Zoot Suit Riots

The Zoot Suit Riots were a series of conflicts in June 1943 in Los Angeles, California, United States, which pitted European Americans servicemen stationed in Southern California against Mexican American youths and other minorities who were residents of the city.

European American servicemen and White European immigrant civilians attacked and stripped children, teens, and youths who wore zoot suits, ostensibly because they considered the outfits to be unpatriotic during World War II, as they had a lot of fabric. Rationing of fabric was required at the time for the war effort. While most of the violence was directed toward Mexican American youth, young African American and Filipino Americans who were wearing zoot suits were also attacked.

The Zoot Suit Riots were related to fears and hostilities aroused by the coverage of the Sleepy Lagoon murder trial, following the killing of a young Latino man in a barrio near Los Angeles. The riot appeared to trigger similar attacks that year by European Americans against Latinos in Chicago, San Diego, Oakland, Evansville, Philadelphia, and New York City.

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Provocations: 

  • What statements do we make with the clothes we wear, and how are they a part of our cultural moment?
  • How have class, race, and age shaped violent events in America's past?
  • How would you make a zoot suit? How has it influenced fashion since its day?
  • Did the cities that banned the zoot suit solve the underlying problems? 
  • What other fashions have caused social ruckus? 
 Photo credit: Gordon Parks / Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division 

Photo credit: Gordon Parks / Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division