19. The Crime Wave of Beating Up Kids Over Fashion Choices
Zoot suits were all the rage among the fashionable and hip in American cities in the 1930s and early 1940s. The outsized zoots had a distinctive look, with a long coat featuring wide lapels and broad shoulder pads, and pegged trousers that were high waisted, wide legged, and tight cuffed. Pointy French style shoes, plus a watch chain dangling from the belt to the knees, then back to a side pocket, were de rigueur. Finally, a pork pie hat or fedora, color coordinated and sometimes featuring a long feather, completed the ensemble.
The outfit was first associated with African Americans in Harlem, Chicago, and Detroit. They then crossed over, and became popularized by Jazz singers and entertainers. In addition to African Americans, zoots became hugely popular among Italian Americans, Latinos, and Filipinos. While also worn by many whites, the zoot suit’s “ethnic” origins and aura did not sit well with many of the straitlaced and traditional, or just plain racist.