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The Bell Bottom Pants fad of the 1970’s

Trousers with legs that became wider from the knees downward were very 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 wore by Navy personnel as early as 1810.

The navy wears bell bottom pants

In the early 19th century, pants ending in bell bottoms were worn by the United States Navy. 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”

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

During the 1920’s, Coco Channel revolutionized women’s fashion in the early 20th century by introducing a looser, more comfortable silhouette that freed women from the corsets and frills that then dominated the apparel industry. In 1954, Coco Channel introduced a design for pants that were made for lounging on the beach.  She called them “beach pajamas,” and they would later come be called “bell-bottoms.”

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 counter culture 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 the bell bottom pants were also worn by men. 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

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.