Bell Bottoms: Are They Coming Back?

A model shows off a pair of bell-bottomed pants during a runway show in Sydney, Australia, in 2010.
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The 1960s and '70s in America's fashion history have a unique look that sets them apart from other decades. Part of that came from the popularity of bell bottoms, pants that flared out below the knee into a bell shape. Although it's a symbol of the counter-culture hippie movement, this trouser style actually came from a military look. Bell bottoms started making appearances in the early nineteenth century as part of the U.S. Navy's uniform. Fast-forward to the late 1960s and 1970s, when civilians fell in love with the look and brought it to the mainstream. Every so often the look makes a comeback in fashion circles, including an attempt in the mid-80s. In the last few years, they've been seen on the fashion runways and on celebrities such as Lady Gaga.

Along with the flared leg below the knee, bell bottoms are also unique because they fit tightly around the waist, are tight in the thighs and wide around the ankle. Bell bottoms can have high- or mid-rises (the latter are called hip huggers) and you might see people wearing them so that the bottom hems drag on the floor. Another way to show off the silhouette of the pant is to tuck your shirt into the waistband to show off the higher waist. To eliminate showing shirt lines around your waist, you can tuck your shirt slightly into your underwear. Pair them with flats, a wedge heel or a short boot.


Of course, bell bottoms might not be for every shape, though today's designers are making different cuts to accommodate different body types. If you have slim hips, you can pull off the high-waisted styles. Curvier bodies look better in lower-cut styles that come in darker colors.

As the bell bottom trend continues to make headway in the fashion arena, more designers are hopping on board. Look for pants by J. Brand, 7 For All Mankind and Habitual Harrison to fill out your closet with the latest retro style.


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  • Cardellino, Carly. "Bell Bottoms Are Back." Cosmopolitan. Aug. 15, 2012. (Sept. 19, 2012)
  • Dhaliwal, Samantha. "Bell bottoms making comeback." The Augusta Chronicle. June 20, 2011. (Sept. 19, 2012)
  • Jaunts with Jamie. "Bell Bottoms Back in Style." The Milwaukee Sentinel. Sept. 7, 1972. (Sept. 19, 2012),1878586&dq=bell+bottoms&hl=en
  • Snead, Karyn. "Bell-bottoms Ring Out For Fashionable Comeback." Sept. 8, 1985. (Sept. 19, 2012)
  • United States. Department of the Navy. Bureau of Naval Personnel. "History of U.S. Navy Uniforms." Appendix 2. United States Navy Uniform Regulations. NavPers 15665D. Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office, 1981. (Sept. 19, 2012)