Five Facts About the Fashion for Flares

How Bell-Bottomed Trousers Took Over the World

By Google Arts & Culture

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Do you have a flair for fashion? Then scroll on to discover the fashion for flares...

All Together! Enlist in the Navy (1917) by United States. Navy, Reuterdahl, Henry, 1871-1925, and American Photo-Lithographic CompanySmithsonian's National Museum of American History

1. Flares Were First Worn by American Sailors

Like many of the best fashion items, flares were originally worn for completely practical reasons. It’s thought that British and American sailors first wore bell-bottomed trousers in the 19th century because it made it easier to snag a man who had fallen overboard. 

The wide-legged design of flares also made it easier for sailors to remove the trousers when wet and roll them up when working in muddy conditions. 

By Bill RayLIFE Photo Collection

2. A Symbol of the Counterculture

In the 1960s, young people in the US started getting their clothes from army surplus stores. Not only was army surplus clothing cheap and hard-wearing, it also represented a rejection of mainstream consumerism, something the youth of the 60s were very keen on. 

At the time, re-styling old military clothing allowed young people to show their strong anti-war sentiments. They would often embroider old military jackets and trousers with flowers and peace signs. 

Woodstock Music & Art Fest. (1969-08) by Bill EppridgeLIFE Photo Collection

Flares proved especially popular with hippies and other rebels, as their bell-bottom design was a huge departure from the straight-legged – and strait-laced – fashions of the day.  

3. Sonny and Cher Brought Flares to the Mainstream

Although flares were rapidly growing in popularity, they only really hit their stride in the mid-60s when celebrities like Sonny and Cher started wearing them. 

Jimi Hendrix by Unidentified ArtistSmithsonian's National Portrait Gallery

Soon, people everywhere were sewing an extra section into their straight-legged trousers and transforming them into homemade flares. Other famous flare wearers of the 60s include Jimi Hendrix, Mick Jagger and Twiggy. 

Women's Rights (1970-08-26) by John OlsonLIFE Photo Collection

4. Musical Flare

Music played a huge part in fanning the fashion for flares. By the early 70s, the public no longer saw bell-bottomed trousers as the clothing of ‘dangerous radicals’ and flares started appearing on the world’s catwalks. 

A number of US and UK fashion designers, like Mary Quant, made flares part of their signature style. This helped to cement their place in fashion history. Bands that helped to move flares firmly into the mainstream include Slade, Abba the Bay City Rollers.

Ramones, TheLIFE Photo Collection

However, it was also music that brought the fashion for flares to an end. Punk rock had little time for wide-bottomed trousers, with bands like The Ramones opting for skinny jeans instead. By the late 70s, flares had all but disappeared from our stages, streets and screens. 

Record album:Saturday Night Fever (1977) by RSO Records, Inc.The Strong National Museum of Play

5. The Most Famous Flared Suit of All Time

By the time Saturday Night Fever was released at the tail end of 1977, flares were already looking a little past their prime. This made Tony Manero’s iconic outfit the perfect swansong for a trend that had, briefly, dominated fashion. 

The white three-piece suit that John Travolta wore in the film was the brain child of production designer Patrizia von Brandenstein. A few years later in 1984, von Brandenstein won an Academy Award for her production design on the film Amadeus

Jimi Hendrix Experience. Cartel. (1969) by Ediciones LatinoamericanasMuseum of the Purpose of the Object

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Credits: All media
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