70s hot pants were a brief (literally!) and sexy fashion fad

Hot pants - The 1970s fashion fad

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Hot pants were a super popular but short-lived clothing trend back in the very early 1970s. 

But what were hot pants? In truth, they were just shorts. What elevated them to “hot pants” status was really how they were worn.

Regular shorts (and short shorts) were casual summerwear or athletic clothing; 70s hot pants, on the other hand, were usually made with fashion-forward fabrics and were stylish for both day and night.

A sort of miniskirt substitute, shorts became hot pants when they were part of an outfit — not just thrown on with a t-shirt. They were often worn with tights or nylons, knee-high socks, heels or boots, belts or waist ties, and usually paired with a matching top or jacket.

Lady Wrangler denim hotpants with black nylons (1971)

The 70s hot pants trend was popularized by fashion designers and style icons, and hot pants became a flash-in-the-pan staple of disco and club culture in the early part of that decade.

As the mini-pants became more popular, rompers and other one-piece outfits with built-in hot pants hit the market. 

Hot pants were a symbol of the liberation (including sexual liberation) of the 1970s, and they were sometimes worn by young women as a way to rebel against traditional gender roles and express their independence. They generated a lot of controversy — both for the style itself and for the name — but millions were sold back in 1971.

And then they were done — the short-lived fad had all but fizzled out in the US by 1972. Still, 70s hot pants continue to be remembered as a defining fashion trend of that decade.

1970s hot pants fashion for women (1971)

70s hot pants: A short but happy career (1971)

LIFE magazine – December 31, 1971

At first, it seemed depressingly probable that legs would disappear under prim and dowdy-looking midiskirts.

But suddenly, as if in answer to a universal male prayer, hot pants appeared spontaneously in all the civilized capitals of the Western world.

Hot pants A short but happy career (LIFE magazine - 1971)

To an untrained eye (there were few inattentive ones), hot pants looked rather like the old short shorts of 20 or 30 years ago, except that they were a bit skimpier and a lot flashier, and often were accompanied by opaque tights and high boots.

They were, moreover, acceptable attire in public, and fashionable women of size 12 or less wore them to restaurants, offices, churches and black-tie dinners.

All during the iciest, most shivery months of winter they flourished. But then, just as the warmest weather arrived, with odd logic, they ceased to be the height of chic.

Retro shorts with tights and socks (1970s)

Denim 70s hot pants with turtleneck shirt and chain belt (1971)

Denim hot pants with turtleneck shirt and chain belt (1971)

City playsuits with short 70s hot pants styles (1971)

Standing left to right: Sweet Diane Ltd. likes the cityfied mood of coatdressing over matching shorts. The floral graphic print from Soptra Fabrics is a jersey of Arnel triacetate.

Theo Hyngstrom for Leslie Jrs. creates city fare in a one-piece button-front playsuit with midi over-skirt. Star print jersey from Gilbert-Frank

City playsuits with short hotpants styles (1971)

Cute casual 70s hot pants and shorts outfits

Questo Juniors ensembles three classic pieces for a town version of the shorts suit. The polka dot jersey from Wullschleger is Arnel triacetate. Navy or ruby print.

Irene Koenig for Pied Piper does a calico look at its most sophisticated with print against print in a one-piece with wrap skirt. 

Petites by Carl pairs a town polo shirt with little britches. Jersey from Harry D. Spielberg. 

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Cute casual hot pants and shorts outfits from the 70s

Print 70s hot pants romper with midi overskirt (1971)

Cara Kirby for Junior Accent goes primitive in a print hot pants romper with midi overskirt. Indian border print from Woodcrest Fabrics is an Arnel jersey fabric.

Print hot pants romper with midi overskirt (1971)

Retro 70s hot pants with purple tights and a matching sweater (1971)

Retro 70s hot pants with purple tights and a matching sweater (1971)

70s hot pants seen in St Louis during the summer of ’71

Excerpted from an article by DD Eisenberg – St Louis Post-Dispatch (Missouri) June 6 1971

All it took was the sizzling hot sun and a bit of self-confidence to ignite a blaze of hot pants.

A sudden rash of legs are showing up at the Cardinal games, the Zoo, the American Theater, The Basement, Maurice’s Gold Coast and Tony’s.

Hot Pants seen in St Louis - Summer of 71

Some are hidden under overskirts and dresses, some are right out in the open with skinny-ribbed tops and laced-up sandals, and some are merely old jeans cut off to look like shorts, worn with frayed T-shirts and sneakers.

Some are accessorized to the teeth, others look like they should be out weeding the yard. But no one of any size, shape or age has been left out of the hot pants picture.

Hot pants outfit with tights

Hot pants already have become a household word. Stores all over the country tried to cool down the term by using different phrases in their advertisements such as smartie pants, cool pants, high risers, short cuts, city pants, mini pants, super shorts, and even whatchamacallems. But customers continue to say, “Don’t you mean hot pants?”

The craze has caught on so quickly that stores have been forced to give up the nicknaming game and get to work. They have found no problem in promoting hot pants. Their problem is supplying them fast enough. 

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Men are so inquisitive about these so-called hot pants that they go into stores expecting to see sizzle and smoke. Instead, they find what looks to them like the pin-up girl short shorts of the 40s. But just for fun, they bring a pair home for themselves (yes, hot pants for men) or for their wives.

Fashionable styles of hot pants from the 70s

The gimmick has turned into a fad, and the fad has turned into just the hype the fashion industry will need to optimistically soar through the long, hot summer ahead.

The timing is right and so is the price. Hot pants make the GAMS (Girls Against Midi Skirts) happy. Hot pants make the leg watchers happy. And hot pants prices make everyone happy.

