The zoot suit was a popular fashion in the 1930s and 40s. A typical zoot suit is an oversized caricature of a traditional suit that has wide legged pants that are gathered at the ankles, a jacket that reaches the knees and excessively large shoulder pads that give a very boxy appearance to the suit.
The zoot suit is considered formalwear and generally worn on special occasions including weddings, parties and nights on the town.
Zoot suits originated in the Harlem area of New York and were popular within the African-American jazz community. Shortly thereafter the fashion spread from the jazz community to other groups particularly Mexican-Americans, Puerto Rican Americans, Italian Americans and other African-American segments of society. In 1942 zoot suits were banned by the War Production Board as they were deemed wasteful due to the large amount of fabric that was used in their construction. While it is true that zoot suits do require more fabric that traditional suits the move was seen as racist due to the fact that zoot suits were worn almost exclusively by minority groups. Once the suits were banned it became an act of defiance to wear a zoot suit in public; and the like many other acts of censorship, banning the suit only increased its popularity. A year after the suits were banned frustrations came to a head in East Los Angeles when sailors, who were on leave, began assaulting anyone who was wearing a zoot suit. The majority of the victims of these assaults were African-Americans, Mexican-American youths and Filipino Americans. This shameful fallout of these so called his zoot suit riots included hundreds of minority arrests yet only nine sailors being arrested. After the riots the US military forbid military personnel from visiting Los Angeles.
Because of the racial overtones that played a big part in the zoot suit riots, zoot suits are seen today as a source of pride in one's culture and a symbol of anti-racism.