What Are Flared Jeans? The Complete Guide to Flares

Flared jeans are making a major comeback in fashion right now. This retro style of denim has roots going back over a century, evolving through many stylistic iterations before emerging as the must-have item in modern wardrobes.

From their functional beginnings as sailor’s workwear to their embrace by hippies and rockstars, all the way up to today’s runways, the story of flared jeans is an intriguing one. How did this leg shape go from being purely utilitarian to a symbol of musical rebellion and eventually a timeless closet staple?

This comprehensive guide will uncover everything you need to know about flared jeans. Discover where they originated, how the style has transformed over time, which silhouettes are trending now, and most importantly – how to wear them.

What Are Flared Jeans?


Flared jeans are pants that fit slimly around the hips and thighs before flaring out from the knee downwards. This wider leg shape creates an exaggerated silhouette, adding volume and a retro flair.

Many people use the terms flared jeans and bell bottoms interchangeably, but they have some distinct differences:

  • Bell bottoms – Feature a dramatic, bell-like flare starting right below the knee. Very wide leg openings.
  • Flared jeans – Wider at the leg opening than traditional jeans but less pronounced than bell bottoms. The flare starts lower, around mid-calf.

Within flared jeans there are a few popular styles:

Bootcut Jeans

  • Subtle flare starting below the knee, just enough room to fit over boots
  • Most conservative flare style

Wide Leg Jeans

  • Exaggerated flare starting higher up the leg
  • Billowy leg shape through the calf

High Waisted Flares

  • Flared jeans with a high rise waistband, hits at or above natural waist
  • Creates a retro 70s vibe

No matter the exact shape, all flared jeans add volume and bounce with their signature wide leg opening.

A History of Flared Jeans

To understand how flares have evolved over time, let’s go back to where it all began.

Late 1800s – 1900s: Workwear Origins

The first flared trousers were worn not for fashion, but for function. In the late 19th century, flared “bell bottom” pants were adopted as part of the uniform for American and British sailors.

There are a few theories behind why this style became popular maritime workwear:

  • The wide leg openings allowed sailors to roll up pants easily when swabbing the deck or wading through wet conditions.
  • The flared shape made removing pants easier when soaked, without needing to take off shoes or boots first.
  • Legend has it that sailors wore bell bottoms so they could fill the enlarged pants legs with air and use them as a flotation device if they fell overboard.

1960s: Counterculture Movement

The first fashionistas to popularize bell bottoms outside their original utilitarian context were hippies and anti-war protesters in the 1960s.

As part of the growing counterculture movement, young people rejected mainstream fashion. Many began shopping at army surplus stores, picking up inexpensive vintage military clothes like the bell bottom sailor pants.

Donning these previously “unfashionable” garments was a political statement – a rejection of consumer culture and the Vietnam War. The exaggerated flare shape distinguished hippies from the straight-legged pants of suburban prep.

To add their own personal flare (no pun intended!), many customized surplus bell bottoms with embroidery, patches, and psychedelic prints. Jean flares became an essential part of the hippie, anti-establishment aesthetic.

1970s: Rock n Roll Style

In the 1970s, musical icons like Jimi Hendrix, Sonny & Cher, and the Rolling Stones catapulted flared jeans into the fashion stratosphere.

No longer seen as only radical protest wear, bell bottoms were embraced by rock stars and youth culture. Designers took notice, widely manufacturing jean flares in new washes, colors, and fabrics.

The disco era also popularized wearing flares on the dance floor. John Travolta famously sported bell bottoms with his white suit in Saturday Night Fever, cementing their status as the ultimate 70s style.

1990s: Bootcut Revival

After falling out of favor in the 1980s as skinnies rose, flares came back with a 1990s reboot. However, this time it was in the form of bootcut and low rise flares rather than dramatic bells.

While still wider than traditional straight leg jeans, 90s flares had a more subtle bootcut shape. This moderate flare paired perfectly with platform boots and shoes, defining 90s fashion.

Today: Runway Revival

Now after years of skinny jean dominance, flared jeans are seeing another fashion renewal. Contemporary designers like Stella McCartney and Gabriela Hearst are reintroducing the style on runways.

In a major throwback to the carefree 70s vibes, high waisted and wide leg flares are trending. However, modern tailoring creates a polished, sophisticated effect – a major style evolution from the DIY hippie flares of yesterday.

While today’s flares channel a retro spirit, innovative fabrics, fit, and versatility give them a fresh, contemporary edge.

Which Body Types Do Flared Jeans Flatter?

One reason for the resurgence of flared jeans is their universally flattering silhouette. While skinny jeans tend to cater to one body type, the volume of flares complements all figures.

Hourglass Figures

The exaggerated flare balances curvy hourglass hips and thighs, creating proportion. High waisted styles cinch the waist for a flattering finish.

Petite Frames

The elongating effect of flares makes legs look miles longer on petite figures. Pair with heels to maximize this leg-lengthening magic.

Plus Size Bodies

Flares add shape without clinging too tightly, a more comfortable and chic alternative to skinny jeans. The roomy leg opening also creates the illusion of a slimmer thigh.

Tall, Slender Figures

Often plagued by jeans that don’t reach the ankle, tall girls get the exact right amount of fabric from flares. The wider leg prevents jeans from looking like floods.

No matter your body type, flared jeans can enhance your shape and proportions.

How to Wear Flared Jeans

From music festivals to office attire, flared jeans easily work for any occasion or season. Follow these style tips for rocking your flares:

Choose shoes that balance the volume

To keep flares looking chic and not overwhelm your frame, pair them with shoes that add a little height. Go for boots, platforms, or heels. Wedges also work well.

