From trouser suits to slouchy jeans; 70s flares are back in fashion


This is what I call a Fashion Moment. A change almost as liberating in its way as burning your bra or the #MeToo movement. Women the world over have burst free (literally) from the terror of DVT-inducing toothpick jeans (the toothpick being the evolution of the skinny and way, way narrower).

Instead, they have embraced a garment I last pulled on back in 1973 while lying on the floor using a coat hanger to do up the fly: a pair of flares!

Even the Duchess of Cambridge has worn them — a flared trouser suit for her recent Pride of Britain appearance to give an award to NHS hospital workers — while domestic goddess Nigella Lawson sports voluminous red flares in a shoot for December’s Good Housekeeping magazine. And, of course, where the rich and famous go, the rest of us inevitably follow. But this is a celebrity trend to be welcomed. To those of us inured to the skinny jean, the flare gives a refreshingly loose, fluid silhouette.

Nigella Lawson looks festive in scarlet Safiyaa flares for her December Good Housekeeping cover

Kate Middleton (left) can really carry off a relaxed trouser. I love these wide Jigsaw flares paired with a colourful pussy-bow Gucci blouse. Right, Nigella Lawson looks festive in scarlet Safiyaa flares for her December Good Housekeeping cover

Women who embrace them seem to take up more space in the world, and not just because flares require more fabric (in the Seventies, when everyone wore them, my widest bell bottoms measured two feet across).

They look confident, whereas in the ubiquitous skinny, all we look is hungry. The flare is so much better than the shapeless boyfriend (or balloon) jean, too.

Of course, the flare has never completely disappeared — flaring back up occasionally over the years.

I remember spotting Kate Moss, front row at the Topshop Unique show in Holland Park in 2006, wearing powder blue flares, a wide brown belt and flats. I vowed that instant to go home and incinerate all the skinnies that had been a stalwart of my wardrobe since they became hip in the early 2000s.

But a great flare on the High Street that autumn proved hard to find, and there’s a simple reason for that: more fabric means less profit. Happily they are easier to find this year.

TV presenter Rochelle Humes in Zara could be Jane Fonda in 1971 thriller Klute: all caramels and creams

TV presenter Rochelle Humes in Zara could be Jane Fonda in 1971 thriller Klute: all caramels and creams

Model Rosie Huntington-Whiteley in what I’d call ‘the slouch’ — not strictly a flare or bell-bottom, but very easy to wear

Model Rosie Huntington-Whiteley in what I’d call ‘the slouch’ — not strictly a flare or bell-bottom, but very easy to wear

Alesha Dixon’s slouchy look works well as she reveals some chest and tum to break things up

Cindy Crawford in powder blue Re/Done jeans, £250, worn with a Western heel, a vest top and the 2020 must-have — a face mask

Left: Alesha Dixon’s slouchy look works well as she reveals some chest and tum to break things up. Right, Cindy Crawford in powder blue Re/Done jeans, £250, worn with a Western heel, a vest top and the 2020 must-have — a face mask

So do you dare to flare? It helps if you are tall and willowy, but even if you do have great genes I’d recommend a flared trouser with a narrow thigh.

I don’t think a very wide leg, or palazzo pant, especially in a heavy fabric such as denim, looks good on anyone apart from screen siren Katharine Hepburn.

In the Seventies, the flared jean had no stretch, and was inevitably high-rise: these days, the give is lovely, and I’d choose low-rise, otherwise there is just too much jean going on.

If you are worried about a muffin top, then I suggest you start a petition to bring back that other Seventies stalwart: the smock top.

And a flare looks great whatever your age: I think Mary Berry would look great in a pair.

They also suit any size: if you’re wearing a jacket, just make sure it has a kick, a waist, and ends halfway down your bottom, because this will balance out the proportions.

Actress Amber Valletta in Victoria Beckham, and my favourite outfit: a mannish jacket, flares that just reveal the toes, and three bags to ensure she’s not blown away by the wind

Actress Amber Valletta in Victoria Beckham, and my favourite outfit: a mannish jacket, flares that just reveal the toes, and three bags to ensure she’s not blown away by the wind

Victoria Beckham’s trousers are slightly too high rise for my liking, but I much prefer them to her usual skinniest of skinnies

Victoria Beckham’s trousers are slightly too high rise for my liking, but I much prefer them to her usual skinniest of skinnies

A great brand for plus-size women (or extended women, which is apparently the new PC term) is UllaPopken.co.uk, where you fill find a selection of flares for £50.

Remember the hem of your flares must fold onto your foot, meaning they touch the ground at the back. There weren’t any puddles in Chelmsford, circa 1974: we girls, channelling blonde Agnetha from Abba (mine, like hers, were embroidered with flowers), simply soaked them up with our trousers. I also prefer flares with flats: a heel can give the impression you’re on casters.

My rediscovery of the flare came this spring. I’d been in skinny jeans or slim trouser suits for 25 years — the bootcut (a half-hearted flare) passed me by (too Eurotrash and apologetic for my liking).

But then a stylist turned up for a photoshoot with a pair of inky Paige Manhattan flares (£315), I pulled them on, and it was a revelation: thighs no longer compressed sausages, calves no longer constricted, toes no longer turning blue.

Christie Brinkley’s baby pink trouser suit would look perfect on anyone over a size 14. It shouts Look At Me!

Kate Moss proves she’s still got it in these Anna jeans by Gerard Darel, £118. She has a long body and short legs, and flares elongate her limbs

Christie Brinkley’s (left) baby pink trouser suit would look perfect on anyone over a size 14. It shouts Look At Me! Right, Kate Moss proves she’s still got it in these Anna jeans by Gerard Darel, £118. She has a long body and short legs, and flares elongate her limbs

The fabric was soft and stretchy: unlike me with men, flares these days are very forgiving. It is the perfect laid-back trouser.

A flared trouser suit such as the Jigsaw version the Duchess of Cambridge recently wore says you mean business, but are approachable, and not trying to be a man (which is what my narrow Helmut Lang suits back in the day shouted from the rooftop).

Frame does a super flare or bell bottom for £135: best not to wear them on a windy day, as you’ll be blown down the road, but my goodness they make your thighs look thin. Still unsure, especially given the eye-watering designer prices (Tom Ford’s flared jeans are £840)? Why not hire a pair? Mywardrobehq.com has a huge selection, from Gucci to Mouret, that will cost you only £9 a day.

DAVID VENNI/GOOD HOUSEKEEPING

DAVID VENNI/GOOD HOUSEKEEPING

Don’t despair, however, they’re already infiltrating the High Street, with flared jeans and pink bell bottoms at Zara for under £26, while River Island has flared denim bottoms for £40. They’re at Topshop, Ted Baker and Whistles, too.

Even Marks & Spencer has a version, though it is admittedly rather safe.

Currently, they also come with the ultimate stamp of cool girl approval, shown off on the streets of every fashion capital this autumn, as well as on the runway at Balmain, Versace and, surprise, Victoria Beckham — a woman for so long wedded to resembling a golf club in her skinny skinnies worn with ballet pumps.

Ultimately, I think there are two reasons why the flare is becoming ubiquitous. First, they make our thighs look thin, and, second, we appear far more relaxed.

‘We’ve gone from dressing to look good to dressing to feel good,’ pronounced fashion bible Vogue the moment the second lockdown was announced.

Flares achieve this aim, which is more than can be said for many of our ambitions at the moment.

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