Worn first by black and Hispanic teenagers on both coasts in the late 1920s & 1930s as a statement against the majority, the zoot was soon picked up by musicians and dancers in the early 1940s and even found its way into mainstream fashion (albeit a tad watered-down). Most zoot suiters were not white, but some were. There is some evidence that white zoot suit wearers were made fun of by the minority zoot suiters. Most of the zoot-wearing people did not dance, so if your goal is to be as authentic as possible, don't get a zoot. However, if the style appeals to you, a zoot suit can be a wonderful addition to your dance wardrobe.

The zoot jacket is oversized, wide-shouldered, and hangs almost to the knees. Often, it is double-breasted with wide, low lapels. Zoot pants are low-crotched and high-waisted, often coming halfway up the torso. They are deeply pleated at the waist (generally two or three mammoth pleats on each side) and generously cut at the knee. Zoot pants taper sharply at the ankle to end in a deep cuff that rests on the shoes. The width at the ankle is generally will only be as wide as needed to get over the heel (though some men had zippers sewn into their cuffs go get a tighter fit) and the cuff was 1-2".

The fabric for zoot suits was like the suits themselves - dramatic and overstated. The fabric was either brightly colored or boldly patterned with wide pinstripes or glen check. With fabric, the bolder the better - the goal was to distinguish oneself from the mainstream.

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The Zoot Suit Riots

More than just a song title, the The Zoot Suit Riots actually happened. After cloth rationing began in 1942, men's suits became shorter, narrower, and plainer. Zoot suits were seen as unpatriotic and wasteful. Many Americans, especially servicemen, resented those who wore zoot suits. This came to a head in Los Angeles when servicemen on shore leave beat up, stripped, and cut the hair of Hispanic zoot suitors for two days while police and MPs looked away.

The Zoot Suit Riots of 1943

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