London - When in doubt on sizing, order down - this is the advice from the sales assistant in American Apparel.
I am holding up a pair of disco pants, currently the store’s best-selling item and, probably, given the number of celebrities who have been spotted out and about in them (Jessie J favours the gold version, Tulisa loves the red), the best-selling item in the country right now.
So, I “order down”. I choose an XS. Oh dear.
I am forced to do something I haven’t done for a very, very long time. Probably not since 1978, when I first spied Olivia Newton-John in those shiny black trousers that fit her like a second skin, walking down those steps in the closing funfair scenes of Grease.
I have to lie on the floor of the changing room, my feet sticking out under the curtain like a corpse, hook the zip with a coat hanger, and attempt to pull them up. I then stand, but find I cannot bend at the middle.
My thighs resemble sausages. My feet start to turn blue, as I have cut off the blood supply. I begin to worry very seriously about deep vein thrombosis.
Why are these disco pants - available in purple, grey, red and Olivia Newton-John black - suddenly so in vogue? According to all the fashion bunnies I speak to, it is because they have a high waist, which acts as a corset: the fat doesn’t bubble out until it reaches your bust, where it can be encased in your bra.
The trousers are indeed like a giant pair of Spanx: they hold in your bottom and thighs (they have five pockets, but you will never, ever be able to place anything in those pockets, not even a postage stamp), although one young woman tells me that when she wore a pair, some of her fat spilled out downwards over the strap of her Mary Janes. Yeew!
This is the only reason they are selling out: women think they make them look thin.
I remember the enormous impact Newton-John’s spidery legs had on all girls at my technical college.
Even though we couldn’t find the exact same pair of shiny trousers (it took me until 1981, when I started bulk-buying Lycra at the Pineapple Dance Shop - eventually they cut my Access card in two), we all started wearing trousers that were far too small for us.
My favourites were brown loons so small I broke the zip, and they were held up for ever after by a giant nappy pin. We would buy 26 in waist pre-washed Levi 501s, too: these had an equally high waist, but given jeans in those days didn’t have a hint of stretch, would require hours spent flat on the bed before we could do up the buttons on the fly.
The technique of getting up from the prone position was important: you had to sort of use your elbows, back straight, and crank yourself upright like a pregnant woman, because if you got up normally the fly would buckle in protest.
The impact of disco culture cannot be underestimated not just upon fashion, but also upon women’s psyches. In 1978, I had two disco outfits: a denim boiler suit with a ‘fab chain belt’ bought from Bonds in Chelmsford, and a mauve pair of harem trousers with a mauve granddad shirt worn with gold strappy sandals from Maud Frizon.
But at least dressing up in those days was about going out and dancing, not just chasing men. I would wager men hate disco pants, given any woman wearing them will refuse to eat, sit down or let him slide a hand around her waist (my waist in these pants feels like a much-mended bicycle inner tube).
I remember having very dry skin at about this time, too, due to the craze for washing one’s face with the yellow soap in the green drawer from Clinique.
Unfortunately, at the same time, I also went for my one and only interview at Vogue: I wore a very tight pair of black loons, and a huge white cobweb knit sweater to hide the overspill that was erupting in my tummy area. Needless to say, I didn’t get the job.
Despite the fantastic sales, the disco pant is not now a high fashion item, although Tom Ford’s autumn-winter 2013 collection was very disco indeed, with very tight, very black trousers that have a small zip at the ankle, presumably to let out steam.
But nevertheless, ever the intrepid fashion guinea pig, I wear my pair to the announcement of the winner of the European leg of the Woolmark Award, once given to Yves Saint Laurent and Karl Lagerfeld in the Fifties, but which goes to Antwerp-based designer Christian Wijnants (I know - me neither).
Among the reed-thin girls in colour blocking, acidic lace, sheer, military and head-to-toe florals, I still look more insane than all of them with my shiny sausage legs and pink face. As I stand next to the legendary Alber Elbaz, the genius behind Lanvin, his distaste at my trousers is palpable.
How to wear the disco pant? Well, I feel that, just like Sandy in Grease, you need a killer pair of heels. You should only put them on at night, because wearing them on the streets of Covent Garden during the day I get all sorts of puzzled looks.
These days, I’d team them with a baggy top, such as a truly Eighties disco asymmetric, one-shouldered, shot-with-Lurex baggy sweatshirt.
At the end of my time-travelling experiment, I have to sit on the floor and peel the wretched pants from my legs. The seams are imprinted on my flesh days later. There are angry weals around my waist.
This is not a garment for the faint-hearted but, most important, if you can remember Newton-John’s tacky trousers from the first time around, step away from the disco pant. It’s a look for the very young and long of limb, not the positively geriatric. - Daily Mail