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The Bell Bottom Pants fad of the 1970’s

People wearing bell bottom pants at steps of public library on Capitol Street Charleston

Trousers with legs that became wider from the knees downward were immensely popular in the 1970’s. Called “bell bottom pants” because of the bell like flare at the bottom of the pants leg, the bell bottom pants craze began in the late 1960’s but bell bottom pants were worn many years before.

Coco Chanel introduces bell-bottoms by another name

woman wearing flared bell bottom pants circa 1920

During the 1920’s, famed French fashion designer Coco Chanel revolutionized women’s fashion by introducing a looser, more comfortable silhouette that freed women from the corsets and frills that then dominated the apparel industry.  Women loved her less expensive, more comfortable designs that kicked the “corseted silhouette” to the side without sacrificing elegance.

In 1954, Coco Chanel introduced a more relaxed design for pants that were made for lounging on the beach.  She called them “beach pajamas” or “yachting pants”. They were revolutionary but did not catch on except with the fringe fashion group. They would later come to be called “bell-bottoms.”

The navy wears bell bottom pants

Royal Canadian Navy soldier wearing bell bottom pants

In the early 19th century, the United States Navy wore pants ending in bell bottoms. Commodore Stephen Decatur described the Navy soldier dress in 1813:

“Navy soliders were wearing canvas hats with stiff brims, decked with streamers of ribbon, blue jackest buttoned loosely over waistcoats and blue trousers with bell bottoms”

Navy bell bottom pants

Bell bottom pants were functional for the US Navy personnel allowing them to easily remove their boots. They were also easy to roll up and easier to take off if they became wet making them perfect for the Navy branch of the U.S. military.

Soon after the United States Navy began use of bell bottom pants, bell bottoms were also adopted by other navies, including the British Navy.  When Prince Albert had his youngest son Prince Albert Edward painted in an enlisted man’s bell-bottom sailor suit, it created a sensation leading to the sailor suit becoming one of the most enduring boy’s fashions in the United Kingdom.

Bell bottom pants remained in use by the U.S. Navy until 1998.

The bell bottom pants craze

Elvis Presley wearing bell bottom pants

The bell bottom pants craze of the 1970’s began in Europe in the mid 1960’s during which time they first became fashionable with European women. Their popularity spread to American women a few years later and the style began to be adopted by hippies of the counterculture movement. Hippies, who often wore military outfits as a protest against the United States military, could purchase cheap bell bottom pants at navy surplus stores and embellish them with colorful stitching and patches to add their own personal style to the pants.

By the 1970’s men also wore the bell bottom pants. Blues Rock super group Derek and the Dominos wrote and sang the popular “Bell Bottom Blues” song.  In addition, Sonny and Cher wore bell bottoms in their popular variety television show.   Jimi Hendrix helped popularize the style after he wore floral embroidered bell bottoms to the famous Hollywood Bowl concert in 1968.   Even the Brady Bunch family wore bell bottoms in nearly every episode of their popular television series.   By the md 1970’s, men were wearing polyester bell bottom pants with suit jackets while the women wore bell bottom jeans with colorful blouses.

Loon pants branch off from bell bottoms style

loon pants advertisement

Similar to bell bottom pants, “loon pants” flared more from the knee than bell bottoms. Loon pants were worn by go-go dancers on the British TV music and variety show Ready Steady Go in 1966.  The loon pants style later became associated with the disco dancing craze of the late 1970’s.

Geek Slop’s bell bottoms pants virtual museum

Image Credits

Loon pants advertisement via Nostalgia Central with usage type - Editorial use (Fair Use)
Elvis Presley wearing bell bottom pants via Sof Rep by San Diego History Center with usage type - Editorial use (Fair Use). April 26, 1973, Elvis Presley performs at the San Diego Sports arena
Navy bell bottom pants via Sofrep with usage type - Public Domain
Royal Canadian Navy soldier wearing bell bottom pants via Sof Rep with usage type - Public Domain
Woman wearing flared bell bottom pants circa 1920 via Shaft with usage type - Public Domain
Girl in Hong Kong wearing bell bottom pants via Wikipedia Commons with usage type - GNU Free
People wearing bell bottom pants at steps of public library on Capitol Street Charleston via Wikipedia Commons by Schaefer, Harry, Photographer with usage type - Public Domain
Bell bottom pants Summer 1973 via Wikipedia Commons by Peter Broster with usage type - Creative Commons License. August 4, 1974 In the summer of 1973 I went to the Eisteddfod in Rhuthun with Paula, Jane, Pam and Keith. This was taken as we wandered the streets of the town. Keith sadly died in 1993(?) Pam's bellbottoms remain a classic.
Tall natural redhead Erika on a North Devon beach in the UK, wearing bell bottom jeans. Mid 1970s. via Wikipedia Commons by Mike Powell with usage type - Creative Commons License

Featured Image Credit

People wearing bell bottom pants at steps of public library on Capitol Street Charleston via Wikipedia Commons by Schaefer, Harry, Photographer with usage type - Public Domain