Throwback Thursday: How the Bell-Bottom Got its Groove

Levi Strauss & Co.
September 25, 2014

Eighty years ago this month, Levi Strauss & Co. forever changed women’s fashion with the introduction of Lady Levi’s® jeans — the world’s first jeans made exclusively for women. To celebrate, we’ll be sharing Levi’s women’s fashions from our archives throughout the month.

Hippie culture elevated bell-bottom pants to fashion-icon status during the 1960s and 1970s, but the flared leg style actually had been around since the seventeenth century. The original design served a functional purpose — and even helped save the occasional sailor in distress. The wide legs rolled up easily when doing messy jobs like washing the decks, and if a sailor fell overboard, he could pull the pants over his boots and the wide legs would inflate with air. How’s that for innovation?

It wasn’t until the 1960s that bell-bottoms became a symbol of counter culture. Young people began to reject expensive, conservative garments in favor of casual, inexpensive items from thrift and military surplus stores.

Bell-bottoms became hugely popular during this time, but were generally only available in surplus stores. They were seen by many as a style for radicals, so clothing manufacturers were hesitant to sell them. To achieve the look, ladies often took matters into their own hands, cutting the outside seam on their straight-leg Levi’s jeans and adding a triangle of fabric to create a wider leg.

By the 1970s, however, the trend had moved mainstream.

It was at this time that Levi’s introduced new varieties of bell-bottoms and flares for both men and women. The open-leg flare style for women (pictured below) was an instant hit.

8 - Flares