A zoot suit (occasionally spelled zuit suit) 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 among the Mexican American, African American, Italian American, Filipino American, and, to a lesser extent, Irish American communities during the 1940s. In Britain the "Edwardian-look" suits with velvet lapels worn by Teddy Boys are said to be a derivative of the zoot suit.
Zoot Suits were first associated with African Americans in urban communities such as Harlem, Chicago, and Detroit but were made popular 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; Charles Klein and Vito Bagnato of New York City; Louis Lettes, a Memphis tailor; and Nathan (Toddy) Elkus, a Detroit retailer. Anti-Mexican youth riots in Los Angeles during World War II are known as the Zoot Suit Riots. In time, zoot suits were prohibited for the duration of the war, ostensibly because they used too much cloth.
A young Malcolm X described the zoot suit as: "a killer-diller coat with a drape shape, reet pleats and shoulders padded like a lunatic's cell". Zoot suits usually featured a watch chain dangling from the belt to the knee or below, then back to a side pocket. Zoot suit wearers' dates often wore flared skirts and long coats.
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. 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." This extravagance, which many considered unpatriotic in wartime, was a factor in the Zoot Suit Riots. Wearing the oversized suit was a declaration of freedom and self-determination, even rebelliousness.
- Zazou, a movement in France at the same time with similar tastes in dress and music
- Pachuco, a style of Mexican-American dress and culture associated with the zoot suit
- The Zoot Suit Riots, a series of attacks on zoot suit-wearing pachucos during World War II
- 38th street gang, a Los Angeles street gang known for wearing the zoot suit in the 1940s
- The Zoot Cat, an animated Tom and Jerry cartoon
- "Zoot Suit", a song by The Who on their 1973 album Quadrophenia
- Norris J. Nelson, Los Angeles City Council member, proposed outlawing zoot suits after the Zoot Suit Riots
- Cab Calloway, musician who frequently wore zoot suits on stage and in the 1943 film Stormy Weather, including some with exaggerated details, such as extremely wide shoulders or overly draped jackets.
- Tin-Tan, a famous Mexican actor from the 1940s who wore zoot suits in his films.
- Human rights activist Malcolm X, frequently wore zoot suits in his teenage days during the 1940s, as seen in his 1992 biographical film Malcolm X.
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- Clipping from The Daily Telegram (Adrian, Michigan), June 28, 1943, p. 8.
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