Contrary to popular belief, 19th century US sailors -- not hippies -- were the first Americans to sport bell bottom trousers. The Navy adopted this trouser style to make getting out of the trousers, in case of washing overboard, easier. In a pair of bell bottoms, the legs of the trousers flare out in a wide "bell" shape from the knee to the foot. In our modern society, bell bottom trousers are a resurrected fashion statement worn by women, children and men.
Perhaps the most iconic bell bottom look is on a pair of jeans. In the 1960s, society was being inundated with the counterculture movement initiated by teenagers and young adults. The uniform of choice was generally a T-shirt and a pair of bell bottom jeans. The flare of bell bottom jeans was subtle at first but by the 1970s had developed into an extreme wide flare from the knee to the foot. Bell bottom jeans of the 1970s were usually worn very low on the hips. In the late 20th and early 21st centuries, the bell bottom jeans made a comeback in the fashion world and are commonly sported by all ages of jean wearers now in a variety of colours.
Men's Bell Bottoms
Since US sailors were the first to wear bell bottoms, it isn't surprising to note these trousers were adopted in the 1960s and 1970s by men for wearing in many different situations. Along with the ubiquitous bell bottom jeans, men added them for a more dressed up look, often sporting huge striped bell bottoms, bell bottoms in wavy psychedelic colours or more conservative styles in subdued corduroy or the fabric of choice of the 1970s -- double knit. Men's leisure suits were a relaxed business casual fashion of the 1970s that often added bell bottom trousers. Today, fashion rules are free, so men wear bell bottoms that are throwbacks to the looks of the 1960s and 1970s, jeans and even bell bottomed dance and yoga trousers made of Lycra.
Women's Bell Bottoms
Though film stars of the 1930s like Marlene Dietrich and Katherine Hepburn were known for their flared-leg trousers, it wasn't until the 1970s that women really wore true bell bottoms as their trouser of choice. This era saw the rise of the relaxed alternative to a dress -- the pantsuit, a long top, often belted at the waist, over matching bell bottom trousers. Bell bottoms were also a common "dress up" look, especially if going out on the town for a night of dancing, because the wide leg allowed for freedom of movement on the dance floor. Dress-up bell bottoms for women were made out of velvet, satin or leather. Today, women still wear modern versions of all of these bell bottom options.
Children's Bell Bottoms
Children first wore bell bottoms in the 19th century as dress-up clothes. It is noted that Queen Victoria dressed her sons in sailor suits with bell bottom trousers. Today, kids can often be found in bell bottoms of easy-going fabrics. Jean fabric, fleece and lightweight cotton and linen all are used to create easily worn trousers for kids. Kids involved in dance might also wear bell bottom dance trousers for ease of movement. The website All Free Crochet (allfreecrochet.com) even offers a crochet pattern to create a snazzy pair of crocheted bell bottoms for kids.