World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article




Bell-bottoms (or flares) are a style of trousers that become wider from the knees downward, forming a bell-like shape of the trouser leg. Also known today as "bootcut" or "bootfit".


  • History 1
    • Naval origins 1.1
    • 1960s and 1970s 1.2
    • 1990s and 2000s 1.3
  • See also 2
  • References 3


Naval origins

Illustration of sailors in uniform, 1854

In the early 19th century, when a standardized uniform did not yet exist in the U.S Navy, some sailors adopted a style of wide trousers ending in bell-shaped cuffs.[1][2][3] In 1813, one of the first recorded descriptions of sailors' uniforms, written by Commodore Stephen Decatur, noted 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]

The British Royal Navy had often been a leader in nautical fashion, but bell-bottoms did not become part of their standard uniform until the mid-19th century.[2] These "bell-bottoms" were often just very wide-legged trousers, rather than shaped trousers that flared below the knee.[2]

Although the trousers of the current uniform of the United States Navy are still referred to as "bell-bottomed", they simply have large straight legs. The sailor's thigh fills the upper trouser leg, making the bottom of the pants leg appear flared. This style has been popular for many years, perhaps because the trouser leg can be rolled up easily, allowing the sailor to work bare foot, but there is no reliable documentation that confirms a specific timeline or reason for the popularity of bell-bottomed trousers in naval apparel.[2][3]

1960s and 1970s

In the mid-1960s, bell-bottoms became fashionable for both men and women in Europe and North America.[4] Often made of denim, they flared out from the bottom of the calf, and had slightly curved hems and a circumference of 18 inches (46 cm) at the bottom of each leg opening. They were usually worn with Cuban-heeled shoes, clogs, or Chelsea boots. Toni Basil, who was a go-go dancer when the 1964 concert film The T.A.M.I. Show was released, appeared in the film wearing bell-bottoms with a baby doll blouse.

1970s bell-bottoms

By 1967, bell-bottoms had moved from high fashion to part of the hippie counter-culture movement, a style exemplified by love beads, granny glasses, and tie-dye shirts. Bell-bottoms were even mentioned in popular music, such as the single "Bell Bottom Blues" by blues-rock group Derek and the Dominos.

In the 1970s, bell-bottoms moved back into mainstream fashion;[4] Sonny and Cher helped popularize bell-bottoms in the US by wearing them on their popular television show.[4] The pants were typically flared from the knee down, with bottom leg openings of up to twenty-six inches. Made from denim, bright cotton and satin polyester, they were so popular that they became a symbol of the outlandish and colorful style of the decade..[5]

Loon pants (shortened from "balloon pants") were a variant on bell-bottomed trousers, with an increased flare. They were worn occasionally by go-go dancers on the British television music variety show Ready Steady Go! in 1966.

Elephant bells, popular in the mid-to-late 1970s, were similar to loon pants, but were typically made of denim. Elephant bells had a marked flare below the knee, often covering the wearer's shoes. The preferred shoes were platform shoes with soles at least 2 inches (5.1 cm) thick and heels 4 to 5 inches (10 to 13 cm) to keep the pants' hems off the ground.

Today, original bell-bottoms from the 1960s, and 70s are collectible vintage clothing.

1990s and 2000s

In 1996, women's bell-bottoms were reintroduced to the mainstream public, under the name "boot-cut" ("boot-fit") trousers as the flare was slimmer.[6] By 1997, flare jeans had come into vogue among women,[7] which had a wider, more exaggerated flare than boot-cuts (boot-fits). The boot-cut (boot-fit) style ended up dominating the fashion world for 10 years.[8]

By around 2006, the bell-shaped silhouette started to fade as the skinny jean rose in popularity.[9] Sharon Haver, the founder of FocusOn-Style commented "It's as if all the girls wearing premium boot-cut (boot-fit) jeans threw them away one day, and the next day began wearing skinny jeans and flats."[10] However, boot-cuts (boot-fits) and flare jeans never entirely went away, and both of these styles remain relatively popular today both in denim fashion and higher-quality office wear.

Women's boot-cut jeans are tighter at the knee than men's, and flare out from knee to hem. Men's styles are traditionally straight-legged, although the pants came in a more flared style in the early and mid 2000s, but this was optional. The bell-bottoms of the 1960s and 1970s can be distinguished from the flare or boot-cut (boot-fit) of the 1990s and 2000s by the tightness of the fabric at the knee.

See also


  1. ^ a b Ohl, Bob (June 1955). "Have Bell Bottoms...Will Travel". All Hands 460. pp. 28–30. 
  2. ^ a b c d Dervis (March 23, 2000). "Bell Bottom Blues". Made to Measure Magazine. Archived from the original on 2006-04-09. 
  3. ^ a b Department of the Navy Bureau of Naval Personnel (1981). "History of U.S. Navy Uniforms". United States Navy Uniform Regulations (Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office).  NavPers 15665D.
  4. ^ a b c Cobb, Nathan (July 19, 1993). "Bell-bottoms back, but the thrill is gone".  
  5. ^ "Bell-Bottoms Facts". 2004. Retrieved 2012-10-16. 
  6. ^ "Fashions: Year In Review 1996". Retrieved 19 June 2014. 
  7. ^ "Fashion in the 1990s". Retrieved 19 June 2014. 
  8. ^ "Skinny Jean". Time. Retrieved 19 June 2014. 
  9. ^ "Skinny legs and all: Jeans get slender". USA Today. Retrieved 19 June 2014. 
  10. ^ """Wearer beware of "mom jeans. Retrieved 19 June 2014. 
This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from Project Gutenberg are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.