THERE comes a point in your life when you no longer want to look horrible. It coincides precisely with the time when you actually start looking horrible. For some years, when you are young, it is fine to rip out all your eyebrows, wear your hair droopily unstyled round your face like a miseryguts, and clump around in shoes that look as though they should have calipers attached. In this abandoned, crazy period, it is OK to wear flares.

Then one day you are old, and you start seeing the point of taste. Hair which gives your disintegrating face some kind of shape suddenly has attractions; you prefer trousers which do not trail ridiculously in puddles or make you look as if you think peace and love are possible as long as everyone gets enough drugs. Anyone over 30 should have reached this point.

Yet fashion designers tell us that flares are funky again. You can buy flares in Marks & Spencer, in chain stores up and down the high street, and from top designers. Flares feature strongly in this month's Vogue. They are not a joke any more. Remember how Neil in The Young Ones never used to say much? He didn't have to, he was wearing flares. Har, har] Arthur Daley once bought a consignment of cheap jeans. Joke] They were flares]

Har, har nothing. Get all aesthetic and Ignore Those Flares, and you face the frightening prospect of looking mumsy, like your parents used to in their ski pants and turnups when you were looping about in loons. So I got a pair. For a journalistic experiment only, to see how I felt in them and whether people made remarks. And then I couldn't face it (they were flared leggings, for God's sake - what could be more otiose?) and went on wearing my nice, sensible, grownup clothes.

After my editor had said 'No flares today, then,' five days running, I went out and bought a grungey top to go with them, deciding the real problem was lack of appropriate upper wear. I put on the flares and stepped bravely outside my front door; some youths on the other side of the street made loutish, though fortunately, inaudible remarks: 'It's these things,' I thought viciously: 'they turn me into an object of derision.'

Fellow passengers on the Tube looked away pityingly. At the community project where I was lunching, I kept catching my heel in the bellbottom and tripping over. The workers in their sensible jeans and sweatshirts ignored my getup politely; I longed to explain, but explanation seemed sillier than trying for aplomb, as if I frequently dressed like this. 'I made up my mind,' someone said when I got back to the office, 'that I would never again wear a fashion that would later come to seem embarrassing.'

Someone else said I looked as if I had dressed from the Oxfam shop - which was the point I suppose, but somehow it just didn't seem that flattering. It is one thing to dress up like Kate Moss when you look like Kate Moss; another when you look like a mother of two who has been up in the night. 'Oh, what a funny little thing you look]' my sister exclaimed as she opened the door later that evening: 'Well, that's decided it for me: I'm not going to get any. I am surprised how unflattering they look. Odd, they looked fine on Elle Macpherson.' (She meant Elle 'The Body' Macpherson, the curvaceous six- foot-something Australian model).

The only people who were remotely complimentary were very young: people for whom flares did not conjure memories of dreary music by Emerson Lake and Palmer, of joss sticks and the most boring period for youth in recent memory - too late for student radicalism, too early to be taken seriously as a punk. This tallies with what all the shops - Marks & Spencer, French Connection, Harvey Nichols - report about flare sales: that they are selling fast, but almost exclusively to women under 30, perhaps even under 25. (Although Amanda Verdan, buyer at Harvey Nichols, says older women are buying the wide trousers known as palazzo pants, which you can wear with at least some of the clothes you already own).

Cultural studies writer Elizabeth Wilson thinks we should worry less: fashion, she says, no longer goes in great imperative cycles. As couture has become primarily a way of advertising designer perfume and tights to a mass market, designers have stopped making clothes for women to wear, but as prototypes, for supermodels only - outlandish outfits which will be photographed by the media. 'This means that the impact of the designers is cruder, but also diminished. There are no evolving cycles, only fads; there is much more pluralism of styles. Fluid shapes and grunge will be in this season, but that's just another idea. Not everyone will have to wear these things.'

Flares are a particularly silly fad, because of their inherent ugliness, impracticality, and associations with a soppy, recent past that many women would rather leave behind. 'They're such a victim purchase,' says journalist Joanna Briscoe. 'If you're 15 it's fine to be a victim. But not if you're 30.' Fortunately, the fact that they are only a fad means you won't look absurd, like your mother in ski pants in 1976 - because not everyone will be wearing them. Including most people who saw me.

Meanwhile, Amanda Verdan reports that while wide trousers will still be popular come autumn, the really big thing will be buccaneer pants, tucked into knee- length boots. What are buccaneer pants? 'Actually they're leggings,' she says; 'I'm just tired of the word leggings.' Those flares are going to a dark corner at the back of my wardrobe, where my Leonard Cohen records live, and not coming out again. Buccaneer pants are the future.

(Photograph omitted)