Although the men’s suit is more well known, young women also participated in the rebellious 1940s Zoot and Zazou style. Some called their clothing “defense drapes.”
Their version was a short pleated skirt that showed plenty of leg – it was an inch or two above the knee! The skirt was made of rayon or cotton, was gathered or pleated, had flow to it – it had to swing for all of that dancing – and sat at the waistline. It was usually plain but bright in color, and fastened on the side with a metal zipper or buttons. A plain white blouse, usually short-sleeved, was worn tucked into the skirt. A tight sweater added one more layer.
Pants were also popular. Young Zazous wore wide leg, high waist pants like most working class women, but they pegged the legs to mimic the men’s style.
Women also wore a wide, long wool suit jacket with large shoulder pads called “Juke Jackets” – the jacket was almost as long as their skirts. Fishnet or striped stockings, knee socks, or bobby socks were worn with black leather thick soled, high-heeled shoes (about 2 ½ inches was high at the time) with an ankle strap. With pants they were almost flat lace up Oxfords.
For the Latina zoot-suiter, the pachucha, hair was worn in a giant exaggerated bouffant-style on top of the head, with the rest of the hair falling loose in the back. Some women formed social clubs with names like “Black Widows and “Slicks Chicks.” For the French Zazous, hair was worn long and curly and dyed platinum blond. Heavy makeup was also worn.
It took a bold young woman to wear this look. It was illegal to cross dress during the 1940s, and some women were arrested for dressing like men. It didn’t stop them. Like the men, the look was an identity all their own, not one of disrespect but something that made them feel noticed instead of overlooked.
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