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Zoot suit: a symbol of pride

Zoot Suit (also spelled zuit suit) became popular at a time when the world was struggling with shortages of material and men had to give up some parts of their classic suits in order to save fabric. The U.S. government encouraged people to recycle the worn-out clothes and not to waste any material which was needed for the war supplies. Instead of moderating their style, young Mexican-American adults saw an opportunity to express themselves by doing everything against the established social order. They chose to wear suits with very loose trousers and matching oversized jackets as if trying to use as much material as possible.

Washington, D.C. Soldier inspecting a couple of “zoot suits” in 1942

The trousers of the zoot suit are high-waisted and low-crotched with baggy legs. They are super-wide at the knees and become just a little narrower at the ankles. The jacket is long and looks more like a coat with padded shoulders and wide lapels. The boxy look creates quite an imposing appearance, doesn’t it? While the jacket and trousers are usually matched, the shirt and pointy, French-style shoes should make a contrast. The amount of material and tailoring required make zoot suits luxury items.

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No zoot suit in the 1940s would be complete without accessories like a color-matched fedora hat (occasionally with a long feather as decoration) and a watch chain hanging loosely from the belt to the knee or below, then coming back to a side pocket. As if all this was not enough to catch attention, the zoot suit was often preferred in bright colors.

During the first years of war, the zoot suit became a symbol of resistance and pride for poor, working class Mexican-Americans. Its popularity soon spread also among Italian-American and African-American communities living in the United States. For them it was an unwritten declaration of freedom and rebelliousness. However this kind of extravagance, given the circumstances, was not only criticized as unpatriotic, but even illegal.

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Zoot suit: a symbol of pride


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