AKA: bell bottoms, boot cut, flared

How to say it: as it looks

Traditional Features: 

The flare comes in many shapes and sizes; the image below shows a basic pant with a traditional flared shape from the knee.

body template

  • slim fit throughout the waist, hip and thigh
  • flared from the knee
  • the knee should be quite tight-fitting
  • usually worn long enough to cover the shoes


…of the style: While most people would automatically envisage polyester bell bottomed pants in crazy colours ala the 1970s (and possibly Saturday Night Fever), technically the term ‘flares’ can be used to describe any pant whose shape flares out from the leg even just a little bit.

The original flares or bell bottoms were worn by the sailors in the US Navy in the early 19th Century. They wore wide leg pants with a bell shape at the bottom that made them easy to put on or remove over heavy boots, able to be rolled up when working bare foot on the deck and easy to remove in water if a sailor found himself overboard.

In the 1960s the member of the Hippie and Anti-war movements adopted the flared pant as a statement against the straight-legged styles of the establishment. It is suggested that members of these counter cultural groups purchased naval bell bottoms from surplus stores and embellished them as a means of personal expression. Others bought regular jeans and added triangles of fabric down the outer leg seam, from the knee to the hem, which also created a flare. These pants were loose and comfortable and initially went against the current fashions, thus allowing the wearer to make an anti-establishment protest just by getting dressed.

By the 1970s the clothing brands had caught on to the flared trend and were producing them en masse, thus causing the flare to cross over into mainstream fashion. Up until this point the flared pant had been primarily made out of denim, but with the invention of polyester, flares emerged on the marketplace in all sorts of crazy colours and prints in the new fabric.

The flared pant lived on until the introduction of ‘Power dressing’ in the 1980s, when the trends changed and women were encouraged to dress like men in order to progress in the world. In the 1990s the flared pant started to return, although in a somewhat more restrained manner.

The boot cut, (a slim fit style with a small flare from the mid to low calf which allows the pant to be worn over boots) and flared style (similar to the boot cut, but with a more pronounced flare) continued to gain popularity through the turn of the century as women began to dress in shapes that flattered their individual figures, rather than what was necessarily on trend. Flared pants became acceptable office attire and were available in a range of fabric and colours, as well as the ever popular denim.

While there has been a recent obsession with skinny style pants, women have continued to want to dress in shapes that flatter their own bodies and due to this the flared styles have survived. This anything-goes-as long-as-it-looks-good approach to dressing has seen the revival of true bell-bottom flares, as well as wide leg pants similar to those of the original naval bell bottoms, but they are definitely not as popular as they once were.

…of the name: The pants are called flares because they flare out towards the hem or cuff. Bell Bottoms got their name because the flared part of the pant leg often had curved seams which created a bell-like shape..

For more info on Flares try Inthe70s.com, Now&Then, Secret Closet or check out the Fairchild’s Dictionary of Fashion

Random Facts

  • Some sources state that the naval bell bottoms could also be used as a floatation device if the legs were tied up and filled with air. I am not sure if this is true, or if it worked, but it might have.

21st Century Elephant Pants

Now available in all kinds of colours and fabrics, with varying amounts of flare, in every style from a go-to jean to a formal evening pant – almost every major brand offers a flared bottom option. And while not all versions are particular popular or flattering, the flare is definitely here to stay.

free people rachel zoe

Free People, Rachel Zoe

wes gordon true religion

Wes Gordon, True Religion


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