Is there a greater smackdown
than "Comments (0)"?
Today I would like to talk to you about flared trousers. If you had been a sailor in Britain's Royal Navy in the 19th Century you would have worn flared trousers, although you would not have called them flared trousers. Back in those days people called them bell bottoms because people were quaint like that. It was common for children to wear sailor suits because children often became sailors, and because Queen Victoria liked to dress her children in sailor suits because it pleased Prince Albert for her to do so. Prince Albert died, however, and flared trousers were lost to the world until the Beatles came along in the 1960s.
They were all the rage in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and so were flared trousers. In the United Kingdom flared trousers have occasionally come back into fashion, most notably at the end of the 1980s, as a side-effect of rave culture. Flared trousers are even more frequently just about to come back into fashion. Every few years society tries to will flared trousers back into fashion, generally without success. Another thing that came back into fashion in the late 1980s was the skateboard, but whereas the skateboard is still with us today, the flared trouser has fallen back into disuse. I would like to ponder the flared trouser. Why was it a success during its heyday, and why is it no longer with us?
I must inform you at this point that I find it hard to express myself with words, because I cannot wave my hands with words, and without my hands I cannot communicate shapes and moods and emotions. You cannot see the passion of my hands because my hands are invisible to you, and they are occupied in the formal art of typing. If my hands could talk they would have such tales to tell. Horror, and ecstasy.
I am a neutral party on the issue of flared trousers. I have never owned a pair of flared trousers. A long time ago I owned a pair of purple corduroy trousers but they were not flared. I wonder what happened to them? I have come to realise that I can never re-experience my past, because I am unable to remember the feelings I felt as I wore my clothes. The same is true of so many other things. I can remember what I said and did, and why, but I cannot remember how I felt because I do not have a memory for emotions and sensations. Only words and pictures.
I have never chosen not to own flared trousers. In fact I have never been in a position to choose or refuse ownership of flared trousers, because I have never been in a situation where my desires, whims, and finances have aligned me into a flared conjunction. I suspect that the few flared trousers available in shops today do not come in my size, because the manufacturers of flared trousers do not consider me to be part of their target market. E-Prime. Trouser-wearing is a form of ambient advertising, and trouser-wearers are ambassadors for the trouser industry. Whereas real-life ambassadors tend to be middle-aged, the ambassadors of fashion are young. The Ambassadors of Death is a Doctor Who adventure starring Jon Pertwee as Doctor Who. Stanley Baker was a British tough-guy actor.
The ambassadors of fashion are young. Young and fit, and desirable. They exude a magnetic force that draws me towards them. Flared trouser manufacturers seek to exploit this magnetism, such that my desire for young, fit people is transformed into a desire for flared trousers. As a consequence I have found myself attracted to flared trousers, and flared trousers have become a fetish for me. Increasingly I find myself drawn to shops where young people gather, so that I can be with flared trousers. It is not the trousers themselves that attract me. It is the feeling I have when I am with flared trousers. I want them, but I know that even if I was to buy a pair of flared trousers - and I cannot face the shame of approaching the counter and opening my cupboard of desire to public view - I could never wear them. It is like a man's attr
I believe that all clothing designers, indeed all designers of everything in the world, are wounded with a melancholy conflict between their desire to create the most advanced designs for the most tasteful and attractive customers, and the reality of
Earlier I touched upon the core of my thesis. Alignment and conjunction. I think of British society as a kind of Orrery. An Orrery is a mechnical model of the solar system. The planets and the sun are attached to metal poles, and the poles run in circular tracks, and they are made to rotate with a clockwork motor, or a hand crank. British society is an advanced Orrery with many hundreds of thousands of orbits, spinning around a central point which is of course the Queen.
