A Brief History Of Bell Bottoms
Bell Bottoms in the beginning of the 1970s 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.
Later in the decade, 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.
During this period of clothing extravaganza, bell bottoms were not seen as a practical fashion apparel. Many people considered them to be the uniform of radicals and dropouts. These wide leg boot friendly trousers were often not available 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 cut 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 in the mid-to-late-1970s, were much like loon pants but were usually made from denim.Elephant flares had a designated width below the knee, and often the person’s shoes needed this because they went with platform boots or shoes.
Loon pants were bell-bottomed jeans, with an elevated sparkle. You would often see them 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 a 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 1960s, 70s, and 80s are sought after as vintage clothing.