My grandfather (may his soul rest in peace) never threw anything away, figuring that if he held on to something long enough it would come back in fashion. This was fine with books and clothes and hats and ties, but didn’t work as well with wedding cakes and oranges.
I was reminded of him when I read recently about the great bell bottoms revival. Bell bottoms, for those who were not around in the 1970s on account of their parents not yet having met, was — we thought then — the greatest thing in trousers. Take a look at the photographs of people of a certain age (I have, through hard work and living long enough become a person of a certain age myself). If they considered themselves hip and modern, they wore bell bottoms. It was fashionable. It was what movie stars were wearing, and when the disco rage began, it fit in neatly with that too. Eric Clapton sang about the bell bottom blues, as did many others.
Like all fads, however, it looks terrible in retrospect. The trousers began as all trousers must, but by the time they went past your knees and reached your feet, they had billowed out into something terrible. You could hide a mid-size animal — a sheep perhaps — in the bell part of the bottoms. I can’t imagine why we thought that was cool (another word from that period).
And yet, here we are. Another generation which believes bell bottoms are cool is upon us. Perhaps they think too that it is — another 70s word — ‘groovy’. Perhaps the Bee Gees and John Travolta are back in fashion too. Sometimes it is hard to keep up.
One generation’s ‘cool’ is another generation’s ‘yuck’. I mean, can you imagine wearing see-through shirts that were, briefly, the rage in the 80s? One store in my neighbourhood advertised its fashion thus: ‘Bell bottom trousers to make you feel like a man, see-through shirts to prove you are not.’ It probably drove people away from both trousers and shirts for life.
There was another accessory to bell bottom trousers — the broad belt. You were not complete till you had an outsize belt to go with the bell bottoms, long hair and drooping moustaches. Respectable parents who have destroyed photographs of themselves from the 70s won’t thank me for dredging up these memories. But we have to face our mortifications in order to get over them.
Psychiatrists have traced many conditions to the trauma of the growing up years. ‘Did you wear bell bottoms?’ they ask, and nod sagely when the answer is ‘Yes’. Freud was wrong. It wasn’t our parents who were at fault. It was the bell bottom trousers.