As summer heats up -- shorts are stealing the show with thigh-bearing hot pants for the young and firm. No longer just a passing fad, short shorts have catapulted into a basic item for year-round wear.
"The major junior bottom in retail today besides jeans, is shorts," says Stephanie Fassler, vice president of merchandising for Merry-Go-Round stores, where hot pants are currently outselling miniskirts.
In many cases more alluring than the miniskirt, short shorts can better scale the leg without causing a stir.
"We find them much easier to wear and dance in, than some
miniskirts that cling and hike up -- plus you can bend over and not have to feel self conscious," says Suzanne Selway, manager of Contempo Casuals in the Towson Town Center.
"Teens have definitely come to prefer them over short skirts," says Bonnie Hurowitz-Fuller editor-in-chief of YM magazine which targets ages 13-20. She attributes the shorts trend, particularly in denim, to the 1987 hit movie "Dirty Dancing," where Jennifer Grey innocently strutted her stuff in long denim shorts. "Over the past few years, most girls have become bored with that longer look and have cut off more each year to where they can't go any higher," says Ms. Fuller.
Fashion Editor Wendy Hirschberg of Seventeen magazine, says the hot pants trend has also been fueled by the MTV VJ's (video jockeys) and rap stars, plus the prime time teen soap opera "Beverly Hills 90210." If hunk Luke Perry's girlfriend on the show is donning short shorts, you can be sure you'll be seeing the teen-ager in your life dart by in a similar version.
MTV senior wardrobe stylist Jimmy Hanrahan sets the fashion trends for 55 million young viewers. He traces the latest hot pants craze back to the bathing beauty pinup girls of the 1930s and '40s -- particularly with the retro influence so strong in fashion today.
The '50s deemed them "short shorts"; and the '60s paid tribute to them when Lolita took to the screen. However, it was not until the midwinter of 1971 that shorts broke through the sportswear barrier and took to the streets -- where women froze for fashion. Made of everything from buckskin to monkey fur, they provided dowdy midi mania relief and were most often worn with colored hose, knee-length granny boots and maxi coats.
This past spring saw another rebirth of short shorts -- dubbed "hotter pants" by designer Marc Jacobs, for their curve hugging appeal. Designers stitched them up in everything from embellished denim and trendy prints, to gold lame and leather versions.
"Denim is still the favored choice of hot pants wearers this summer, particularly with novelty detailed colored twills presenting newness," says Ms. Fassler who touts stretch velvet hot pants for fall. J.C. Penney has had to reorder their much in demand $22 cuffed denim short short for back to school wear. While The Limited Express stores boast their popular $36 white denim "Bardot" short for summer, and will offer suede and brushed twill styles going forward for casual to city chic.
With the latest '70s resurgence, it is no wonder some designers have included hot pants in their fall and holiday collections as a good humored option to plunging hemlines.
On a recent trip to London, hot new fashion talent Gemma Khang was booted from Harrods department store for wearing -- you guessed it -- hot pants, which apparently did not comply with the store's dress code. But that didn't discourage Ms.Khang from putting short shorts into her fall line in wool and Lycra spandex with coordinating jackets. Knee highs and thick-heeled ghillie shoes finished off her tribute to the English schoolgirl.
Nordstrom regional fashion director Heather Femia deems short shorts an overriding favorite for club dressing and sees them updated for fall in leather as a novelty. MTV's Hanrahan agrees. "Short shorts have become a dance club perennial, and moving into fall you will see them crossing over into more structured menswear inspired looks as opposed to the cheek baring Lycra styles," he says.
Who wears short shorts? Of course like any extreme fashion, hot pants are not for everyone. As comedian Joan Rivers once quipped back in the seventies, "I went to buy some hot pants recently, but when they looked at my figure they sent me to the lukewarm counter!"
When wearing such little material on the bottom, proportion is key. Pear-shaped figures should steer clear of fitted tops that will draw attention to too much sand in the hourglass, and look to loose blouses to balance the proportion. Layering a sarong tied pareo (large scarf), or full button front skirt or dress over short shorts can cover a multitude of sins, yet still provide an alluring leggy look. Or for fall, figure conscious gals should layer them over solid dark colored tights that will pull you in all over, and top off with a loose ribbed sweater and over the knee boots.
Ms. Fassler says short shorts need not be limited to the young set and says older women with great bodies are buying them up as well. For those women over 35 years old, however, even with toned bodies, it comes down to a matter of decorum.
Just think, a hot pants resurgence seems to be the ideal garment symbol of a recessionary period -- more evidence of our getting far less for our money.