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Flare-up on the high street: Dowdy old M & S? Come off it. Just look at these bell-bottoms, says Tamsin Blanchard

MARKS & SPENCER and street cred are not usually mentioned in the same sentence, except in contrast to one another. But this season M & S judged that flares would have such a fashion impact that it got in early with just the right cut.

Marks & Spencer says flares are here to stay and will feature strongly in next winter's range. Called 'the new legging' by Vogue, it looks as though flares are once more being revived in women's wardrobes nationwide.

M & S bell-bottoms come in navy, black and chocolate- brown jersey. They are also sold in white denim, and there is a range of 'wide-leg trousers' in viscose. One young woman, recently seen dancing the night away in her white M & S flares, enthused: 'They're really funky. They're tight around your leg and flare out at just the right place. I've never had so much reaction to a pair of trousers. People can't believe where they are from.'

The 23-year-old in question (M & S does not have quite enough street cred for her to agree to be named) was given her bell-bottoms by her mother 'who virtually lives in M & S'. She admits she would not have bought them herself had she seen them in the shop, although the company has since gone up in her estimation.

The bell-bottoms are aimed at the customer young enough not to remember them first time round. But the company believes the wide-leg trousers will appeal to older women as well.

Nineties flares have been updated since their heyday in the Seventies for now they have the advantage of Lycra. The most popular versions are made of jersey and cling like leggings to the upper part of the leg, flaring out from the knee - which sounds like a nightmare for anyone shorter than 6ft 5in and with anything wider than pencil-thin legs. They are, however, much more fluid than their old, stiff counterparts.

The infiltration of fashion fads from the street or catwalk into the comfort and safety of Marks & Spencer means that it, along with other mainstream retailers, is now responding very quickly to fashion.

Recent press campaign pictures were accessorised with bandannas, hippie sun shades, love beads and leather thongs. (At the moment, M & S has only gone so far as to stock the shades, pounds 9.99.) Last autumn there was the platform shoe. Even the clog is making an appearance this spring.

Flares have long been popular with fashion students, but their introduction at Marks & Spencer really marks their return to the mainstream. Strong sales suggest that they may be around for much longer than anyone thought possible.

(Photograph omitted)