hot mess

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noun Slang.
a person or thing that is a mess, as in being disorganized, confused, or untidy, yet remains attractive or appealing: He’s a hot mess when he wakes up in the morning!
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Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023


What does hot mess mean?

Hot mess is used to describe a particularly disorganized person or chaotic situation. In some uses, a person described as a hot mess is attractive but just barely keeping it together.

Where did the term hot mess come from?

The phrase hot mess didn’t always describe a person or a situation. The original use was actually culinary. In the early 1800s, a hot mess was nothing more than a warm meal, especially a gloopy one. Think mess as in mess hall, or cafeteria. An elementary school Sloppy Joe, was definitely a hot mess.

From there, the meaning of hot mess expanded to messy situations outside the cafeteria. By the 1900s, we were describing any chaotic situation and any confusing or disordered person or thing as a hot mess.

The hot mess train kept going, first appearing on Urban Dictionary in the early 2000s, around the time hot mess spread as a term for a fashion and style descriptor. The term saw a spike in popularity in 2007 with Christian Siriano’s controversial Project Runway tagline, hot tranny mess, and with the release of BET’s Hot Ghetto Mess, a show inspired by the popular website of the same name. In both cases, the hot mess in question was a hopelessly shabby, unfashionable, all-over-the-place person.

Hot mess saw an increase in interest again in 2009 with the release of pop band Cobra Starship’s album titled Hot Mess, bringing a sexy subset of hot messes to the forefront. The title track of that album tells the story of a young woman living the unhealthy life of a partier but looking sexy doing it.

Hot messes that you’re confusingly attracted to don’t have to be people, though. Searches for hot mess spiked again in 2013 with the release of fast-food restaurant Jack in the Box’s Hot Mess burger. Spicy-hot and demanding a whole roll of paper towels to eat it, the burger featured pepper jack cheese, onion rings, and jalapeño peppers.

How to use the term hot mess

Anything that’s a particularly disorganized disaster can be described as a hot mess nowadays. Today, describing someone as a hot mess sometimes has an implicit sexual connotation, especially when describing women. If she’s a hot mess, she’s trouble, but you want her anyway. Some users pun on the sexual innuendo of the hot in hot mess

… while others pun on the heat of the hot mess, especially when posting sweaty workout pictures.

More examples of hot mess:

“Before I publicly embarrass myself with photographic evidence of attempting the art of dance, allow me to just quickly sum up my dance skills for you: …I don’t have any. Put me on a treadmill, a spin bike, hell, throw me into a pool (I’d actually rather you not, though, as I’m kind of a sensitive swimmer), and I’ll do the damn thing with beauty, grace, Miss United States. But … dancing? God, I’m a hot fucking mess on the dance floor.”
—Sarah Kinonen, Allure, September 2017


This content is not meant to be a formal definition of this term. Rather, it is an informal summary that seeks to provide supplemental information and context important to know or keep in mind about the term’s history, meaning, and usage.

How to use hot mess in a sentence