How Zoot Suits Became Much More Than Just a Bold Fashion Symbol

black men standing together
Via Flickr
Adé Hennis
November 29, 2023

From the sleeves to the cut, Zoot suits dominated as the Blackest and most stylish clothing in the 1930s and 40s. But when they drew too much attention to those who wore them, they quickly became a symbol of Black solidarity.

Zoot suits were birthed in Jazz culture during the late 1930s and the Harlem Renaissance. Many famous Jazz musicians wore them, and its popularity spread across the country and cultures.

Zoot suits are baggy by nature, and it allowed Black performers to move around easier. In 1943, Los Angeles’ Zoot Suit Riots made us targets of white servicemen who violently attacked us and anyone else they saw wearing these suits.

After Black and Mexican people were discriminated against and attacked for wearing zoot suits, our people stood in solidarity and fought back after the attacks.

Zoot suits were a fashion and power statement, and they remind us of an important truth: What we wear isn’t the issue. White terrorism is. We must continue to protect ourselves and stand in solidarity with others trying to get free.