Abstract A constitutive theory is developed for shape memory polymers. It is to describe the thermomechanical properties of such materials under large deformations. The theory is based on the idea, which is developed in the work of Liu et al. [2006. Thermomechanics of shape memory polymers: uniaxial experiments and constitutive modeling. Int. J. Plasticity 22, 279–313], that the coexisting active and frozen phases of the polymer and the transitions between them provide the underlying mechanisms for strain storage and recovery during a shape memory cycle. General constitutive functions for nonlinear thermoelastic materials are used for the active and frozen phases. Also used is an internal state variable which describes the volume fraction of the frozen phase. The material behavior of history dependence in the frozen phase is captured by using the concept of frozen reference configuration. The relation between the overall deformation and the stress is derived by integration of the constitutive equations of the coexisting phases. As a special case of the nonlinear constitutive model, a neo-Hookean type constitutive function for each phase is considered. The material behaviors in a shape memory cycle under uniaxial loading are examined. A linear constitutive model is derived from the nonlinear theory by considering small deformations. The predictions of this model are compared with experimental measurements.