A Brief History Of Bell Bottoms
Bell Bottoms in the beginning of the 1970’s were a radical identity label. They were associated with ‘the workers’ or ‘the common man’. Only later did they present ‘radical chic’ or hip style worn by the trendy middle classes and even members of the elite. The belled or flared thighs on bell bottom trousers were initially a style of trousers used by US Navy personnel, or sailors working on merchant ships in the seventeenth-century. Trousers had to be quickly rolled-up for sloppy cleaning work on deck. Additionally, if your sailor fell overboard he would be readily identifiable from the floating fabric, and might be rescued or even float to safety when the life saving fabric filled up with oxygen! Bell bottoms were practical for the man at sea, and could be drawn over the sailor’s boots.
In the late 1970’s, the wide leg trousers, both broad and only slightly flared, produced from denim, vibrant cotton, and silk polyester, were so common that they truly became emblematic of the extravagant and vibrant personality of the 1970s, and once the decade ended people imagined they would disappear off the face of the earth. Not so, the flared trousers continued, and towards the 1990s were part of the fashion tendency toward loose clothing.
In the beginning of the 70’s, when considered to be the clothing of harmful radicals, bell bottoms were not seen as a viable fashion apparel. These wide leg boot friendly trousers were frequently created by people who couldn’t locate them in a local store, and so surplus stores began selling patches of fabric in large quantities to accommodate the new clothing cult of stitching a triangle of material to broaden the leg and reduce the exterior leg seam. From The 1970s, however, developers had started to promote fashionable flares made from a broad number of fabrics and the trend began for using skin-tight towards the leg, then flared-out in a broad, gentle drape. Some trousers were so broad they were nicknamed “elephant flares.” Pat Boone – singer songwriter – was notorious for wearing these.
These wide leg pants were actually described in popular music, like the simple “Bell-Bottom Blues” by blues-rock group Derek and the Dominos.
Elephant flares, well-known into the mid-to-late-1970’s, were much like loon pants, but were usually made from denim.
Elephant flares had a designated width below the knee, and frequently the person’s shoes needed this because they went with platform boots or shoes.
Loon pants were a version on bell-bottomed jeans, with an elevated sparkle. They were used periodically by go-go dancers on the British Television show Ready Steady Go! The trousers were usually flared from the knee down, with bottom leg openings as much as twenty-six inches.
In the 1970s, bell-bottoms shifted back to conventional style; Sonny and Cher helped popularize bell bottoms in America by carrying them as a fashion item on the well-known TV show, Sonny and Cher.
Nowadays, unique bell bottoms from the late 1960’s, 70’s, and 80’s are valuable vintage clothing.