Bellbottoms were initially designed for Naval personnel. They were designed to flare out at the bottom so that sailors could quickly remove their boots in an emergency situation. The pants became popular as musicians like James Brown, Sonny and Cher and Elvis Presley enjoyed their bell like form. When hippies saw the bell-shaped pants leg, they seemed like a counter-culture alternative to th straight-legged, straight-laced adult-oriented clothing worn by their parents.
Made of denim, the popularity of the pants was enormous, however, they were unavailable in many parts of the country where they were seen as too much of a fashion statement. Some enterprising youths decided to create their own bellbottoms by splitting their jeans along the seams and sewing in a triangular panel.
While the original popularity of the pants focused on denim fabrics, eventually designs emerged, some made of polyester and others of corduroy. These versions were more conservative, with a much smaller bell at the bottom. These so-called “flares” were much like recent “boot cut” pants and were worn by hippies and non-hippies alike.
Bellbottoms were a cultural statement of the youth-oriented hippie generation. They made a big come in the mid-1990′s as the Generation X crowd unknowingly followed in their parents footsteps.
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