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Zoot Suit Riots
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Primary Sources: Newsweek June 21, 1943

The Suit

The zoot suit is distinctly something from the bottom drawer. Its origin is obscure although when its main features -- the pegged trousers and the long coat -- resemble those of suits of the early 1900's. Its creation has been attributed variously to a Negro busboy in Georgia, and to costumes Clark Gable wore in "Gone With the Wind." But no one actually knows -- or can prove -- where the zoot suit started. Harlem is its acknowledged gate to popularity, however, and there has flourished in all its glory the reat pleat, drape shape and stuff cuff. The War Production Board virtually banned it in March 1942, when it restricted the amount of material to be used in men's clothes, but the zoot suit has continued to thrive- mainly through the diligence of bootleg tailors.

As one result of the Los Angeles outbreak, the Federal government cracked down on this illicit trading in zoot suits. The War Frauds Division got an injunction forbidding one shop to sell any of the 800 zoot suits in stock. Claiming that the shopkeeper had contributed to "hoodlumism," agents said they had found that great numbers of zoot coats and pants were being made in New York and Chicago.

The question thus was whether the zoot suit could survive assaults by both the government and its men in uniform.



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