Fashion

History of Bell Bottom Jeans

As the name suggests, bell-bottoms are a form of pants that are fit from the thighs and widen from the knee downwards. The flare gives them the look of a bell, hence the name, bell-bottoms. The history of fashion has seen a variety of styles when it comes to pants/trousers. The skinnies have ruled over the fashion timeline for quite a while, the cropped pants, the straight trousers, the capris, etc. all have had their share of fame.

woman wearing slim fit jeans with sneakers and a black top

Early History

Bell bottom jeans aren’t a recent fad, they have a history that dates long back to the seventeenth century. Getting their significance from the 1970s, bell-bottom jeans have been an iconic trend.

Even though no one knows who invented the bell-bottom styled jeans, the earliest adoption of this trend was during the seventeenth century. It was when the U.S. Navy had no formal uniform and some sailors adopted wearing wide-legged trousers. This trend was taken up, during the War of 1812, merely on the basis of functionality and not fashion.

As history records, wearing wide-legged trousers made it easier for the sailors to roll the pants up in case of high waters. This prevented their clothes from soiling while working in muddy waters. These pants were more of just wide-legged trousers rather than properly shaped bell-bottoms. They were continuously used as part of the uniform until in 1977, they were replaced by a more conventional flare of the approved navy uniform. Even though the current uniform of the US Navy is known to be bell-bottomed, they simple just have wide legs.

sailors wearing wide legged navy pants

During the 1920s, the bell bottoms made an entry into mainstream fashion through the unique designs of the French Designer Coco Chanel. Chanel was famous for making the women of this era come out of their corsets and dresses, and wearing loose trousers and pants. Chanel took inspiration from the loose sailor pants and introduced versions of her own such as, ’Yachting pants’ and ‘Beach Pajamas’.

Later, the bell bottom trend got famous again during the 1960s. They became a fad among both men and women. As the American youth became more involved in radical political and artistic movements, a culture of rebellion began. These young people rejected the mainstream fashion and were often tagged as ‘Bohemians’ or ‘Hippies’. They were known to shop for clothes from the cheap, Army Surplus stores, and this is where they found the Navy’s denim bell-bottoms.

Adorned with embroidery and patches, these pants represented the hippie culture. The designs soon got famous, and people started turning their straight pants into bell-bottoms by inserting a triangle of fabric into the side seam of the pants. Later, fashion designers picked up on bell-bottoms and soon the trend was selling under famous brand names.

The 1970s was the era well-known for the introduction of disco. The disco era is famous for its flared pants, wide-collars and high heeled shoes. It is this period where the bell-bottoms became a huge success. This era was known for bell-bottom jeans or pants that flared out from the bottom of the calf and had slightly curved hems. In 1971, blues rock group ‘Derek and the Dominos’ also mentioned bell-bottoms in one of their popular music singles ‘Bell Bottom Blues’.

woman wearing bell bottom jeans with platform shoes standing on the beach

The 1970s was the period when bell-bottom was introduced into mainstream fashion. The bell-bottoms also gained popularity through the famous television show ‘The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour’. Sonny and Cher were seen wearing flared pants in this show. The hems of these pants were around 26 inches, and they typically flared from the knee down. These pants were usually made of denim, colorful satin or polyester, and have been known to be so iconic that they are considered a symbol to the 70s era.

This era also saw a variant of the bell-bottoms, known as the Loon pants which is short for Balloon Pants, but with a larger flare. Dancers in the British UK variety show were occasionally seen adorning these Loon pants. One other variant of the bell-bottoms was the Elephant bells. They became popular in the mid-to-late 1970s. They resembled Look pants, but were normally made of denim. They had a distinct flare right below the knee and often covered the wearers shoes. They were paired with platform shoes with heels at least 4 to 5 inches to keep the pants’ hems off the ground.

woman wearing flared jeans paired with a white tshirt
In the late 1970s, the bell-bottom slowly started dying. After the start of punk rock, the bell-bottoms became less fashionable and were taken over by the skinny pants.

Modern Times

Just when everyone believed that flared jeans were gone for good, bell-bottoms slowly but surely started gaining popularity again in the 1990s. The 90s fashion showed an inclination towards baggier styles so the flared trousers/pants made a comeback. In 1996, women’s bell-bottoms hit the mainstream fashion once again!

woman wearing wide legged jeans with black shirt posing in front of a wooden wall

However, these pants were a toned-down version of the expansive flares of the past. Referred to as ‘boot cut’, these pants had a subtle flare. The flare of the 90s was all about a slim hip and upper thigh, with a minimal flare at the bottom as opposed to the bell-bottoms of the 70s which were all about huge flares. The boot cut style ruled over the fashion for almost a decade.

one woman wearing slim fit jeans and second woman wearing boot cut jeans posing in front of a wall

Today, bell-bottoms are making a comeback again. In their 2015 collection, a number of designers seemed to have taken inspiration from the flares of the 70s. Even though the trend of bell-bottom jeans has been going on and off, they are never completely out of fashion. Women have been seen carrying a number of styles in the current fashion scenario. Some may be seen sporting skinnies while others may be seen wearing flares. Straight pants are also the choice of many.

man wearing loose fit jeans sitting on platform staring somewhere

Going through the new trends introduced for the fall 2019 season, one thing that is quite noticeable is that all the majority new trends of this season, are somewhat a comeback of one or the other iconic trends of the past. One similar fashion fad is the flared jeans which is all set to make its comeback in the fashion scene again. Bell-bottoms is an evergreen style. Incorporating it in your wardrobe is never a fail.

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