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Unbuttoning Fashion: the Flares

The ’70s, ABBA, and Mick Jagger: flares have been making a comeback recently in mainstream fashion. But where does the style come from? Though it may seem like they were born in the heyday of disco, flares have a much older history than you’d think.

Originating in the nineteenth century, flares were surprisingly first worn by sailors in the U.S. navy. At the time, the navy lacked any regulated uniform, but many of the sailors began to wear a wide-leg trouser style and concluded with the “bell’’ shaped cuff that we know today. The actual reason for the flare style to be adopted is unknown, but some say that the wide leg allowed for the sailor to take off their trousers over their boots to avoid getting soaked in seawater.  An additional (and slightly peculiar) function was that the flares could be used as a temporary flotation device when the wide leg was filled with air. Following this, flares became a staple for the military until the 1960s came about.

As the ’60s approached, the young generation rebelled and began to reject anything and everything that was related to convention and the norm when it came to fashion. Dispensing with the department stores that their parents favoured, young people started shopping in military surplus stores, restyling the clothing with additional embroidered flowers and peace signs sewed on. One reason being that by restyling military wear, the clothing conveyed the anti-war feeling that was present at the time. Flares became a distinctive piece of clothing for counterculture as the decade went on.

By the 1970s, designers began to take notice of the popularity of flares amongst the young. Ironically, having been initially worn by the young to protest against convention, flares became an all-out trend in mainstream fashion. Designers began to produce flares in all kinds of materials, most notably denim. And the flared jean was born. The style followed a general form – tight at the waist to the knee and then flaring out, sometimes so wide that they would be known as “elephant bells’’. The style increased in favour throughout the decade, and when celebrities such as Sonny and Cher wore them, they were cemented in mainstream fashion.

When the ’80s rolled round, flares seemed to be gone for good when skinnier and straighter styles were favoured. But within the last ten years flares have been making a rebound in mainstream fashion. While flares today may not be worn to rebel against convention, perhaps the ’60s generation would be proud of such a legacy, just as long as our creative protests remain. So, the next time you wear a pair of flares, maybe grab a placard too.

Image: esperotubesito via Flickr