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Bell Bottoms Day

Bell-bottoms or flares, pants that flare below the knees into what look like bells, are celebrated today with Bell Bottoms Day. Made of materials such as denim, polyester, and cotton, and into styles like jeans and corduroys, bell-bottoms are often worn with platform shoes so that their bells stay off the ground.

Early records show that flared or belled pants were worn by sailors during the War of 1812, but they likely were worn by sailors as far back as the 1600s. They served a utilitarian purpose, making it easier for sailors to roll up their pants when they had to work or walk in high water. Flared pants also made it safer for them if they fell in water: the pants could be taken off quicker than other pants—over shoes—and they could more easily be inflated into a life preserver than other pants. Until 1998, bell-bottoms were part of the US Navy's uniform.

In the 1920s, French designer Coco Chanel designed pants for women inspired by the flared pants of sailors. Her wide-legged pants, called "yachting pants" and "beach pajamas," brought bell-bottom-like pants into fashion, and were the forerunners of the fashionable bell-bottoms that came decades later.

Bell-bottoms reached their zenith in the 1960s and '70s. In the mid-1960s they were part of European women's fashion. In America, they emerged as a reaction to the conservative clothing styles and attitudes of the 1950s, being worn by hippies of a burgeoning counterculture in the late 1960s. At first, they were not sold in regular clothing stores because they were viewed as being subversive. Hence, they were purchased at Navy surplus stores, where they were inexpensive. The repurposing of military clothing had added significance because many who wore it were against the Vietnam War. Straight-legged pants were sometimes also torn at the bottom and fabric was added to make them into bell-bottoms.

Bell-bottoms went mainstream in the 1970s. Sonny and Cher wore them on their television show, which was broadcast from 1971 to 1974 in its original run, helping to popularize them with the general population. But the reign of bell-bottoms wouldn't last. They lost prominence in the 1980s when skinnier pants like stirrup pants, parachute pants, skinny jeans, and leggings came into vogue. But during the following decade boot cut pants became more common, which were similar to bell-bottoms, but with a smaller bell and tighter fit above the knee. Flare leg pants, with a looser fit than boot cuts but with the same bell, also became popular and continued to be so into the twenty-first century. Flare leg pants and bell-bottoms still are worn, and are celebrated and worn on Bell Bottoms Day!

How to Observe Bell Bottoms Day

Do you have some bell-bottoms? Put them on! If not, buy some! You could also watch some films from the 1960s or '70s and keep your eyes peeled for bell-bottoms, or you could view some vintage photos of people in bell-bottoms.

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