Bell-Bottom Trousers

Figure 1.--.

The knee breaches and trousers worn by men and boys in the 18th century were normally tight and form fitting. The long trousers that men began to wear in the early 19th century were also normally long rather tight. At about the same time that men began to wear long trousers, bell-bottom rtousers also appeared. And they first appeared at sea. I'm not yet sure when and where they first appeared an who invented them. They were first adopted by the American Navy. We know they were in use by the 1810s, but they may have first appeared somewhat earlier. The American bell-bottoms had 13 buttons. We are not positive just what the purpose of flared trousers at sea were. There are a variety of theories. Bell-bottoms were easier to take off if a sailor fell overboard. They were practical aboard ship as well. Sailors could more easily roll them up to scrub the decks. Another factor may be that a standard bolt of serge was always 54" wide. This mean that bell-bottoms were a more efficient use of the fabric. Bellbottoms were also adopted by other navies, including the British Navy. When Prince Albery has his youngest son Prince Albert Edward painted in an enlisted man's bell-bottom sailor suit, it created a sensation leading to the sailor suit becominh one of the most enduring boy's fashions. The American Navy continued using tbell-bottoms throughout the 20th century, finally abadoning them in 1998. Bell-bottoms remained a strictly military fashion, except for boys' sailor suits. Most boys wore sailor suits with kneepants, especially after the 1860s. There were also longpants sailor suits, these were always bell-bottoms. This did not change until the late 1960s. At this time in America, youth, both boys and girls began wearing bell-bottom trousers. They were particularly popular among the Hippy Movement. I am not entirely sure why, but we note that while the Hippies and Anti-War Movement objected to the military, the youths involved often war a variety of military garments. The term bell-bottom ws the only term for these pants until the mid-1960s when the term "flares" came into use. Some fashion historians claim that the designer Coco Chanel played a role in popularizing bell bottoms. The original flares for teenagers were jeans. In the 1970s brightly colored flares became popular for disco dancing. Clothing companies began making flares in other materials, especially polyester. Flares went out of style in the 1980s. There was a renewed interest in flares duing the mid-1990s. Flares are now popular, especially for girls jeans.


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Created: November 14, 2003
Last updated: November 14, 2003