The Naval officer’s distinct uniform has a uniqueness that in the 1960’s made its way into the world of fashion with the popularity of the bell bottom pant. The quintessential Naval dress of high-waisted pants that flare at the bottom, complemented by the plain shirt with wide collar, has always promoted an air of flamboyance restrained by a certain officiality.
Though the Naval uniform has changed several times since the early 19th century it has retained a core image that remains to this day. Despite multiple changes to the variations of navy and white clothing, placement of badges and insignia, and how and where marks of distinction would be worn, it is instantly recognizable and attributable. However, it was only in 1817, roughly two decades after Naval forces had been reemployed to protect the young American republic’s interests, that an attempt to define the Naval uniform was made.
The wide leg of the bell-bottomed Naval trousers was a style pragmatic to the sailor’s needs. The flare at the bottom allowed the sailor to pull the pants over boots while also allowing him/her to roll the hem up high or remove them with facility in emergencies. Sailors could also use the pants as a life preserver, tying the wide legs in knots and filling them with air.
The counter-culture movement of the late 1960’s and 70’s took up the bell-bottom style and it quickly caught on in popular culture, becoming a distinct marker of the culture of change that overtook the country at that time. The style for bell-bottoms persists even today, though not to the extent it did forty years ago, and shows that the iconic style introduced by the Navy nearly two hundred years ago is a success of fashion as well as of history.
image*–Photo. Navy sailor.
image*–Photo. Sailors on the USS Monitor, 1862
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