A Brief Intro to What a Hep Swing Cat Wears

How you look is the first thing people notice about you and how you are dressed can say a lot about who or what you are. The clothes of the 1930s and 1940s city dweller is often associated with swing culture and many swing dancers and musicians like to dress the part. Among swing dancers, it tends to be traditional to dress in your best swing dance attire for the big dances, particularly those following a day of dance workshop classes. The following is a brief introduction to some of the clothes items associated with swing culture.


    (for more, see Spectators) Spectators are two-toned leather shoes where the toe and heel are of one dark color and the rest of the shoe's body is a lighter color. They are often seen in black and white, but they can be found in other color combinations. However, if the shoe has a light colored toe and heel, and a dark body, then it is not a spectator, but rather a "saddle shoe" which is more associated with 1950s college kids and with early rock-and-roll.

Spectators come in two basic styles, wing tips and caps. True spectators have leather soles (as do many dress shoes) and are great to dance in because they slide easily across the floor. Doc Martin and other similar shoe companies make a "spectator" with thick rubber soles that are heavy and difficult to dance in, thus, you'll want to avoid those brands.

If you are new to swing, and are trying to find someone to show you some moves, look at people's feet. If they are wearing spectators, chances are that you have found a swing dancer. For a much better explanation on what a spectator is (recommended), follow this link and



This use to be the watch chain attached to a swinger's pants that kept him from losing his pocket watch. These days, you'll find people wearing a wallet chain which simulates the look of a watch chain while still being functional. Some might think that long chains that hang past one's knees or even ankles may look great, but they are very inconvenient and often dangerous to dance in. They have never been very popular among swing dancers, and even less so the past few years. If you are a musician in a band who dresses up, or if you are performing in a bold outfit, this may be a nice accent to the outfit. Otherwise, it may be best to skip chains.


Pullies, suspenders, or braces are what hold your pants up. If you wear suspenders, wear button suspenders rather than those which have alligator clips; it looks better and they hold much better. Likewise, you will want to have buttons sewn into all of your pants that you are planning to wear with the suspenders. Any pair of quality pants should already have them sewn in at the correct places. Since both suspenders and belts hold pants up, one should wear one or the other, NOT both.


Spats were worn over the cuff of the shoe to accent the color of the shoe and match the suit. Because spats were relatively inexpensive compared to shoes, they allowed one pair of shoes to been worn with a wide variety of colors and patterns. A close fitting pair of spats will work just the same, and with a pair of black shoes, will simulate the look of spectators. A historical irony in this is that it is likely that spectators were designed to simulate the look of wearing spats. In general, very few swing dancer wear spats, but it is an option out there if you want to be different and want to diversify your look.


A 1930s swinger's tie was often short compared to the modern ones. Trousers were worn high waisted, at least high enough to cover one's navel. Hence, the tie was worn much shorter. Don't wear narrow ties unless you are trying for a 1950s look with an appropriate style of pant to combine it with.

Zoot Suit

The zoot suit was a flamboyant suit popular among Latinos and African-Americans during the war years of the 1940s. When the second World War was causing people to ration any and every bit of fabric for "the cause," the excessive zoot suit was both a boast and a protest. It was characterised by a high-waisted pants with narrow pegged pant cuffs, and a long, draped jacket with wide shoulders. The suit was topped off with a wide-brimmed of either a fedora style, or of a tando style.


A man's hat told you where he stood in the world. The fedora still remains the hat of choice for any gentleman.

The zoot hat, a wide brim fedora, or a wide brimmed tando hat, was often the final piece of the a zoot suiter's ensemble. The brim of a fedora that is to be worn with a zoot suit should have a brim that is about a half an inch wider than normal (approximately 3 inches as opposed to the more common 2-1/2 inches of a regular fedora).

Hats are not normally worn indoors, and by extension — for swing dancers — a hat is to be worn off the dance floor. The only exception may be for some kind of performance which calls for it, otherwise, don't wear one while dancing.

Jive Terms for Swing Attire

Barkers - Shoes Long with links - fancy watch/key chain Squeezer - tight belt
Bluff Cuffs - narrow trouser cuffs Pinchers - tight pair of shoes Striders - trousers
Coffee Bags - trouser pockets Pullies - suspenders Threads - wardrobe
Dicer - Hat Racket Jacket - zoot suit Violin Cases - big shoes
Choker - tie Reet Pleats - wide pleats White One - shirt

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