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?

Short shorts have been around for years. Dancers wore tap pants on Broadway in the 1930s. Women wore shorts on the beach in the 1940s. I have a highly blurry picture of my Mom looking all kinds of old-school cool in sailor shorts in the 1950s.

But hot pants were different.

My mom in shorts
Mom in shorts in the 1960s

Hot pants were shorts as fashion. When you wore hot pants, you wore a sophisticated and stylish outfit, letting everyone know that you were a modern woman.

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

They went out of fashion as quickly as they came. In 1971, hot pants outfits were in the Sears catalog and mainstream publications like Seventeen and Redbook. By 1972, they were gone, replaced by menswear, flared pants, and blue jeans.

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?

Mary Quant, the iconic British fashion designer, is credited with inventing hot pants. Women’s Wear Daily supposedly invented the term “hot pants” in 1970. However, a quick search shows several designers had hot pants in their fall collection in 1970. It seems to have been a trend that sprung from nowhere, 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?

Hot pants caused quite a stir when they were introduced. Several publications looked at 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 not to have 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 be the ones to 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
Source

Hot pants were even suggested for brides!

Should the Bride Wear Hot Pants?

Hot pants weren’t just popular for teens and older women. You could find cute hot pants outfits for little girls as well.

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
Source

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

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