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Clothing items always tell a story. When I open my closet, my glittery dress brings me back to margaritas and laughs from my birthday party a few years back, my favorite sweatshirt reminds me of my boyfriend and my go-to trench feels like a piece of Paris. I usually think of my personal affiliation with each item I own and love—and that’s part of the reason I love them. The nostalgic movie The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants told a similar story of personal experience bringing meaning to clothes and how one piece can live many lives. But something we often don’t consider is the journey behind the garment’s initial creation. When did a certain piece come into fashion and why? Whether the jeans in your closet are new with tags or vintage, there’s a story behind the bell bottoms. Before we consider how to style bell bottom jeans, we must ask why bell bottom jeans.
Bell bottom jeans are often affiliated with their wild popularity in the 1960s and ’70s. The Beatles helped kick off the bell bottom craze in the UK and Europe and by the 70’s the wide leg style was sweeping the United States. After everyone was done groovin’, bell bottoms went out of style for about a decade (they were what we would now call cheugy). Everyone that thought bell bottoms were done for failed to consider that the jeans were already on their second trend cycle. They first rose in popularity in the early 1800s as a part of sailor’s naval uniforms.
Bell bottoms were worn by the sailors because of their functionality. They are easy to roll up, fit over sturdy boots and could even be tied at the bottom and inflated with air as a floatation device. With so many benefits and a flattering silhouette, bell bottoms will be coming in and out of style forever. Like all great fashion items, bell bottoms had a revival in the ’90s. The fit was tighter around the thigh, had a more subtle flair at the bottom and like all 90’s clothing, was low rise.
Now that we’ve hit a ’90s revival and have ousted skinny jeans, the bell bottom is ready to become a star in your closet again. Bell bottoms are one of the most versatile styles of jeans because they go with so many different shoe types. You’ll love bell bottoms if you’re a heels girl or if you can’t take your feet out of a good pair of boots.
Read on for street style inspiration to help you style your bell bottoms.
With a Bra Top
Great styling is all about proportions. A tiny bra top balances out the wide flare of the pant leg and gives a Once Upon a Time in Hollywood subtle glamorous feel. Add a jacket with strong shoulder structure to complete the look.
With Happy Accessories
Happy accessories don’t need to be as literal as a smiley face bag, but leaning into the playful shape of bell bottoms is a great styling direction. Adding a bright bag or a cool cowboy boot makes the bell bottoms look more casual.
With an Open Button Down
An open button-down shirt is a great layering piece—it works for a day at the office or a night out and definitely pairs well with bell bottom jeans. Keep the shirt under the button down simple and play the look up with layered jewelry.
With a Sweater and Matching Heels
If Laura Brown, the Editor-in-Chief of InStyle, is wearing an outfit combo, you know it’s good. The simple coordination of the magenta sweater stripes and heels makes this outfit. Paying attention to little details and creating a color story help elevate a pair of bell bottom jeans.
With a Blouse and Boots
I guarantee your favorite blouse and your favorite boots will look amazing with bell bottoms. While the bell bottoms and boots are basic staples, a blouse is an opportunity to add some personality into your look. Whether it has interesting cut outs or a cheery floral pattern, it will go well with bell bottoms.
With Subtle Tie-Dye
Hear me out, you can wear tie-dye with bell bottoms without looking like you’re attending a 70’s themed party. A little tie-dye can go along way! The example above is perfect because the shirt’s color blocking tones it down. A platform shoe completes the look.
With Chunky Sneakers and a Blazer
When in doubt, a pair of white sneakers and a blazer go with everything. The combo is often paired with baggy jeans but by wearing it with bell bottoms the outfit becomes dressier and more structured.
With a Scarf Top
Consider this your first dose of Coachella outfit inspo. Bell bottoms and a scarf top is an easy and comfortable outfit combo. Plus it will make your waist look snatched.
With a Leather Jacket
A soft leather jacket will look groovy in a good way! This example with matching brown leather boots is perfect.
With Oversized Sunglasses and a Crop Top
Let’s go back to proportions–huge sunglasses usually look mysterious but they take on a fun vibe when paired with flare jeans. The crop top balances out the big proportions of the sunglasses and jeans and creates a fully flattering silhouette.