What Is the History of Zoot Suits?


Quick Answer

Zoot suits were originally worn by African-American musicians and the sub-culture associated with them in the mid-1930s. No sources can be credited with the creation of the zoot suit, according to historian Cynthia Clampitt.

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What Is the History of Zoot Suits?
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Full Answer

Zoot suits were characterized by being oversized, with arms to the fingertips and pants bulging at the knee. They were cinched at the waist and at the ankle. Wearers typcially added a key chain and a fedora, usually with a feather.

Not long after zoot suits became popular, youth started wearing them to dance in. The jitterbug and swing were popular dances at the time, and historians state the draping fabric of the suit looked "flashy" on the dance floor. Mexican-Americans soon adopted the style, and it became associated particularly with their sub-cultures. Eventually, such associations led to the perception that zoot suit wearers were linked with criminal activities, according to history professor Kathy Peiss.

With the beginning of World War II, zoot suits were prohibited because the amount of fabric they used was wasteful for a wartime nation. About that time, they also became associated with social resistance. In fact, 1943 saw the Zoot Suit Riots in Los Angeles. Servicemen on leave began targeting Mexican-Americans wearing zoot suits. Eventually, the clashes became a daily occurrence. As a result, the military banned servicemen from going to L.A., and the city council outlawed zoot suits entirely.

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