A History of Racism in Fashion

The Zoot Suit Riots

Year: 1943

The extravagant, fabric-laden suits of the Pachucos—an early Mexican-American youth culture with roots in the Southwest US—became the flashpoint for what would turn into a national battle. Tensions were riding high in L.A. between Mexicans and whites at the time, with the L.A. Times playing a huge part in stoking anti-Mexican sentiment. During World War II, fabric was being rationed, but underground tailors continued to produce oversized "zoot suits" to meet demand. White servicemen stationed along the Pacific Coast thought the continued presence of zoot suits constituted a lack of respect for the war effort. When the press used a series of crimes to incite xenophobia, a mob of thousands ran amok in L.A.'s Mexican neighborhoods, beating and stripping Pachucos of their zoot suits. The riots spread as far as Detroit and Harlem, even drawing commentary from First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. The L.A. Times fired back that the First Lady was a Communist.

Tags: fashion, racism
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