Women can buy a pair of hot pants for as little as $1.99 (hottest seller at Woolworth’s) or they can make their own for even less.

Daisy loom knit hot pants outfit (1971)

Hot pants have increased selling activity in the stores. They have put adrenalin back into the dress market. Manufacturers found they could add a pair of shorts to a button-front dress and pass it off as a fresh idea.

Button-front dresses and skirts that fall at the knee are serving as a half-revealing, half-concealing adjunct to shorts, making them more palatable for daytime and office wear.

Hot pants have caused other side effects. They have put leg coverings in the limelight. Hosiery buyers are frantically trying to reorder opaque and sandalfoot, sheer-to-the-waist pantyhose. (Wearing standard pantyhose with dark reinforcements at the top is taboo.)

Sears features an illusion all-in-one pantyhose that combines an opaque kneesock with a panty-hose. that is sheer from the knee to the waist.

City pants - Another name for hotpants (1971)

Leg coverings can get the hot pants look going, but in order to avoid looking like last year’s tennis shorts, hot pants must be accessorized properly from top to bottom. Shoe advertisements feature girls in hot pants wearing laced-up sandals that wrap around the leg.

Boots looked great for spring with hot pants, and now they are featured with breezy cutouts for the summer months.

Plus there are accessories, like decorative pins made of painted metal to be worn in groups on a pocket or cuff (naturally tagged hot pants pins). There are mini bags that are scaled down to size for the girls wearing short shorts.

Hot pants in Michigan - April 1971

There are hot pants belts — soft and plushy in suedes, macrames and webbings. And there are even hot pants watches recently introduced by the Sheffield Watch Co.: A square watch face is attached to a piece of leather suspended from a minibelt that buckles around the thigh. The face has no numbers, just the word “Stop.”

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Everyone is milking the trend for all it’s worth. Allegheny Airlines has its stewardesses in hot pants. Jas. A. Ogilvy’s, a Montreal department store, has its elevator girls in hot pants. A local Cincinnati television personality planned a 90-minute salute to the hot pants craze.

Hotpants playsuits (1971)

On the acclaimed “Hot Pants Day,” only people wearing hot pants, including the television cast and orchestra, were allowed in the studio. More than 1000 women tried for the 160 available seats.

Campus fraternities and sororities, country clubs and all types of local organizations are hosting hot pants parties.

Some say that by October the hot pants fire will have sizzled down. Women will be tired of shorts by then and will be ready to try something new.

buying short shorts - Hot pants at JC Penney - Indianapolis March 1971
Buying short shorts / 70s hot pants at JC Penney (Indianapolis Star – March 16, 1971)

Those who still want their legs out in the open may turn to hot skirts (the 1971 version of the micro-mini skirts). Some say women will go to pants of all lengths. And some say dress-es will replace the short and long pants.

Some say hot pants are sinful. Some say they are a welcomed traffic hazard.

One man in a newspaper poll said that he felt that we have gone about as far as we can go. He predicted, “Hot pants today, no pants tomorrow.”

Vintage hot pants with white high laced boots (1970s)

White seersucker with red rick rack over 70s hot pants (1971)

A laundry bags look in white seersucker bordered in red rick rack and worn over back-zippered hot pants will keep you cool on the hottest days. This “let it all hang loose” idea from Irene Kasmer.

White seersucker with red rick rack over hot pants (1971)
From Ebony (June 1971)

Winter 70s hot pants styles from Italy (March 1971)

Ente Italiano Della Moda interprets two Hot Pants looks geared to winter 1971-1972. Left, after-dark Hot Pants teamed with satin shirt. Right, Hot Pants with a short-sleeve maxi coat.

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Winter hot pants styles from Italy (1971)

Retro early 70s hot pants outfits
Retro hot pants outfits from the early 1970s
From Ebony (June 1971)

Bib-front 70s hot pants jumpsuit

Check it all out in an Irene Kasmer bib-front hot pants jumpsuit of white and blue and red print on derma press content denim. It’s a sizzler over a ribbed body stocking, yet is in the best of taste.

Irene Kasmer bib front hot pants jumpsuit (1971)
From Ebony (June 1971)

70s hot pants poll: How people voted

By Sarah C Casey – Philadelphia Enquirer (Pennsylvania) March 7, 1971

Judging from the results of our hot pants poll, more women in Philadelphia approve of hot pants than disapprove, but not as many who approve of them plan on wearing them.

Hot Pants poll - February 28, 1971
70s Hot Pants poll – February 28, 1971

As was expected, those under 25 were considerably more in favor of them than those over that age and, of course, more are planning to wear them — including one 11-year-old who thinks they’re great and can’t wait for summer so she can wear them, too.

However, the name “hot pants” seems to leave a lot to be desired. Even those who didn’t object to the name hot pants came up with alternatives that they liked better.

“Short shorts” was the suggestion most often given — because “that’s what they are” and “that’s what they were in the 40s.” One 26-year-old preferred to be more emphatic, calling them short, short short shorts.

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Retro hot pants on campus (1971)

The question, “What should they be called,” also evoked such answers as “ridiculous,” “witches’ britches,” “come-ons” and “desperation pants — because the designers are really desperate to come up with something different.”

Comments ran the gamut from great enthusiasm to absolute disgust, and there were emphatic pros and cons in all age groups.

Many approved of the style, but a large majority of these qualified their opinions by saying hot pants should only be worn by the young, by those with great legs and only for sports and the beach — not in offices and on city streets.

While quite a few complained that hot pants are immodest or just plain vulgar, others sided with the 30-year-old gal who described them as “more practical and modest than micro mini skirts.”

Hot pants poll results from March 7, 1971

Hot pants needed leg bronzer (1971)

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