Boomers Wore Bell Bottoms AND Flares

As we continue to debate the great questions of the Universe (Is a hot dog really a sandwich? comes to mind), the decades-old debate of bell bottoms vs. flares continues. Through his research on the subject, Mister Boomer has discovered that even in the boomer years, the two terms could be used interchangeably. However, as in the barbecue vs. grilled semantic battle, there are key differences. What those differences are depends on your source.

For the purposes of this pop culture reminiscence, bell bottoms differ from flares in the fit and cut. Both featured separate styles for men and women. Both featured a hip-hugging fit, but flares generally displayed a physical flare of the pant beginning at the knee or mid-calf. Bell bottoms could also begin their bell-shaped flare at the knee (hence the confusion). The difference from flares is, again generally speaking, over time as the sixties became the seventies, bell bottom styles expanded to tremendous lower pant widths that encompassed the shoes entirely.

Most people know the origin of bell bottoms began as the naval uniform of American and British sailors in the early 19th century. The shape was said to be easier for rolling up to the knee if work required, and if wet, could stay further away from the sailor’s body. Exactly how they were introduced and embraced by a growing boomer generation remains in dispute. Some sources point to the habit of boomers shopping at Army-Navy surplus stores in the early 1960s, where the pants were available. Other sources point to London, where a young man had his mother alter his ill-fitting jeans to give him more room in the hip. The story says she inserted an extra panel of material that caused the flare of the pants down the leg. When fashion designers on Kings Road got wind of a growing trend among the younger set to alter their pants in this manner, they jumped at the chance to co-opt it for their own. Either way, most sources credit the music scene as instrumental in the wholesale adoption of bell bottoms and flares.

Certainly by 1968, photos showing the Beatles, Rolling Stones and Jimi Hendrix sporting flared trousers were common. By the time Woodstock happened in August of 1969, it was practically the uniform of musicians. The audience at the festival also sported the style, but it was not universal. The height of the popularity of bell bottoms and flares would not occur until the 1970s. Many credit Sonny and Cher’s TV show, which began in 1971, as the tipping point for public acceptability of the style. By the mid-70s, it was the only style available for men in retail stores, even in dress pants. The size of the flare is what differentiated businesswear from more casual.

Mister Boomer has told the story of his first pair of bell bottom pants in an earlier post (Looking for Fun and Feelin’ Groovy). For the purpose of his historical decorum, at this particular juncture he prefers to remember his pants as flares and not bells. He continued wearing them throughout the 1970s, along with his peers. However, Mister B never wanted to venture into the realm of pant legs so wide they would completely cover his shoes. It wasn’t until the early 1980s when the last of his flared pants found their way into donation bags for charitable organizations.

How about you, boomers? Did you wear bell bottoms or were they flares?

Boomers Recall Events of the First Months of 1971

When TV commercials are using songs from the boomer era we would not expect to hear in that venue, it’s difficult for Baby Boomers not to have flashbacks. For example, currently Coldwell Banker is using Simon and Garfunkel’s Homeward Bound (1966); Square has Shape of Things to Come from Max Frost & the Troops (1968) in its commercial; and Geico is using Build Me Up Buttercup by the Foundations (1968), to advertise motorcycle insurance. All of those songs appeared more than 50 years ago. That got Mister Boomer wondering what was happening at this time of year, 50 years ago?

See if you recall these events that occurred between January and March of 1971:

  • January 1971
    Cigarette commercials were banned on TV, beginning midnight January 2, 1971. That allowed for advertising to be broadcast during the holiday football bowl games. The final cigarette commercial was broadcast at 11:59 pm on January 1st.
  • All in the Family premiered on CBS. While not highly-rated in its first season, one year later it was the most-watched show on TV.
  • Remember the Rolling Stones concert at Altamont Speedway in December of 1969? Show management hired the Hell’s Angels as security agents. Hell’s Angels member Alan Passaro was charged in the stabbing death of Meredith Hunter that day. On January 19, 1971, he was acquitted of the charges on the grounds of self-defense. Hunter was alleged to have drawn a revolver on Passaro.
  • George McGovern, then a Democratic U.S. Senator from South Dakota, was the first person to announce his candidacy for President of the United States in the 1972 election. Ultimately, McGovern won the Democratic Party’s nomination, but he lost the election by a landslide to Republican Richard Nixon, the incumbent president.
  • Speaking of U.S. Presidents, the boyhood home of Dwight D. Eisenhower, located in Abilene, Kansas, was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
  • The murder trial of Charles Manson and his three “family” followers ended with guilty verdicts in the Tate-LaBianca murders in August of 1969.
  • The Comics Code Authority eased restrictions on portrayal of certain fictional characters in comics, allowing for horror character depictions of vampires, ghouls and werewolves.
  • America’s first astronaut in space, Alan Shepard, was headed back up on January 31. As part of Apollo 14, this time he would walk on the moon.

 

  • February 1971
    Alan Shepard became the oldest man to walk on the moon (at that point). He surprised TV viewers on February 5 by driving two golf balls with a makeshift golf club as an illustration of the moon’s lower gravitational field.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_sh9sn3cEx8
  • James Cash Penney, founder of the Golden Rule Store, which later became J.C. Penney department stores, died at the age of 95.
  • On February 15, the country celebrated the first Presidents’ Day. National legislation had established this new federal holiday, combining the two state holidays of Lincoln’s birthday (February 12) and Washington’s birthday (February 22).
  • President Richard Nixon made his first recording on his secret taping system. He had installed nine microphones in the Oval Office and Cabinet Room. The world remembers how that system worked against him in the events surrounding the Watergate break-in one year later.
  • President Richard Nixon, that same month, proposed a program for national health care, called the National Health Strategy. Among its provisions, the act required employers to pay up to 65 percent of their employees’ health insurance, starting in July of 1973, and increasing to 75 percent by 1976. It also allocated $100 million through the National Cancer Act of 1971 for the research and treatment of cancer. The measure was passed in a bipartisan vote.

 

  • March 1971
    Future president and former Texas Congressman, George H.W. Bush, assumed the office of U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.
  • The first performance of Stairway to Heaven, by Led Zeppelin, occurred in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
  • In New York City’s Madison Square Garden, heavyweight boxing champion Joe Frazier defeated former heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali in a 15 round bout decided on points.
  • The U.S. House of Representatives approved the proposal for the 26th Amendment to the Constitution, which would lower the national voting age to 18 years old. After previous unanimous approval by the U.S. Senate, the amendment went on to the states for ratification. It gained the quickest approval of any constitutional change in U.S. history, becoming effective on July 1. Boomers will recall this became an issue in 1968, when protestors of the Vietnam war pointed out, as the song said, young men were “old enough to kill, but not for voting.”
  • The Ed Sullivan Show aired its final show on March 28, after 23 seasons. It’s the TV show where boomers were introduced to The Beatles, on February 9, 1964.
  • A U.S. Army court-martial trial found Lt. William Calley guilty of 22 murders in the My Lai massacre of March 16, 1968 in Vietnam, and he was sentenced to life in prison. President Nixon altered the sentence to house arrest at Fort Benning, pending appeal. Ultimately, Calley was paroled in August of 1974.
  • Starbucks opened its first coffee shop in Seattle, Washington on March 30.
  • The final day of March, 1971, the first Eisenhower dollar coins were pressed at the San Francisco branch of the U.S. Mint.

Which of these events of 50 years ago stir a memory for you, boomers? Did you go on to give your grandchildren Eisenhower dollar coins?