing that billowing flutter every time you took a stride, would have seemed . . . distasteful. Revealing the whole of your shoe - it was something old men and tramps did; it was bad taste, like having your flies undone. I remember an older boy making a joke at the expense of straight trousers; the punchline was about Communists. Straight trousers were what you wore in the fantasy totalitarian world of your bad dreams, a world that harked back to the Fifties, to shaved backs of necks, narrow lapels, and no abortions or pop music.

We were dogmatic, and, like all dogmatists, we had absurd prejudices. Like: there can be many flares, but only one kind of straight trouser. (Your enemies all look the same.) And things moved so fast - from bootcut to baggies in three years, 1972 through 1975; the cuffs moved outwards across the shoes in three deft movements - from the middle of the laces to the edge of the laces; then out to the toe, and then, the final frontier, to beyond the edge of the shoe. The middle stage was awkward - the front edge of the trouser-cuff didn't quite cover the shoe, and so had to be longer than the back edge, which meant that for a year or so, everybody's trousers were too long at the back; the material picked up mud and other filth, and then it became frayed and split, so even when people took their shoes off, long tendrils of, at worst, dogshit-

marinated denim left brown streaks all over the carpet. Indoors, with your shoes off, you manipulated your front trouser-cuff with your toes; outdoors, you leaned against walls and bus-shelters, looking downwards, casually flipping your cuffs over your shoes.

And now, of course, flares might be coming back. The word is that they will come back. I've been seeing them out of the corner of my eye for a while now; creepy little visions; it's all young people, andthe flares are mostly black - the Rebel Phase. But now Vogue is telling its readers how to take 'the first step towards finding the perfect flares.' And what's the first step? To 'erase all memory' of how bad you remember them looking; to achieve, in your mind, a Flare Year Zero.

But do you really believe it? Will flares get us again? In the Seventies, the flared look - sideburns, wide lapels, rounded collar-tabs - got nearly all the way up - it got as far as men in late middle-age; it achieved a real consensus. Look at photographs of Richard Attenbrough, John Major, Cecil Parkinson, the Duke of Westminster. Is this going to happen again?

'Never] I just . . . can't see it.'

'Right. It's like you made a mistake in the past, and you won't make the same mistake again.'

'Exactly. I can categorically state that I will never, ever . . . wear flares. Not even slightly flared trousers.'

In my generation - those of us who came of age in the era of flares, and were made to turn against them - people are already tooling up, manning the barricades - the attitude is they shall not pass. We have a particular grudge against flares, because they were all we had known, and we were, somehow, persuaded to spurn them for straight trousers in 1977 and 1978. We were made to hate flares. Straights were our first major conversion, our Damascus, and the new religion was tough at first - skirmishes with the older boys, still clinging on to the last shreds of hippie; walking into classrooms, hyper-aware of your feet.

But there is a generation of younger people, a more complacent group, who don't value straight trousers, never having had to fight for them. They'll drop them just like we dropped flares, and we'll cling grimly on to straights, to tight ankle-cuffs, to revealing the whole foot, just like the hippies we despised who cruised through the entire punk era in a miasma of real ale and velvet darts in their trousers, emerging as sheepish Elvis Costello fans in mod jackets in the very early Eighties. But that's how it always works with fashion. First, they get the young. People think: young is good, therefore what young people do must be good. In reality, young is gullible; young is stupid. But fashion isn't about reality, is it?

And there I was, thinking: for the first time in my life, I've got enough trousers. Naturally, the fashion industry was thinking the same thing (not: 'for the first time in his life, William Leith has got enough trousers', but the extension of this - when a fashion has been around for 15 years, people have built up a stockpile, and it's time to fiddle with their aesthetics). This time, I can tell they're serious about it - this is not the phoney comeback of 1986, or the 'Madchester' revival of 1989, which were both based on selling stuff that had been in warehouses for years. This is all new stuff. This is going to look different.

And so is the Third World. Right now,

the Third World looks like the Seventies. Soon it'll look like the early Eighties. So in a couple of years, you'll be jetting off to Jamaica, or Mauritius, in your flares - standing at the baggage carousel and flipping your trouser-cuffs over the edge of your shoes. And when you get out into the blistering heat of the street, everybody will be wearing . . . straight trousers. And you'll walk snootily past in your flares, feeling sorry for them. It's sick, isn't it? But it's out of our hands. There's nothing we can do.-