Bellbottoms are a style of pants that are characterized by the way the pant leg widens greatly between the knee and the bottom hem. Usually these pants are worn tight from the waist to the knee, which exaggerates the bell-shaped flare at the bottom. This type of bellbottom pant is known more specifically as a hip-hugger bellbottom pant. Bellbottoms are considered a clothing item for both men and women.
A similarly shaped pant which also has a leg that widens at the bottom is called a flared pant, although with flared pants, the widening of the leg at the bottom is usually less pronounced. Another similar style of pant is the loon pant, which is short for balloon pants. The widening of the bottom half of the legs on a pair of loon pants is even more exaggerated than in bellbottoms.
Bellbottoms are thought to have been a style of pants first worn by United States Navy sailors in the early 1800’s. The pants worn by sailors in this time were different, however, than the bellbottoms which later became popular in the 1960’s and 70’s in the hippie culture of the United States and Britain. Early bell-shaped pants were also wide through the top half of the pant leg.
Although the uniform of the U.S. Navy still includes bell-shaped pants as of the 21st century, bellbottoms are perhaps best known as an icon of hippie fashion. Beginning in the late 1960’s, bellbottom pants became a popular clothing style worn by members of the hippie counterculture, and were highly popular through much of the 70’s. Other iconic hippie fashion items include love beads and granny glasses.
Many chose to take the widening of pant legs into their own hands. A regular pair of jeans could be turned into a unique pair of bellbottoms by cutting a slit from the bottom hem to the knee, and adding a triangle shaped piece of material to widen the pant leg from the knee down. This kind of hand-sewn or hand-altered clothing was not untypical in hippie fashion, and sometimes used to create other items such as tops and purses.
It is common to see bellbottom pants and loon pants worn by young people in photos taken in the 1970’s. During this decade, bellbottoms were a sure feature of the wardrobes of TV celebrities, such as Farrah Fawcett and the musical duo, Sonny and Cher. The hippie fashion also seemed to influence trends in clothing in general, and even pants that were not designed specifically as an item of hippie clothing began to widen at the knee.
Bellbottoms enjoyed a brief comeback in popularity during the 1990’s, both in the Europe and North America. For the most part, however, bellbottom pants are usually worn as an item of costume clothing, for example a hippie Halloween costume, or a retro theme party. Flared jeans, however, remained highly popular through the 1990’s and on into the beginnings of the 21st century. Since the beginning of the 21st century, pant leg width has begun to shrink again. Perhaps the opposite of the bellbottom, pants with legs that are tight to the ankle, have become the fashion of the moment.