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Bell-bottoms: Wikis


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Bell-bottoms are trousers that become wider from the knees downward. Related styles include flare, loon pants and boot-cut/leg trousers. Hip-huggers are bell-bottomed, flare, or boot-cut pants that are fitted tightly around the hips and thighs.


Naval origins

Illustration of sailors in uniform, 1854

Bell-bottoms' precise origins are uncertain. In the early nineteenth century, very wide pants ending in a bell began to be worn in the U.S. Navy. Clothing varied between ships, however, in the early days of the U.S. [1][2][3] In one of the first recorded descriptions of sailors' uniforms, Commodore Stephen Decatur wrote in 1813 that the men on the frigates United States and Macedonia were wearing "glazed canvas hats with stiff brims, decked with streamers of ribbon, blue jackets buttoned loosely over waistcoats and blue trousers with bell bottoms."[1] Though the British Royal Navy usually was the leader in nautical fashion, bell-bottoms did not become regulation wear for the Royal Navy until the mid-1800s.[2] These "bell-bottoms" were often just very wide-legged trousers, unlike modern versions cut with a distinct bell.[2] While many reasons to explain sailors' wearing of this style have been cited over the years, most theories have little credibility because reliable documentation is lacking.[2][3]

Bell-bottoms in the 1960s and 1970s

The style of bellbottoms popular in the 1970s

Bell-bottoms became very fashionable for women in the mid 1960's in Europe and in North America by the late 1960s and much of the 1970s, both for men and women.[4] By 1967, they went from high-fashion to become part of the hippie counter-culture movement in the late 1960s, together with love beads, granny glasses, and tie-dye shirts, even getting mentioned in popular music, such as Bell Bottom Blues" by Blues-Rock super-group Derek and the Dominos in the 1970s, they moved into the mainstream.[4] Sonny and Cher helped popularize bell-bottoms in the USA by wearing them on their popular television show.[4] However, they can be seen as early as 1964, in the concert film The T.A.M.I. Show, worn (white "flares" with a baby-doll top) by a young Toni Basil, who at the time was a go-go dancer.

Today, the original men's bell bottom pants and flares from the 1970s are collectible vintage clothing items. Worn by men to attend retro theme disco parties, worn in retro revival bands, and to wear clubbing - men's bell bottom pants are a popular fashion item from the 1970s.[5]

Loon pants (shortened from "balloon pants") were one type of bell-bottomed trousers. They flared more from the knee than typical bell-bottoms, in which more of the entire leg was flared.They could be seen worn occasionally by the go-go dancers on the British TV music variety show Ready Steady Go! in 1966. They were a 1970s fashion, and could initially only be bought via catalog from a company in Britain which advertised in the back of the New Musical Express.[citation needed] They were usually worn with a Led Zeppelin T-shirt and sandals. They became associated with disco music. When the disco backlash started in 1979, bell bottoms started to go out of fashion along with leisure suits and other clothes that had become associated with disco. Elephant bells, popular in the mid to late 1970s, were similar to loon pants but typically made of denim. Elephant bells had a marked flare below the knee, often covering the wearer's shoes.

Flare and boot-cut jeans in the 1990s

In the late 1980s, during the rise of acid house and the Second Summer of Love, bell bottoms became popular again in women's and men's fashion in Europe spreading to the Americas. They were initially reintroduced as boot-cut (also spelled "boot cut" or "bootcut"), tapering to the knee and loosening around the ankle to accommodate a boot. Over time, the width of the hem grew wider and the term "flare-leg" was favored in marketing over the term "bell-bottom". As with boot-cut hems, the trend began in Europe and spread rapidly around the world. Today both boot-cut and flare-leg pants remain popular both in denim and higher quality office wear. In menswear straight-leg also gave way to boot-cut looks, again initially in Europe, and has made its leap into flare-leg for officewear, the same as what has happened in womenswear. In most cases men's boot-cut and women's boot-cuts differ. Women's jeans are tight to the knee and then flare out slightly to the hem while men's styles are usually flared/loose all the way from crotch to hem. The bell-bottoms of the '60s and '70s can generally be distinguished from the flare or boot-cut pants of the '90s by the tightness of the knee.


  1. ^ a b Ohl, Bob. "Have Bell Bottoms … Will Travel." All Hands. 460 (June 1955): 28-30. Available in part at
  2. ^ a b c d Dervis, "Bell Bottom Blues." Made to Measure Magazine (Mar. 23, 2000).
  3. ^ a b United States. Department of the Navy. Bureau of Naval Personnel. "History of U.S. Navy Uniforms." Appendix 2. United States Navy Uniform Regulations. NavPers 15665D. Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office, 1981. Available at [1].
  4. ^ a b c Cobb, Nathan. "Bell-bottoms back, but the thrill is gone." The Boston Globe (July 19, 1993).
  5. ^ "Dress that". Retrieved 2009-02-12. 

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