Who Wore Short Shorts? In The 1970s, Men Wore Short Shorts

Culture | June 14, 2018
Dan 'Grizzly Adams' Haggerty on 'Battle Of The Network Stars,' 1977. Photo by ABC via Getty Images

Have you ever noticed how revealing men's shorts were in the 1970s? Those shorts were short. The 1970s was a time of liberation, of "anything goes," and people were putting their bodies out there and feeling proud of them. The Woodstock era had taught us to be free, to question authority in general -- and in particular, to question traditional stuffy attire. If you've got it, flaunt it was one of the mantras of the '70s -- and on dance floors during the disco era, there was lots of flaunting going on. People simply weren't afraid to show skin, as they had been, and no body part had quite the coming-out party as the male leg did. Long pants were for dads and, like, bankers and businessmen. Shaggy hair and short shorts were a popular and perfectly fashionable combo.

What we call "shorts" today are, by '70s standards, a throwback to the ballooning knickerbockers of the early 20th century. If we're talking about wearing some groovy shorts, man -- they should be, you know, short

Robert Redford and Paul Newman in shortsRobert Redford and Paul Newman in shorts in the late '60s; Lee Majors and Farrah Fawcett in shorts.


Women’s shorts weren’t the only thing going short-short in the 1970s. Men were showing a lot more thigh, too. It seems that the overall style of the decade was skimpy -- for both men and women -- as we will see with this overview of men’s short styles of the 1970s. The seventies was a time when women were pushing for gender equality while also acknowledging their own sexuality. Rather than continuing to be the object of lustful attention, women became to ones doing the ogling. And the men of the '70s gave them plenty to look at by wearing short, tight shorts.


Arnold Schwarzenegger Short Shorts
Arnold Schwarzenegger, ABA stars Dan Issell and Artis Gilmore, and Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe. Sources: boredpanda.com; retrospace.com; boredpanda.com

Cut-Off Jean Shorts

The 1970s was the first time that athletic wear became a mainstream fashion, thanks in part to the fitness craze sweeping the nation. Whether one was athletically inclined or not, they probably still had a few pair of gym shorts that they regularly wore. These weren’t today’s baggy gym shorts, either. They were ultra short garments that often looked as though they were on the verge of full exposure. Inspired by basketball legends like Dr. J and Larry Bird, the tiny athletic shorts were a hot seventies fashion item that could be seen on the runways, the malls, and the beaches -- in addition to the basketball court.

Album art from Fleetwood Mac's 'Rumours,' 1977

Album art from Fleetwood Mac's 'Rumours,' 1977. Note John McVie's shorts.

The Daisy Duke-style cut-off denim shorts were sexy and revealing on women, but men were getting in on the action too. The ultra-short cut-off jean shorts were popular among the rugged, country, outdoorsy crowd, but could also be seen on beach bums and skater boys. While crotch-high cut-off jean shorts for women have stood the test of time, for men, the style was a short-lived flash in the pan.


Dress Shorts

Hunter S. Thompson, Jack Wagner and Tom Selleck Shorts

Hunter S. Thompson, Jack Wagner and Tom Selleck liked 'em brief.

Even dressier men’s shorts in the 1970s were short and tight. For dress shorts, polyester was the fabric of choice. Whether solid, striped, checked, or patterned, polyester dress shorts were all the rage. They even crept into uniforms and work attire, bring a whole new concept to workplace casual. It was not uncommon to see police officers, letter carriers, doormen, and salesmen showing a lot of leg while they were on the job.


A Farewell To Thighs  

As the 1970s came to an end, short styles for men became more modest, hearkening back to the 1950s and 1960s short lengths. But for that one brief, shining moment in time…the 1970s…the shortness of men’s pants rivalled that of women. What we have remaining is a lot of humorous photographs of seventies dudes comfortably showing way too much thigh.

Groovy History Shorts 

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