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How to Make a Zoot Suit

Updated April 17, 2017

Zoot Suits are an American special occasion suit style for men from the 1930-40s. The suit consists of peg-legged, tapered trousers, and a long jacket worn with a bright shirt and dancing shoes. In 1943, when violent, racially motivated riots broke out in Los Angeles, they were called "Zoot Suit Riots," since young Mexican men wearing Zoot Suits were targeted by the police and military. In 1979, Luis Valdez's "Zoot Suit" Broadway play contextualised this popular style. "It was groundbreaking," said Alma Martinez, PhD, who starred in the 1981 film. "A fundamental, ideological, political, social shake-up." Make a Zoot Suit today by purchasing a large suit and altering to size, then use accessories to achieve the period look.

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  1. Purchase dark suit trousers and a matching jacket from a vintage store or second-hand shop. Both should be two or three sizes larger than the wearer's size. Aim for a jacket that is single breasted, has wide shoulders and hits about mid-thigh. Trousers should be very wide and long.

  2. Have the wearer stand in the trousers with the waist band at the base of the rib cage. Pinch the sides of the waist and mark with pins to fit tightly. Cinch in the ankles of the trousers until they are tapered. Mark with fabric chalk.

  3. Remove the trousers. Mark with pins where the fabric chalk lines are at the ankles. Turn the trousers inside out and pin the trouser legs into a gentle taper and sew. The aim is to have the thighs and knees of the suit very wide, while the ankles are narrow. Take in the waist at the side seams with pins and sew into place.

  4. Insert shoulder pads into the jacket to give the wearer additional heft.

  5. Tip

    Enlist a tailor to create a perfectly fitted Zoot Suit as original Zoot Suit wearers did. To complete the outfit, purchase a red or light coloured button down, collared shirt to wear with the suit. Accessorise the Zoot Suit with a gold chain around the neck, a striking fedora hat and suspenders. Slick hair back into a tail. As Carlos Espinoza, a Zoot Suit wearer from the 1940s said, "If you had good hair, then you had to comb it like a little duck tail in the back, right? Wrap around. And that was it. Yes."

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Things You'll Need

  • Long suit jacket
  • Wide suit trousers
  • Fabric chalk
  • Straight pins
  • Needle and thread or sewing machine
  • Shoulder pads
  • Red collared shirt

About the Author

Jen Randall has been a writer and editor since 2004. She has worked as a newspaper reporter, academic editor, freelance blogger and ghostwriter, covering education, art and design, fashion, culture and society. Randall earned her Bachelor of Arts in comparative history from the University of Washington.

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