The iconic Navy dress uniform is hard to miss. It’s easy to recognize a sailor from afar with their all-blue outfit. Like any others that our soldiers wear, this uniform is well-thought-of, and every part of it has a meaning or a purpose. Their bell-bottoms trousers are no exception.

The Rise of Bell-Bottoms

April 26, 1973, Elvis Presley performs at the San Diego Sports arena. San Diego History Center/Union-Tribune Collection

Bell-bottoms became a fashion staple for both men and women, starting in the ’60s, in London, until it influenced the other parts of America. The bottom of the calf of the jeans was usually flared. The hems could reach a circumference of up to 46 cm for each leg opening. In the ’70s, it reached mainstream fashion, and the circumference of the hems became even bigger at 66 cm., it’s wild. I bet you can’t imagine Elvis Presley without his iconic bell-bottoms pants.

Bell-Bottoms in The Navy

Even before it became a fashion thing, the Navy used the design on their trousers, but not for fashion. Not sure whose idea it was, but as early as 1817, the flared-out design was already introduced to the Navy. This design enabled the sailors to roll up the legs of their pants whenever they washed the ship’s deck (because nobody wants to work all day with soaked or dirty trouser hems.) It was also easy to take off and put on in case sailors needed to abandon the ship at short notice. Lastly, the design could also accommodate air and act as a temporary lifesaver once the ends are knotted.

Navy Bell Bottoms. Photo from

In 1913 and through the 1990s, dungarees were introduced. It consisted of either a long or short-sleeve chambray shirt, a white T-shirt, and of course, bell-bottoms denim jeans. It also included the white headgear called “dixie cup” cover for men, with the women’s version being the early form of the black garrison cap.

The End of the Tradition

In the present, the uniforms were already changed, and both the bell-bottoms pants and dungarees were no longer used in the 21st century. When the pants were replaced with a utility uniform that features straight-legged dark blue trousers in 1999, some sailors were not excited.

Petty Officer Chad Heskett, a hospital corpsman on the frigate USS Crommelin said, “They are trying too hard to make us look like the Coast Guard and the Air Force.”

He thinks the Navy should stick with the chambray shirts and bell-bottoms trousers. “It’s less expensive, more comfortable, and more traditional. The military today is just getting away from our traditions,’ he added.