Each ring has an intricate pattern carved on its surface, and every so often the rings align and there is a little jump, a little hop, and a certain thing becomes popular. Some things are popular for a very long time, such as jeans or Coca-Cola. Perhaps their rings are larger than the others, or the design is less intricate, and thus they mesh with the other rings more readily. Jeans and Coca-Cola are simple things that satisfy fundamental desires - perhaps the sun around which British society rotates is not the Queen after all, but the reality of sexual desire or of death, or something equally universal, such as young girls in tight leather shorts. I orbit around them like Icarus orbits around the sun, although I have not yet fallen. Their light blinds me but the pain is sweet. My wax
But I digress. I am not trying to construct a mental model of the entire human condition for the purpose of this essay, only of British society. As the heart of British society beats, the rings rotate and certain things come into alignment. It is my belief that the extremes of fashion - and the flared trouser is an extreme - only come into alignment once in a blue moon, and only for brief periods. Several conditions must be met in order for flared trousers to be popular. And to a certain extent, once an extreme fashion has fallen out of favour, it can never return in its original form, because our reaction to a revival will be shaped by our memories of its previous existence. We will compare and contrast. We will think of ourselves as once we were.
Perhaps this is not the problem it appears; in the modern age it seems as if there is nothing new under the sun. Society has matured and grown old and dull and comfortable. But I am sure that the ancient Greeks also felt that society had matured and grown old and dull and comfortable. People are the same as they have always been, driven by the same desire for young girls in short leather tights that expose
buttocks. The word buttocks is an ugly word. It is an insult to the ecstasy
What are those conditions, the conditions that allowed flared trousers to become popular at the end of the 1960s? Perhaps flared trousers were worn by rock stars and trendsetters, perhaps they were the trouser equivalent of long hair - flared trousers are undisciplined trousers - or perhaps they were a subversion of a fashion hitherto worn by the "straights" and the "squares". But why did trendsetters such as Eric Clapton and Bertrand Russell wear flared trousers? There are two ways to rebel. One can choose the opposite path, or one can travel the conventional path but with larger boots. I know little about the counter-culture other than what I have read on the internet, but I surmise that the counter-culture cannot exist without a mainstream culture to counter, and that fashion and uniform must play a part in this.
I wonder which is the counter-culture, and which is mainstream culture? Is it simply a matter of chronological precedence, or size? Perhaps it was the case that flared trousers were once a military fashion, and were adopted by the counter-culture at the end of the 1960s as a way to protest against whatever it was that Britain's counter-culture protested against at that time. The mental image that leaps into my mind when I think of flared trousers is of a back-to-nature, peace-loving hippy wearing a CND badge. Perhaps flared trousers provided protection against radiation, or perhaps they were unusually unprotective, thus emphasising the vulnerability of the meat-free, protein-deficient hippy physique against nuclear weapons. Some protestors choose to meet guns with bullet-proof vests and masks, whereas others choose to meet guns with flowers. There are seven levels. I choose to meet guns with butter. I cannot see flared trousers being much use on a farm. They would flap about, get dirty, and they cannot be tucked into gumboots. On the other hand, I can imagine flared trousers having a practical use, in that they would fit over something - perhaps
I do not know if there have been any formal, highbrow studies of popular fashion that have not been secretly a big joke. Why is it that the Raleigh Chopper became such a desirable object? As a child I did not aspire to the lifestyle of a Chopper owner, but I wanted a Chopper nonetheless because there was something about the design itself - not the lifestyle or the society, but the object - that appealed to me. As a child I did not know anyone who flew an F-14 Tomcat, and I did not aspire to be a jet fighter pilot, but I found the machine itself utterly desirable.
I imagine the same must be true of some fashions. For every fashion that is driven solely by celebrity endorsement, perhaps there is a fashion that generates its own desire by virtue of its appearance or manner. Perhaps fashion is an unknowable thing, like the music of James Brown. You cannot think about it or hold it in your mind without destroying it, and you cannot understand its appeal unless you have the funk. Was the flared trouser popular because it was worn by trendsetters, or was there something about the volume and girth of the flare that bewitched people?