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Bell-bottoms are trousers that become wider from the knees downward. They are named for their "bell-shaped" look at the bottom of the jeans. They are sometimes also called flares. Styles include loon pants and boot-cut trousers.
In the early 19th century, wide trousers ending in a bell-shaped leg started being worn in the U.S. Navy; however, at the time the style of clothing varied from ship to ship. In one of the first recorded descriptions of sailors' uniforms, Commodore Stephen Decatur wrote in 1813 that the men on the frigates United States and Macedonia were wearing "glazed canvas hats with stiff brims, decked with streamers of ribbon, blue jackets buttoned loosely over waistcoats, and blue trousers with bell bottoms." Though the British Royal Navy was usually the leader in nautical fashion, bell-bottoms did not become part of the standard uniform for the Royal Navy until the mid-19th century. These "bell-bottoms" were often just very wide-legged trousers, unlike the modern version of bell bottoms, which are cut with a distinct bell shape. While many reasons to explain sailors' wearing of this style have been cited over the years, most theories have little credibility because there is no reliable documentation.
Bell-bottoms became fashionable for both men and women in Europe and North America in the mid-1960s. By 1967, the bell-bottom cut evolved from high-fashion to part of the hippie counter-culture movement, which also included love beads, granny glasses, and tie-dye shirts. The pants were even mentioned in popular music, such as "Bell Bottom Blues" by Blues-Rock group Derek and the Dominos. In the 1970s, they moved into the mainstream style; Sonny and Cher helped popularize bell-bottoms in the USA by wearing them on their popular television show. However, they can be seen as early as 1964, in the concert film The T.A.M.I. Show, worn (white "flares" with a babydoll top) by a young Toni Basil, who at the time was a go-go dancer.
In the 1960s, Bell Bottoms (which came into fashion in 1964 and lasted until the end of the decade) flared out in the back and front from the bottom of the calf down, with slightly curved hems. They were usually worn by boys and girls wearing Cuban heeled shoes, Clogs and Chelsea Boots. The jeans typically flared to a hem circumference of 18 inches at the bottom of each leg-opening. By the end of the decade a new look called parallels had emerged, which had a continuous wide leg width from top to bottom. However, the fashion did not take off.
Bell bottoms in the 1970s flared out from the knee down, with bottom leg openings up to 26 inches. Made from denim, bright cotton and satin polyester the jeans were so popular that they became a symbol of the outlandish and colorful style of the 1970s. At the end of that decade many hoped that bell-bottoms were gone for good. While the trend did not disappear entirely, modern boot-cut jeans are less wild than those of the 1970s, flaring just slightly at the front.
Today, original bell bottom pants and flares from the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s are collectible vintage clothing. Items that are worn by people attending retro-themed disco parties and by members retro revival bands.
Loon pants (shortened from "balloon pants") were one type of bell-bottomed trousers. They flared even more from the knee than typical bell-bottoms and more of the entire leg was flared.They were worn occasionally by the Go-Go dancers on the British TV music variety show Ready Steady Go! in 1966. Made from a light cotton De Stewart the owner of the well known London boutique "Your Shop" had loons made in both bright and pastel colors from 1967 onwards. These were sold both in his shop in Camden Passage and in various trendy markets around London. They were also exported around the world and soon became a mainstay of Hippie fashion. They became associated with disco music, but when the disco backlash started in 1979, bell-bottoms started to fade out of fashion along with leisure suits and other clothes that had become associated with disco. They were still popular in the early 1980s, but by the mid-eighties many considered bell bottoms out of style. In the spring of 2011, bell-bottoms as well as the middle-section drop-like pleated pants; a variant of bell-bottoms which grew in popularity and in style among celebrities. Production in boot-cuts has slowed, even more so than in the 1970s.
Elephant bells, popular in the mid-to-late 1970s, were similar to loon pants but typically made of denim. Elephant bells had a marked flare below the knee, often covering the wearer's shoes.
Flare and boot-cut jeans in the late 1980s, and 1990s 
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In the late 1980s, during the rise of acid house and the Second Summer of Love, bell bottoms became popular again in women's and men's fashion in Europe spreading to the Americas, South Africa, Japan and Australia. They were initially reintroduced as boot-cut (also spelled "boot cut" or "bootcut"), which meant tapering to the knee and loosening around the ankle to accommodate a boot. Over time, the width of the hem grew wider and the term "flare-leg" was favored over the term "bell-bottom" in marketing. Similar to boot-cut hems, the trend began in Europe and spread rapidly around the world. Today, both the boot-cut and flare-leg pants remain popular both in denim and higher quality office wear. In menswear straight-leg also gave way to boot-cut looks, again initially in Europe, and has made its leap into flare-leg for office wear. The same as what has happened in womenswear. In most cases men's boot-cut and women's boot-cuts differ. Women's jeans are tight to the knee and then flare out slightly to the hem, while men's styles are usually flared/loose from crotch to hem. The bell-bottoms of the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s can generally be distinguished from the flare or boot-cut pants of the 1990s by the tightness of the fabric around the knee.
See also 
- Ohl, Bob. "Have Bell Bottoms … Will Travel." All Hands. 460 (June 1955): 28-30.
- Dervis, "Bell Bottom Blues." Made to Measure Magazine (Mar. 23, 2000).
- 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.
- Cobb, Nathan. "Bell-bottoms back, but the thrill is gone." The Boston Globe (July 19, 1993).
- "Bell-Bottoms Facts, information, pictures | Encyclopedia.com articles about Bell-Bottoms". Encyclopedia.com. Retrieved 2012-10-16.