Zoot Suit Pants

AKA: zuit suit

How to say it: as it looks

Traditional Features: 

body template

  • high-waisted
  • pegged legs (wide at the top, narrow at the bottom)
  • narrow cuffs
  • pleated front

Origins…

…of the style: The Zoot suit, with its long coat and pegged pants was apparently first created by tailors in Harlem, NY in the 1930s and was initially worn mainly by African-American, although Mexican-Americans also took a liking to the style. The look gathered popularity with the rise of the jitterbug and swing dancing as it looked quite striking on the dance floor.

During WWII the Zoot Suit was seen as unpatriotic as there was so much fabric used in its production. This did not stop people wearing the style, in fact it is thought that the negative connotations may have made it more popular. During the war years the look spread and began to create bad feelings between different cultural groups; this came to a head in 1943 during what is now called the ‘Zoot Suit Riots’. The riots occurred in Los Angeles when a group of (Anglo-American) returned servicemen armed themselves with makeshift weapons and attacked a group of latino youths wearing Zoot Suits. While there were many factors that lead to the attack, one reason is the unpatriotic feelings towards the decadence of the Zoot Suit. The incident was followed by similar attacks all over the USA.

Eventually Zoot Suits were banned for the duration of the war.

Since then the Zoot Suit has more or less disappeared from the fashion landscape although it did reappear in the 1960s in conjunction with the Chicano Rights Movement and in the 1990s when retro looks were on trend.

As for the Zoot Suit as women’s wear, some ladies did wear in the 1930s and 40s but it was never really a mainstream fashion look for women. The voluminous, pegged style of the pant did successfully cross to women’s wear and was popular in the 1980s thanks to the masculine clothing trend.

In the 21st century the term Zoot Suit is not really used, but pegged trousers in various lengths are available almost every season.

…of the name: The naming of the Zoot Suit is claimed by various tailors in Chicago, Memphis and Detroit, but it is more likely that the term comes from the rhyming slang used by African Americans in the 1930s

For more info on Zoot Suits and the Riots try Wikipedia, UPenn, or here

Random Facts

  • Malcolm X was a Zoot Suiter and took part in riots in Harlem

21st Century Zoot Suit Pants

They aren’t called Zoot Suit Pants anymore, but the pleated fronts, tapered legs and narrow cuffs live on in women’s fashion.

alice and olivia chloe

Alice + Olivia, Chloe

costume national marc by marc

Costume National, marc by Marc Jacobs

 

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