In the 1940s, zoot suits were so big and loose and took up so much material, that the War Production Board was prompted to send out a public criticism, stating that such resources would be better spent on the war effort, rather than making the baggy suits - the implication being that zoot suits were unpatriotic.
|Modern zoot costume. Amazon|
Commonly the suit would be worn with a gold chain dangling from the belt, thick-soled shoes and a wide brimmed hat, with or without a feather for extra emphasis.
|A soldier inspecting a couple of zoot suits in 1942|
Zoot suits appealed to the male dandy and according to historians, were particularly appealing to Mexican Americans or Pachucos, as they were known, Filipinos and blacks - if you wanted to make an assertive style statement, the zoot suit was the way to do it. In many ways they were a symbol of ethnic identity and indeed, in Los Angeles, California in 1943 when a battle broke out between American servicemen and Latino and black youths, they became known as the Zoot Suit Riots and the suit itself, a symbol of cultural subversion.
|A subversive young dandy in his zoot suit|
Although there are several theories about its origin(including one that posits zoots were a copy of Clark Gable's outfit in Gone with the Wind), the Zoot suit appears to have emerged from the vibrant Harlem jazz culture of the 1930s. At that time they were known as drapes and were possibly called zoots as a play on the word 'suits', though in urban jazz culture of the 40s the term 'zoot' meant anything that was exaggerated or extravagant and didn't gel with the norm.
|Duck in a zoot suit, from Disney comic "The Spirit of '43"|