The economic trough into which this great country of ours is fast sinking is far deeper and more dangerous than any of us might have feared. The credit crunch, the mortgage crisis, the prospect of stagflation, all this and worse is written in the runes, or, to be precise, the stitches.
It has long been accepted by economists that of all the indicators of a likely turning point in the trade cycle the most infallibly reliable is the hemline. John Maynard Keynes knew this, so too did JK Galbraith and Milton Friedman. Even Adam Smith, the father of the science, noted in his dour Scottish way that as the kilt lengthened, the winds grew more chill (though, being of a serious cast of mind, he shrank from essaying a whimsical pleasantry about the Trossachs).
As economic theory developed in complexity with such innovations as econometrics, the basics became obscured until their revival in the Sixties. When Britain finally awoke from the gloom of post-war austerity and entered blinking into the dazzle of prosperity, among the first sights to meet its bemused eye was the mini skirt. Wise old heads recalled that they had seen something of the kind before. Back in the post-war years of the Twenties when good times returned, in came the chemise and hemlines shot up.
There were those who argued this phenomenon was more effect than cause; that an upturn in the trade cycle was mimicked in an exuberant rise in skirts. Others, however, noted that the rising hem presaged several years of plenty. Naturally, the trade cycle being ineluctable, the good times would come to an end. The Roaring Twenties ended in the Great Depression, the Swinging Sixties gave way the the economic trough of the seventies. But when skirts were high, so were the spirits of the nation.
Which brings me to a new and disturbing development, the like of which we have not seen before and which, I fear, has written into it the crack of thunder and the blast of ruinous tempests. An indication of quite how cataclysmic this portent might be is that it entails a complete shift from the hemline to the waistline and is marked by an unprecedented narrowing between the two.
Consistent with our times, the omen of which I speak originates overseas. This, after all, is the age of globalisation, and economic power is irresistibly shifting eastwards. Brazil, an emerging economy, has invented ultra low-rise jeans with a built-in bikini or thong. This startling garment gives the impression that the wearer, diverted in the act of hoisting the apparel upwards, has simply abandoned the task half-way, revealing the nether garments, which are themselves skimpy.
The jeans look as though they are held up by nothing but willpower (and, as mothers used to warn their sons in a less enlightened age, the sort of girl who wears her clothes midway either up or down her backside has no willpower at all and spells trouble). In truth, the jeans are a masterpiece of Brazilian engineering. Yes, a Scots engineer may have invented the raincoat and an American the light bulb, but it took a Brazilian to give the world the gravity-defying trouser.
She is, moreover, a woman. Sandra Tanimura, a designer from the clothing company Sanna, came up with the idea after customers asked for ever-lower trousers but then had difficulty keeping them up.
“We specialise in making low-rise trousers,” she says. “And our customers wanted them to get even lower. It was very difficult meeting these demands without the trousers falling down. I came up with the idea of using the bikini strings to let the trousers hang really low without falling.”
What could more eerily prophetic? As the global economy teeters at the edge of recession, its trousers about to fall to its ankles, the holes in its underpants soon to be revealed, the fashion world issues this graphic warning.
Time to change the old aphorism, when America sneezes the rest of the world catches a cold. Today, when Brazil loosens its bikini strings the rest of the world gets haemorrhoids. If ultra low-rise jeans reach these shores, the outlook will be bleak indeed. Like Shakespeare’s Richard III, Britons are not shaped for sportive tricks nor made to court an amorous looking glass. Fed on pizzas and Coke, sustained by doughnuts, and buoyed by alcopops, we are not a nation of nyriads and nymphs but of pumpkins and King Edwards.
When the first carbohydrate-reared specimen of British womanhood pulls her jeans half way up her 50-inch hips and sallies forth, doom will surely beckon.