The Short and Stylish Life of 1970s Hot Pants

Do you remember when hot pants were a big trend in the 1970s? The style seemed to have exploded on the scene from nowhere. Then, suddenly everyone was wearing them, and there was a hot pants outfit for every type. But where did they come from, why were they so popular, and why did they fall out of fashion? Here’s everything you wanted to know about 1970s hot pants.

What were hot pants in the 1970s?

Hot pants were extremely short shorts in fabrics like wool or velvet worn as part of a fashionable outfit. When you wore hot pants, you wore a sophisticated and stylish outfit, letting everyone know you were a modern woman.

Shorts have been around for years. In the 1930s, dancers wore tap pants on Broadway, and women wore shorts on the beach in the 1940s. But hot pants were the first time that shorts came out of leisure ware and into regular fashion.

Hot Pants Outfit with Blazer, Kneesocks, and Loafers from August 1971 Mademoiselle Magazine
Mademoiselle Magazine, Aug 1971

When Were Hot Pants Popular?

Hot pants were all the rage in the early 70s, but they went out of fashion as quickly as they came. They first came on the scene in the late 1960s.

By 1971, hot pants were in the Sears catalog and mainstream publications like Seventeen and Redbook. By 1972, they were already fading in popularity as other trends like menswear, flared pants, and blue jeans became populr.

But for a brief and all-too-short (pun intended) moment, hot pants were the ultimate in fashion. Let’s take a moment to appreciate some of the best hot pants outfits from the early 1970s.

Knit hot pants outfit in fun striped print

Who Invented Hot Pants?

Women’s Wear Daily invented the term “hot pants” in 1970 to describe the new pants that several designers such as Mary Quant included in their fall collection for 1970, along with other alternative pants styles like knickers and hip huggers.

Mary Quant Shorts Outfit
Mary Quant Hot Pants | Source

You could consider hot pants a natural successor to the miniskirt, which got shorter and shorter over the years, culminating in the micromini, which was so short that many women wore matching underwear under them to protect their modesty.

Hot Pants were also a reaction to the midi, which designers introduced in 1970 to universal scorn.

No matter how it started, hot pants were popular with women who wore couture and women who bought ready-to-wear. By the spring of 1971, you could buy hot pants in almost any store and various styles.

Check out these matching Mother/Daughter hot pants outfits from the 1971 Sears Fall/Winter Catalog.

Sears Mother Daughter Hot Pants Outfits
Sears Fall Winter Catalog 1971

How did People React to Hot Pants?

As expected, hot pants caused quite a stir when they came on the scene. Several publications viewed them as a societal statement. Seventeen Magazine declared that hot pants were both a rebellion against the midi and a statement on the inflationary recession of the early 1970s.

Seventeen also predicted that schools would immediately ban hot pants, but that seems to have not happened. I vividly remember the protests and outcry over miniskirts and pantsuits just a few years earlier, so I’m guessing school administrators had just given up by the time hot pants came along.

An article in my hometown paper, the Atlanta Constitution, quoted the principal of my high school, Towers High School in Decatur, GA, as saying parents should make decisions about what their kids wear and that he didn’t want to get involved.

Atlanta Constitution, May 1, 1971

Of course, people criticized hot pants. The famous psychologist of the day, Dr. Joyce Brothers, speculated in Good Housekeeping that women who wore hot pants were perhaps exhibitionists or had “daddy issues.”

Even President Nixon was caught on tape gossiping about how Joan Kennedy, wife of Sen. Ted Kennedy, had been planning to wear hot pants to a White House Luncheon before Teddy forbid it, saying, “What the hell’s the matter with them? What’s she trying to prove?”

Many people saw hot pants as a sign of women’s liberation and freedom to wear whatever they wanted. Cigarette ads showed women wearing hot pants and proclaimed, “You’ve come a long way, baby.”

Virginia Slims Hot Pants Outfit

In time, hot pants increasingly became associated with prostitution and exhibitionism and ultimately fell out of favor. Jodie Foster wore hot pants in her role as a young prostitute in the movie Taxi Driver, which helped bury the trend for good.

Who Wore Hot Pants?

Really, who didn’t? Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis bought a pair to wear while yachting. Racquel Welch had a pair in white jersey. Even Shirley Partridge tried a pair on the Partridge Family.

Partridge Family Girls in Hot Pants

Hot pants were even suggested for brides!

Should the Bride Wear Hot Pants?

Hot pants weren’t just popular for teens and older women. Cute hot pants outfits were also available for little girls.

Little Girl Hot Pants Outfit
McCall’s, August, 1971

Even some men, like David Bowie and Mick Jagger, wore hot pants.

David Bowie in Hot Pants

20 Adorable Hot Pants Outfits

Let’s spend a little time appreciating some of the popular hot pants styles of the 1970s. Don’t you wish you could wear some of these cute looks now?

1. Neon Bright Hot Pants with Knee Socks

Neon Bright Hot Pants

2. Hot Pants with Jean Jacket and Tee

Jean Jacket and Hot Pants

3. Crocheted Hot Pants with Matching Socks

Crocheted Hot Pants

4. Hot Pants Plaid Suit

Hot Pants Plaid Suit

5. Daisy Pattern Hot Pants to Crochet at Home

Crochet Hot Pants

6. Flower Pattern Hot Pants with Long Vest and Turtleneck

Flower Pattern Hot Pants

7. Knit Hot Pants with Applique Sweater

Applique Hot Pants

8. Doubleknit Hot Pants Suit for Dressing Up

Doubleknit Hot Pants

9. Preppy Hot Pants Outfit with Vest and Blazer

Preppy Hot Pants

10. Preppy Hot Pants Looks with Knee Socks and Loafers

Layers Hot Pants

11. Orange Quilted Hot Pants with Boots and Zipped Jacket

Orange Quilted Hot Pants

12. Neon Hot Pants with Bright Tights and Applique Vest

Bright Hot Pants

13. Hot Pants under a Long Dress

This particular look is very similar to the I Love Lucy Hostess Dress.

Hot Pants Under a Long Dress

14. Hot Pants under Open Midi Dress

This particular look was very popular as it was a way to wear hot pants without showing too much skin.

Hot Pants Under a Dress

15. Hot Pants Under a Long Vest

Hot Pants with a Long Vest

16. Hot Pants with School Boy Jacket and Knee Socks

Schoolboy Hot Pants

17. Satin Hot Pants with Knit Sweater

Satin Hot Pants

18. Hot Pants Under Skirt

Another fun variation of the popular look.

Hot Pants Under Skirt

19. Cheeky Hot Pants Outfits with Neon Tights

Hot Pants with Tights

20. Knit Hot Pants Outfits in Fun Colors

Knit Hot Pants Outfits