Although the term hot pants is often used generically, they are more than merely short shorts, as worn for example by athletes. For hot pants belong to the world of fashion, not sport. Thus it is that the term was first used by Women's Wear Daily in 1970 to describe garments made from glamorous materials such as velvet and satin and designed explicitly to catch the eye, unlike gym shorts made from cotton or nylon that serve a dreary practical function.
Personally, I would also distinguish hot pants from the tight denim cut-offs known as Daisy Dukes. For the latter have a distinctive history and allure all of their own and should only be worn by feisty Southern gals who drive like Richard Petty, shoot like Annie Oakley, and know the words to all of Dolly Parton's songs (and if they like to go barefoot whilst wearing them, all the better).
I suppose what I'm saying is that, in my mind, hot pants - like the mini-skirt - are associated very much with Swinging London and when I think of someone wearing them I visualise women such as Madeline Smith, Jenny Hanley, and Carol Hawkins, rather than all-American beauties like Raquel Welch.
There is, however, one exception to this: Iris Steensma, the twelve-year-old prostitute played so brilliantly by twelve-year-old Jodie Foster in Taxi Driver (dir. Martin Scorsese, 1976); a character renowned for her signature outfits assembled from hot pants, crop tops, platform shoes, a silver studded white belt and floppy sunhat.
As fashion historian Valerie Steele rightly notes, by the mid-seventies hot pants had long ceased to be an item associated with the playful character of the sixties; instead, they had entered the darker regions of the pornographic imagination and were increasingly associated with underage prostitution. Such sleazy associations meant that they quickly fell out of favour with the majority of women.
However, forty years on and Iris Steensma is now regarded by fashionistas as a style icon and her distinctive look has captured the imagination of many designers. Marc Jacobs, for example, produced a spring/summer collection in 2011 that was openly indebted to the character (see image below) and Alessandro Michele's penchant for soft pinks frequently paired with deep reds has also been said to owe something to Iris.
Ultimately, is there anything the fashion world loves more than illicit eroticism twinned with nostalgia ...?