At first, zoot suits were just another fashion statement, a way for their largely African American and Mexican American wearers to identify themselves as hip and trendy. But zoot suits came to mean much more, regarded alternately as unpatriotic uniforms during World War II and symbols of resistance and independence. Test your knowledge of zoot suits and their significance here.
Zoot suits first appeared in the mid to late 1930s in urban areas like Harlem. They were preceded by what were known as "drape" suits, and some referred to them as "extreme drapes."
A number of tailors around the country claimed to have designed it, but there’s no definitive creator.
In his early days living in Harlem, the future leader of the black liberation movement wore one. So too did Cesar Chavez and jazz great Cab Calloway.
Primarily young African American and Mexican American men wore zoot suits.
Many jazz musicians, like Cab Calloway, wore zoot suits, and the outfit was thought of in relation to the jitterbug and swing dance because the suits swayed along with the moves of each dance.
Zoot suits were initially made of wool and later of rayon. They came in both muted and loud flamboyant colors.
Many who decked themselves out in zoot suits also wore feather-adorned fedoras, pointy shoes and key chains the hung down to the knees.
Zoot suits were expensive, which is why many considered them a status symbol.
According to Cab Calloway’s dictionary of the rhyming slang popular among African Americans of the time, zoot meant exaggerated.
Zoot suit pants were worn high and tight on the waist, loose and flowing around the knees and tight at the ankles.
The jackets were extremely broad at the shoulders and had sleeves that extended down to the wearer’s fingertips.
Rationing of all types of items was common during the war. Because zoot suits required a lot of cloth -- cloth that could be used for the war effort -- many considered the suits and those who wore them unpatriotic.
The riots occurred in the summer of 1943 in Los Angeles. Soldiers and sailors stationed in the area fought with young Mexican Americans, many of whom wore zoot suits.
Young men wearing zoot suits were pulled out of theaters and stripped and beaten, though many who were targeted were not wearing the suit.
For months before the riots started in May of 1943, there were many incidents of servicemen being attacked by so-called zoot suiters.
Not all of the observations were necessarily true, but this perception was routinely emphasized in newspaper coverage of the day, and crimes were regularly linked to zoot suiters in headlines.
Inflammatory headlines, news coverage and editorials all served to exacerbate the violence.
After the worst violence of the Zoot Suit Riots, the council passed an ordinance banning people from wearing them.
Because of the potent meaning some ascribed to the outfit, some people in both movements wore them as symbol of independence.
In both Poland and the former Soviet Union, young men embraced the style as a subtle resistance to communism.