Em-Bell-ished Jeans are Back: Bell Is Optional

Did you ever think that we’d be revisiting denim bell bottoms much less those with patches or embroidery? The scene: early ’70s, junior high school. The crime: everyone owned that one very special pair of embellished jeans. The guilty party: Landlubbers of course, indicated by the iconic orange and purple label as well as the embroidered purple “L” on the back pocket. Jeans had no stretch in those days and the reigning wisdom was to buy them as tight as you could stand them, necessitating all sorts of weird contortions such as laying on your back in order to zip them up.

Embroidered Landlubbers

The “customized” hippie jean was the thing that determined how cool you were, to my knowledge you couldn’t just buy them already decorated. My jeans had all the accoutrements: Happy Face patch, peace sign, inked drawing of flower power traveling down one leg, and various other timely embellishments adorning the wide flared legs. I can actually recall wearing my Landlubbers and feeling groovy in a scoop neck body suit, tie-dyed tee or cropped button down tied at the navel. I even had a floppy, fringed denim hat and a gold paper clip chain with a whistle while my feet were shod in Kork-Ease wedge sandals. Who had any idea that fast forward forty-plus years, my early teenage look would still be all the rage?

I did a little digging into the history of Landlubber products and found that they were originally manufactured in Massachusetts. At their peak in the mid-70’s they enjoyed retail sales of about $100 million. Once 1979 rolled around, the extreme flare leg, or “elephant-bell” was dead and Landlubber ceased production. Americans re-discovered Levi’s 501’s : in fact it was a definite trend in my high school for girls to wear boys Levi’s complete with gaping waistband, as well as Guess modified peg legs.

Seafarer mid-rise deep vintage flower Syrene jean

Landlubbers were briefly brought back in 1990, with another iteration of less flared and higher rise pants through a licensing agreement from Hoffman Apparel, which owns the rights to the name.   They were sold at Macy’s, Canal Jeans, Trash & Vaudeville and Bloomingdale’s for around $42, a big increase from the 1964 original version which sold for $7 to $10 at Army-Navy stores. I actually think mine were from a super cool second-hand store that all my friends shopped at, however I certainly did my fair share of raiding the Army Navy stores for other cool styles including over-dyed jeans.

The Seafarer jeans

With the current ’70s fashion revival in full tilt, we’ve seen plenty of flared leg jeans but not so many of the decorative or embroidered style–until now. I was excited to see a luxe version from The Seafarer of this old-new trend a few weeks ago on Moda Operandi, the web site that features trunk shows from upcoming designer collections. MO featured a pair of the brand’s Museum-Worthy Embroidered jeans ($530), so called because the Metropolitan Museum actually owns a pair of Seafarer jeans in their permanent collection. I had previously never heard of The Seafarer, a brand that was initially developed and inspired from the sailor pants of enlisted men’s uniforms. The sailor pant was originally created in the 1900s by Italian immigrant and US Navy veteran Tony Alzalone.

Jane Birkin in seafarer jeans

During the 1960s and ’70s fashion icons such as Brigitte Bardot, Ursula Andress, Jane Birkin, Raquel Welch, Jacqueline Bisset and Farrah Fawcett found Seafarers in second-hand stores and embraced the look. Seafarers were re-launched in 2013 by an Italian design team in a pop-up shop at Colette in Paris. I recommend checking out their Instagram for some great denim inspo! The brand can also be found locally at Maggy Frances (280 Mott Street) and online at Luisaviaroma, Shopbop as well as several other online stores.

Stella McCartney the skinny boyfriend jeans

If you fancy the embroidered denim jean look but can’t wrap your head (or your lower extremities) around the flare leg, then take a look at Stella McCartney’s Fall collection, recently seen at Saks and on Saks.com. Her Bow-Embellished tomboy jeans are $780, Wild Cat skinny boyfriend jeans are $735 and embroidered skinny boyfriend jeans are $695.

Stella McCartney jeans at Saks

In case you believe in that old saw about not wearing a revival trend if you wore it the first time around, I say nonsense. If the embellished jean fits, why not give them a chance to transport you back to your youth?

– Laurel Marcus

Laurel Marcus

OG journo major who thought Strunk & White's "The Elements of Style" was a fashion guide. Desktop comedienne -- the world of fashion gives me no shortage of material.

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