The Definition of “Bell-Bottom Pants”

Bell-bottom pants were a groovy trend that reached the height of their popularity in the 1960s and 1970s. These pants were known for their flared-leg bottom and are a staple of disco fashion Halloween costumes. Thanks to celebrity stylist Rachel Zoe and a few other ’70s fashion fans, the bell-bottom is back in a big way.

The Navy: Where It All Started

Some trends don’t start in a high-end fashion designer’s mind. This was the case for bell-bottoms. Bell-bottoms pants were a staple of U.S. Navy outfits, mostly for practicality. The wider legs made it easier for sailors to pull their boots on and off quickly. The pants could be tied together and filled with air to serve as a life preserver, if needed. While that’s not probably why you wear them, you can thank naval uniform designers for why you wear bell-bottoms.

At the Top: Fitted for Flaring

Bell-bottoms are all about contrasts. The waistband and thighs are more form-fitting while the bottom portion is flared out. The pants get their name because they resemble a bell, with its long stem and wide metal end. A lot of vintage-inspired bell-bottoms feature a high waistband that hits just underneath your belly button. This hugs your waist and hips, and the jeans are tight-fitting in the thighs as well. As you can imagine, not just any woman can pull off the bell-bottom look. If you have a slim waist, thighs and hips, however, the look can be for you.

The Flared Leg

The bell-bottom pant was an evolution from the flared pant, which has more of a gently expanding pant leg that’s roomy in the thigh and lower leg. The bell-bottom reached its maximum flared lower leg and tight waistband combination in 1975, according to At this time, the look was a very wide flare just under the knee. The look is very exaggerated, sometimes to the point of which the material of your jeans is so voluminous that it bunches up together and swings when you walk. Bell-bottom pants were a staple of the leisure suit and also were worn paired with long tunics and button-down shirts and long vests.

Making It Work

If you want to bring the ’70s bell-bottom trend into the future, there are a few ways you can make that happen without getting second looks from people who think you don’t know what decade it is. Pair the bell-bottoms with a plaid shirt, which gives the look a casual, bohemian vibe. Another method is to play with proportions. Wear a longer, tunic-style T-shirt underneath a shrunken blazer or jacket. Another option is to wear it with a loose, flowing cardigan in a colorful print and belt it with a skinny belt.

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