THE TREND: “Bell bottoms,” characterized by a snug fit at the thigh and a large bell-shaped flare beginning at the knee and ending at the ankle. Balloon pants (also called “loons”) are styled more like palazzo pants, widening and flaring at the hip in equal measure to the ankle.
ITS INVENTION: When you think of hippie fashion, the first thing that comes to mind are bell bottoms. Inspired by wide-legged pant styles first worn by British sailors in the 1800s, bell bottoms began with the hippie counter culture of the ’60s and slowly crept their way into mainstream youth fashion.
As part of their “counterculture consciousness,” the participants of the ’60s hippie movement often bought their clothing secondhand by shopping at thrift stores and charity shops. Oftentimes they’d find vintage military garb at secondhand army/navy stores.
The fact that women were beginning to wear trousers in the ’60s was an important reason why bell bottoms and balloon pants caught on via store-made versions. Rather than wear the more fitted pants of the male sect, women wore these looser, more feminine styles as fashion compromises.
Always in search of fresh inspiration, contemporary ’60s fashion brands adopted the hippie’s anti-society statement and reproduced its rebellious fashion statement into a mainstream trend.
ITS INFLUENCE: Bell bottom and wide-legged trouser revivals have occurred numerous times across the history of fashion, but the most influential point is that it set the stage for the future of pants altogether. It wasn’t until the ’60s that wide-legged pants were worn by men for the everyday, and that pants were considered appropriate (although still controversial) for the average woman to wear in formal settings.
Without the bell bottom, the denim trend may have had a tougher time becoming the default style choice of Americans today. By introducing a casual pair of trendy pants into the closet of every American youth, bell bottoms made “cool comfort” acceptable to wear all day, everyday.