When Were Bell Bottoms Popular?

Bell bottoms are one of those pieces of clothing that just seems to never go out of fashion, despite originally starting out as a standard piece of uniform for sailors.

Since their days in the navy, these spacious jeans have become somewhat of a stylish fashion statement over the years, having a very distinct design that becomes wider the further they go down the knee. 

When Were Bell Bottoms Popular?

While they can still often be seen when paired with bright and expressive jumpers and tops to give off a vintage look that is incredibly eye-catching, there was actually a time when bell bottoms were far more popular than they were today and were considered an essential part of any stylish fit. 

What Was The Most Popular Period For Bell Bottoms?

Many historians label the 1970s as a ‘pivot of change’ in world history, where everything from movies to politics, all the way to fashion was transforming as people began to see the world in a much more experimental and expressive lens. 

This is where bell bottoms come in, first seen in the 1960s and immediately adopted by the growing American hippie subculture, they soon became mainstream once the 1970s rolled around, especially because television stars such as Cher and Sonny began regularly showing them off when making public appearances. 

Bell bottoms were originally a huge component of the counter-culture movement during the 1960s since they were more often than not found in second-hand thrift stores as opposed to the much more expensive branded stores. 

By the 70s however, they began to fit perfectly with the much more expressive eyecatching styles that dominated that decade.

People were often seen matching them up with a pair of platform shoes and the option of either buying them in cotton, denim, corduroy, or even satin polyester. 

Did Bell Bottoms Ever Go Out Of Fashion?

While bell bottoms have always remained at least fairly popular since they first caught mass attention in the 1960s, by the 1980s many people had begun wearing other types of jeans to match the outfits of the time, with the most popular being flared jeans. 

While they are quite similar to bell bottoms, flared jeans are a little narrower and loosen from the keen to hem while also being a bit wider around the mid-calf.

Flared jeans are therefore even wider at the bottom than their bell bottom counterparts, which helped them fit right in with the wild and experimental outfits that were seen throughout the 90s. 

The ‘boot-cut’ style that flared jeans were known for ended up dominating the fashion scene for over a decade until the early to mid-2000s when skinny jeans began to once again skyrocket in popularity. 

Is It True That Bell Bottoms Were First Worn By Sailors?

When Were Bell Bottoms Popular?

While this can sound like an exciting rumor at first, the truth is that bell bottoms really were first introduced as part of the standardized uniform for the US Navy in the early 19th century.

In fact, the origin behind their unique name even comes from a report of Commodore Stephen Decatur when he recorded in his diary that American sailors on frigates had been seen wearing ‘Blue jackets buttoned loosely over waistcoats, and blue trousers with bell bottoms’. 

While the pants used by US sailors are now a lot straighter, some modern naval uniforms continue to incorporate bell bottoms with their exaggerated wide design, however this isn’t just to look stylish while out at sea.

The cotton fibers used to make bell bottoms can hold air when wet, giving sailors a backup if they abandon a ship without a lifeboat. 

How Popular Are Bell Bottoms Today?

Bell bottoms may be nowhere near as popular as they once were a few decades ago, and the main reason for that is that they were overworn, which is usually the reason for any type of clothing to go out of fashion.

More recently, skinny and ripped jeans have been saturating the market and have become the go-to when it comes to jeans that are both vibrant and expressive. However, this is not to say that bell bottoms have disappeared completely. 

In fact, some fashion enthusiasts even claim that bell bottoms are making a big comeback, especially as people are looking back to the 1980s and 70s for inspiration on what to wear.

The primary reason these people think bell bottoms are making a grand return is due to just how versatile they are since they can be worn with essentially any footwear without looking out of place.

Whether it’s sneakers, boots or heels, all match perfectly with the free-flowing design of bell bottoms. 

Not to mention, more and more celebrities from Kanye West to Lady Gaga are sporting bell bottoms during their public appearances and performances which can only cause their popularity to grow. 

On top of this, bell bottoms are also a lot easier to find now that they are mass-produced and much fewer people are buying them, however, this sounds like it could change very soon. 

Types Of Bell Bottoms

If reading about bell bottoms has made you curious to pick them up to give any outfit a real carefree vintage look, there are a few different types to choose from. 

  • Straight-legged bell bottoms – have a predominantly straight fit with an exaggerated flare at the bottom, making them closer to the design of modern jeans. 
  • Bootleg bell bottoms – have a tighter fit around the thigh while being loose around the calf and are usually worn with sneakers or paired with casual shoes more than heels or more professional types of footwear. 
  • Wide-leg bell bottoms – are very wide for most of the length for when you’re looking to pull off that authentic carefree 70s look as easily as possible. 


While they may have been most widely seen in clubs, bars and raves during the colorful 1970s era, bell bottoms have certainly not gone anywhere and are expected to receive a massive boost in attention in the coming years.  

Willa Price