Zoot suit

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A soldier with two men wearing zoot suits in Washington, D.C., 1942

A zoot suit (occasionally spelled zuit suit[1]) is a men's suit with high-waisted, wide-legged, tight-cuffed, pegged trousers, and a long coat with wide lapels and wide padded shoulders. This style of clothing became popular in African-American, Latino, Italian American, and Filipino American communities during the 1940s.[2][3]

Some observers[who?] claim that the "Edwardian-look" suits with velvet lapels worn by Teddy Boys in Britain are a derivative of the zoot suit.[4]

History[edit]

One of Cab Calloway's zoot suits on display in Baltimore's City Hall, October 2007

Zoot suits were first associated in African-American communities such as Harlem, Chicago, and Detroit, but were made popular nationwide by jazz musicians in the 1940s. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word "zoot" probably comes from a reduplication of suit. The creation and naming of the zoot suit have been variously attributed to Harold C. Fox, a Chicago clothier and big-band trumpeter;[5] Charles Klein and Vito Bagnato of New York City;[6] Louis Lettes, a Memphis tailor;[7] and Nathan (Toddy) Elkus, a Detroit retailer.[8][9]

"A Zoot Suit (For My Sunday Gal)" was a 1942 song written by L. Wolfe Gilbert and Bob O'Brien.[10]

Cab Calloway frequently wore zoot suits on stage, including some with exaggerated details, such as extremely wide shoulders or overly draped jackets. He wears one in the 1943 film Stormy Weather.

In 1943, there were a series of anti-Mexican youth riots in Los Angeles known as the Zoot Suit Riots. Norris J. Nelson, Los Angeles City Council member, proposed outlawing zoot suits after the Riots. The suits worn were seen by some as unpatriotic because of the amount of fabric they used, and zoot suits later became prohibited for the duration of the Second World War,[11] ostensibly because of their wastefulness of cloth.[12]

The Tom & Jerry cartoon The Zoot Cat (1942) spoofs the trend with Tom trying to impress a girl by wearing a zoot suit.[13]

Pachuco was a style of Mexican-American dress and culture which was associated with the zoot suit.

Tin-Tan, a famous Mexican actor from the 1940s, wore zoot suits in his films. Labor leader Cesar Chavez sported zoot suit attire in his younger years. [14]

The 38th street gang was a Los Angeles street gang known for wearing the zoot suit in the 1940s.

Zoot suits not only played a historical role in the subculture in the United States in the 1940s, but also shaped a new generation of men in Trinidad. These Trinidadian men who adopted this American fashion became referred to as the “saga boys”; they wore these suits and embraced the glamorous lifestyle that they represented. “Their fondness for the zoot suit, in particular signified a rejection of Anglo-centric precepts not only about fashion but, more profoundly, about manhood”.[15] Therefore, although the “saga boys” had the appearance of adapting to the urban American way of life, they were in fact using this clothing and lifestyle as a way to improve their lives in Trinidad, rise above the restrictions that imperialism brought and create through this oppositional dress, a culture of their own.[16]

Characteristics[edit]

Five men in modernized zoot suits
British Teds wearing locally tailored imitations of the zoot suit

Traditionally, zoot suits have been worn with a fedora or pork pie hat color-coordinated with the suit, occasionally with a long feather as decoration, and pointy, French-style shoes.[citation needed]

A young Malcolm X, who wore zoot suits in his youth, described the zoot suit as: "a killer-diller coat with a drape shape, reet pleats, and shoulders padded like a lunatic's cell".[17] Zoot suits usually featured a watch chain dangling from the belt to the knee or below, then back to a side pocket. A woman accompanying a man wearing a zoot suit commonly would herself wear a flared skirt and a long coat.[18]

The amount of material and tailoring required made them luxury items, so much so that the U.S. War Production Board said that they wasted materials that should be devoted to the World War II war effort.[19] When Life published photographs of zoot suiters in 1942, the magazine joked that they were "solid arguments for lowering the Army draft age to include 18-year-olds".[18] This extravagance, which many considered unpatriotic in wartime, was a factor in the Zoot Suit Riots. To some, wearing the oversized suit was a declaration of freedom and self-determination, even rebelliousness.[20][21]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Calderin, Jay (2013). The Fashion Design Reference & Specification Book: Everything Fashion Designers Need to Know Every Day. Rockport Publishers. ISBN 978-1-59253-850-8.
  2. ^ Walker, John. (1992) "Zoot suits". Glossary of Art, Architecture & Design since 1945, 3rd. ed. Retrieved 19 January 2012.
  3. ^ Maddan, Heather (April 29, 2007). "Zooting up / Brighten prom night with flash, dash - and panache". The San Francisco Chronicle.
  4. ^ Mazón, Mauricio (2010). The Zoot-Suit Riots: The Psychology of Symbolic Annihilation. University of Texas Press. ISBN 9780292788213. Retrieved 30 January 2016.
  5. ^ McG. Thomas, Robert (August 1, 1996). "Harold Fox, Who Took Credit For the Zoot Suit, Dies at 86". The New York Times. Retrieved September 11, 2012.
  6. ^ Clipping from The Daily Telegram (Adrian, Michigan), June 28, 1943, p. 8.
  7. ^ Bird, Christiane (2001). The Da Capo Jazz And Blues Lover's Guide To The U.S. Da Capo Press. ISBN 978-0-306-81034-3.[page needed]
  8. ^ "Nathan Elkus, 89, Detroit retailer". Daily News Record. January 2, 1992. Archived from the original on June 11, 2014. Retrieved September 11, 2012.
  9. ^ Elkus, Philip L. (August 4, 1996). "Zoot Suit Required Cutting and Cajoling". The New York Times. Retrieved September 11, 2012.
  10. ^ Azizi Powell, "Two Examples of the 1942 Song 'Zoot Suit (For My Sunday Gal)'". Pancojams, February 12, 2014.
  11. ^ "People & Events: The Zoot Suit Riots of 1943", The American Experience; retrieved June 5, 2013.
  12. ^ Use of cloth had already been limited; zoot suits were also seen as unpatriotic. War, Politics & Suits: The Zoot Suit, Duchess Clothier; retrieved June 5, 2013.
  13. ^ https://www.bcdb.com/bcdb/cartoon.cgi?film=4971
  14. ^ Bruns, Roger (c. 2011). Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers movement. Greenwood. ISBN 9780313386503. OCLC 846451052.
  15. ^ Neptune, Harvey R. (2007). Caliban and the Yankees. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press. p. 105.
  16. ^ Neptune, Harvey R. (2007). Caliban and the Yankees. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press. pp. 105–128.
  17. ^ Lennard, John (2007). Walter Mosley: "Devil in a Blue Dress" (e-book). Humanities-Ebooks. p. 45. ISBN 978-1-84760-042-4. Retrieved 2009-04-22.
  18. ^ a b "Zoot suits". Life. 1942-09-21. p. 44. Retrieved November 20, 2011.
  19. ^ Rottman, Gordon L. (2007). FUBAR: Soldier Slang of World War II. Oxford: Botley. p. 117. ISBN 978-1-84603-176-2.
  20. ^ Osgerby, Bill (2008). "Understanding the 'Jackpot Market': Media, Marketing, and the Rise of the American Teenager". In Patrick L. Jamieson & Daniel Romer (ed.). The Changing Portrayal of Adolescents in the Media Since 1950. New York: Oxford University Press US. pp. 31–32. ISBN 0-19-534295-X.
  21. ^ Kelley, Robin, Seven Songs for Malcolm X, 1993, film by John Akomfrah.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]