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 were first designed in the 1920s.
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."
It’s unclear who made the first zoot suit.
A number of tailors around the country claimed to have designed it, but there’s no definitive creator.
Malcolm X wore a zoot suit.
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.
Zoot suits were most popular amongst white, middle class businessmen.
Primarily young African American and Mexican American men wore zoot suits.
Zoot suits were initially associated with music and dance.
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 made of cotton.
Zoot suits were initially made of wool and later of rayon. They came in both muted and loud flamboyant colors.
Those who wore zoot suits also often wore riding boots and scarves.
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 inexpensive.
Zoot suits were expensive, which is why many considered them a status symbol.
The word zoot is slang and means "exaggerated."
According to Cab Calloway’s dictionary of the rhyming slang popular among African Americans of the time, zoot meant exaggerated.
Zoot suit pants were loose at the waist and tight at the knees.
Zoot suit pants were worn high and tight on the waist, loose and flowing around the knees and tight at the ankles.
Zoot suit jackets were narrow at the shoulders.
The jackets were extremely broad at the shoulders and had sleeves that extended down to the wearer’s fingertips.
It was considered patriotic to wear zoot suits during World War II.
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 Zoot Suit Riots occurred between American servicemen and young Mexican Americans.
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.
The term "zoot suit riots" comes from the fact that many young men targeted by soldiers and sailors were wearing 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.
The Zoot Suit Riots happened out of the blue.
For months before the riots started in May of 1943, there were many incidents of servicemen being attacked by so-called zoot suiters.
Zoot suiters were routinely linked to criminal and gang activity in the press.
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.
Press coverage of the riots helped calm the situation.
Inflammatory headlines, news coverage and editorials all served to exacerbate the violence.
The Los Angeles City Council eventually banned the wearing of zoot suits.
After the worst violence of the Zoot Suit Riots, the council passed an ordinance banning people from wearing them.
Long after the Zoot Suit Riots, the zoot suit became associated with the Chicano pride and black liberation movements.
Because of the potent meaning some ascribed to the outfit, some people in both movements wore them as symbol of independence.
Zoot suits have been worn around the world as symbols of resistance.
In both Poland and the former Soviet Union, young men embraced the style as a subtle resistance to communism.
You Might Also Like
About HowStuffWorks Play
How much do you know about dinosaurs? What is an octane rating? And how do you use a proper noun? Lucky for you, HowStuffWorks Play is here to help. Our award-winning website offers reliable, easy-to-understand explanations about how the world works. From fun quizzes that bring joy to your day, to compelling photography and fascinating lists, HowStuffWorks Play offers something for everyone. Sometimes we explain how stuff works, other times, we ask you, but we’re always exploring in the name of fun! Because learning is fun, so stick with us!
Get smarter every day! Subscribe & get 1 quiz every week.
Playing quizzes is free! We send trivia questions and personality tests every week to your inbox. By
clicking "Sign Up" you are agreeing to our
years old or over.