Tuck in fitted tops

Creating definition at your waist makes flares more figure flattering. Tuck in body-skimming t-shirts, tanks, or crop tops to accentuate your shape.

Cinch with a belt

Draw attention to your waistline by accessorizing high waisted flares with a belt. Try contrasting colors/textures for extra style points.

Layer with structured pieces

Blazers, leather jackets, or denim jackets offset the billowing shape of flares for a more polished vibe. Strong shoulders balance the volume.

Roll up the cuffs

For a laidback weekend look, roll up the hems of your flared jeans a few times. This shows off a flash of ankle and gives them a relaxed, casual feel.

Go monochromatic

Matching your flares to tops in similar denim washes streamlines your look. A denim jacket atop blue jeans mimics the effect of a jumpsuit.

Flared Jeans Outfit Ideas

Ready to rock flares? Here are 14 chic outfit ideas to inspire your styling sessions:

With a Turtleneck

Pair flares with a simple turtleneck top to create a streamlined, mod-inspired silhouette. Tuck the turtleneck into the jeans to accentuate your waistline. Add minimal accessories like small hoop earrings, loafers or booties, and an oversized clutch for an effortlessly stylish 1960s look. Monochromatic colors like black on black really make this outfit look luxe.

With a Slinky Cami

For a sultry going-out look, style your flared jeans with a slinky cami or strappy tank top. The fitted top highlights your bust and waist, offsetting the looser shape of the flares. Show a bit of skin to keep it sexy – a cami with a low back or thin spaghetti straps makes an alluring style statement. Elongate the legline with strappy heels. Accessorize with bold chandelier earrings for some drama.

With a Denim Top

Give a fresh twist to the iconic “Canadian tuxedo” by pairing flared jeans with a denim top in a similar wash. Keep it slick looking for the denim-on-denim trend by tucking in a crisp white oxford shirt underneath the denim top. Roll up the button-down’s sleeves for a relaxed vibe. Then finish with chunky platform sneakers to give this outfit a modern streetwear edge.

With a Cropped Sweater

For a leggy look, style high waisted flared jeans with a cropped sweater. The sliver of exposed midriff makes your legs appear even longer. Choose a cropped knit in a soft pastel or neon hue to add a fun pop of color. Tuck the sweater in to emphasize your waist. Then simply add white sneakers to keep the look casual cool.

With a Cozy Cardigan

When temperatures drop, try pairing flares with an oversized, cozy cardigan sweater. Choose a cardigan that hits at hip level so it skims over your waistline rather than covering it. Wrap a fabric belt around the cardigan to define your waist and prevent looking too bulky. Finish off with loafers or ankle boots for an effortlessly chic fall outfit.

With a Graphic Tee

Give your flares a relaxed, casual vibe by pairing them with an oversized graphic tee. Choose a printed tee with an artsy design or inspirational slogan. Contrast the slouchy tee with the tailored shape of your flares. Then ground the look with classic white leather sneakers.

With a Sheer Top

Have some fun with proportions by wearing your flared jeans with a sheer, mesh or lace top. The peek-a-boo effect pairs perfectly with the exaggerated flare shape. Try a fully sheer top for a bold look or pick one with strategically placed sheer paneling for subtle allure.

With a Tunic

Style your flares with an extra long tunic top or mini dress for alternative proportions. Choose a tunic length that hits mid-thigh and drapes breezily over your flared jeans. Opt for lightweight, flowy fabrics like silks, chiffon or crepe. Add strappy heels to elongate the leg.

With a Denim Bra

Go full-on denim by pairing flared jeans with a matching denim bra or bralette top. Wear an oversized denim jacket on top to complete the Canadian tuxedo triple threat. For optimal 80s vibes, wear your hair big and add neon accessories.

With a Sporty Halter

Channel sporty 90s style with a racer-back tank or halter top tucked into your flares. Accessorize this casual outfit with stacked charm necklaces, bands, and a scrunchie or headwrap. Finish with platform sneakers or flatform sandals.

With Layers and a Tube Top

Create a layered look by wearing a button-down shirt or oversized blazer over a tube top, then complete with fitted flares. Show off the tube top by leaving the button-down open or sliding the blazer halfway off your shoulders. Add metallic strappy heels for night-out glam.

With a Bra and Blazer

For the office or evening events, pair your flared jeans with a lacy bralette and sleek blazer. Contrast the soft bralette with strong shoulders and lapels on the blazer for eye-catching textures. Pointy-toe pumps or strappy heels amp up this business casual look.

With a Statement Top

Make your flares the neutral base for an eye-catching top. Pair them with bold prints, bright colors, dramatic sleeves – anything that has wow factor. Keep accessories simple and let your statement-making top take center stage.

With Western Details

Give your flares a dash of Americana style with western-inspired tops, jackets, and accessories. Try fringe, cowboy boots, embroidered yoke shirts, patchwork denim, and hats. Lean into rich shades like brown, tan, cream, and denim blue.

The options are truly endless when it comes to styling flared jeans for any occasion! Have fun mixing different fabrics, silhouettes, and accessories to discover your perfect pairing.

The Last Word on Flares

As this guide demonstrates, flared jeans have gone through an amazing evolution from functional sailor slacks to one of fashion’s most ubiquitous staples. The journey of flares reveals an intriguing shift in societal values and norms.

These jeans started as practical workwear before being co-opted as a symbol of rebellion. They were then widely embraced across diverse groups from hippie pacifists to disco dancers, rockstars to preppies.

Throughout this stylistic rollercoaster, flares have remained timeless for their versatility and inherently flattering silhouette. Skinny jeans may come and go, but flares seem here to stay as an essential denim wardrobe staple.

Hopefully this complete overview gave you inspiration on how to include flares in your own closet! What’s your favorite way to wear flares? Share your top outfit ideas below!

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