During World War II, a lot of youths were expressing themselves through their outfits such as the zoot suits. Zoot suits “consisted of a broad-rimmed, flat hat; a long draped coat; and high-waisted, baggy-legged trousers with tight-fitting pegged cuffs” (Meier & Rivera 145)1. A lot of people thought that the outfit had excessive fabric and during war it was not seen as respectful or patriotic (Rivas-Rodriguez 145). The zoot suits were mainly worn by African Americans and Mexican Americans (Obregon Pagan 116). This caused Mexican Americans to face a lot of abuse (Meier& Rivera 192). Police harassed and arrested many because of their race and constantly monitored predominantly Mexican areas (Meier & Rivera 192). An example of abuse from the police is when an officer searched a young man, “they found ninety-eight dollars in his pocket [they] refused to believe that he had earned it” (Obregon Pagan 121)2. Emory Borgardos, a sociologist said that only about 3% of Mexican Americans were actually involved in gangs revolving around the famous zoot suit, but the media portrayed all Mexican Americans as gang related (Meier & Rivera, 192). There were some gangs derived from the streets, like the famous 38th Street gang, who wore zoot suits (Obregon Pagan 61). Not only were Mexican and African Americans wearing the zoot suits but some white youth as well and a lot of people thought it wasn’t appropriate (Rivas-Rodriguez 149).

In this website you will learn about the Zoot Suit Riots of 1943, the Sleepy Lagoon case of 1942 and the influence of the media surrounding them. The term “zoot suiters” is usually seen as a derogatory term; however, I will be utilizing it to describe those who wore zoot suits.

Sleepy Lagoon, 1942

Zoot Suit Riots, 1943

Media and the Zoot Suits

Works Cited Page


Link to image source

1. Meier, M. S., & Rivera, F. The Chicanos: A History of Mexican Americans. New York: Hill & Wang Pub. 1972.

2. Obregon Pagan, E. Murder at the Sleepy Lagoon: Zoot Suits, Race, Riot in Wartime L.A. Chapel Hill & London: The University of North Carolina Press. 2003.