A Brief History of Bell Bottoms
by Madeline Berger
April 25, 2018 | Last Updated: January 7, 2021
Here at Ragstock, we have over sixty different styles of bell bottoms. Why do we love them so much? First of all, they’re comfy as hell—made from the softest material with a stretchy waistband. Second, they’re super flattering on virtually everyone. Because the fabric flares out to be widest at the bottom, it creates the illusion of a smaller waist (and hey, we all wouldn’t mind that, right?).
After so many years of skinny jeans (still great, don’t get me wrong), it feels as though tons of pant cuts are having their moment. Bell bottoms totally make the list because, unlike overall larger pants like wide leg and the “mom jean”, they retain a certain amount of curve-hugging while still being airy and different. Curious about how these pants came to be? I was, so I did a bit of digging. If you’d rather skip the (surprisingly interesting) history lesson and get to the shopping, find all of Ragstock’s bell bottoms, starting at just $14.99.
I always associated bell bottoms with the mid-‘70s. It’s true that this is when they had their big moment—the spotlight was on the likes of Sonny and Cher, Queen, The Jackson 5, Jimi Hendrix, and Bowie—all wearing moderate to ultra-flared “Elephant Bell” bell bottoms in all kinds of cuts and colors.
Their origin, however, was long before this! In the 19th century, they were designed by the U.S. Navy to be worn by sailors for tons of practical reasons. For instance, the wide leg of the pant made it easier to grab if a sailor fell overboard! The pants could easily be slipped off if you did end up needing to swim to shore, flipped up to avoid a flooded deck soaking the hems, and even filled with air and tied closed or pulled over the boot in the need of a last-minute flotation device!
Bell bottoms slowly phased out of the Navy circuit, replaced by straighter-legged alternatives. It wasn’t until the mid-‘60s when bell bottoms began to be purchased at local surplus and second-hand stores by young people in what would soon be recognized as one of the more distinct periods of youth counterculture in U.S. modern history. The bell bottom demanded attention and represented rebellion in a society saturated with straight-leg pants. It aligned with the strong anti-war sentiment at the time, conveyed in part by re-styling second-hand military clothing.
As with every trend started by the few, bell bottoms quickly became mainstream and stayed popular through the disco days of the ‘80s, disappearing for a while before a reappearance in the ‘90s cut as a denim jean.
Today, with the ‘90s being potentially more popular than they were in the actual ‘90s, bell bottoms are back. Now that you know their entire life story, find a pair of bell bottoms for yourself!