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Fox, Harold C.

zoot suit suits musicians

B. 1910

D. July 28, 1996

Birthplace: Unknown

The zoot suit is the most innovative men’s garment of the twentieth century. Its knee-length jacket featured exaggerated padded shoulders, and the voluminous, high-waisted pants narrowed to a pegged ankle. When the zoot suit emerged during the 1940s, it was a radical departure from typical men’s suits which had changed little in nearly a century.

Although the origins of the zoot suit are unclear, several sources attribute the suit’s invention to Harold C. Fox, a Chicago tailor. At the least, