Now & Then: The History of Flared Pants

All aboard for flares, it’s time to abandon the skinny trouser.

When Kate Moss starts wearing wide legged flares instead of the skinny jeans she singlehandedly made famous, you can bet the jig is up. Whether you know them as bell bottoms, flares, wide-legged pants or the first point of order after a seventies fancy dress invite, the fact remains – they’re back in a big way this season.

And yet, if ever there was a time where there are no rules when it comes to the right hemline, silhouette or color this is it. So what goes? It might well be a sense of social saturation that paired with a fitted jacket, extra long scarf and ballet flats, the skinny jean – once the proviso of punk musicians – has become the ubiquitous uniform of every mom on the school run. Despite the vintage flower-child connotations, flared pants feel remarkably fresh right now.

A bold yet minimalist look from Céline’s recent resort 2013 collection.

There is also the influence of Phoebe Philo’s standout Céline Resort 2013 collection (although it may well be redundant to single out any one of Ms. Philo’s collections – all have been entirely remarkable since her appointment in 2008 as the label’s creative director). Her full-legged flared trousers with contrasting colorblocked hems will undoubtedly see immediate success and prove as highly coveted and widely carried as Celine’s luggage tote.

A continual source of style inspiration, Stevie Nicks proves bell bottoms are feminine and wearable.

When the pants we now know and love (or hate) originated is hard to tell. They almost certainly are derived from Navy uniforms. Their flared or bell bottom was a functional choice for traditional sailors as they were easy to remove over boots, a breeze to roll up when swabbing the ship deck, quickly removable when wet – and should you fall into the water – it was even suggested that sailors could use the pants as a life preserver, tying the wide legs in knots and filling them with air.

Like the Charlie’s Angels, flared pants are a total 70s throwback.

By the late 1960’s the counter culture movement adopted the looser more comfortable flared pant rejecting the straight-legged styles of the establishment. As well as buying naval uniforms from surplus stores to embellish with stitching and patches, many hippies and peace protestors began modifying regular jeans by sewing in colorful triangles of fabric. Sewn into the outside leg seam below the knee to the cuff creating a flare below the knee, this flattering and easy-to-copy technique is a great idea for those of you now looking to abandon your skinnies for the wilder winds of fashion change.

Thanks to a wider hem that helps balance proportions, flared styles are more flattering than you might imagine.

Want to catch up on some more fashion history?

Now & Then: the History of the Ballet Flat

Now & Then: The History of Shorts

Now & Then: Met Ball’s Most Memorable Dresses

Now & Then: The History of the Breton Shirt

Now & Then: The History of the Platform Shoe

Now & Then: The History of Fitness Wear

Now & Then: The History of the Pencil Skirt

Now & Then: The History of the Cocktail Dress

Now & Then: The History of Skinny Jeans

Read more Now & Then articles here.

Rowena Ritchie

Rowena is EcoSalon’s West Coast Fashion Editor and currently resides in San Francisco, CA.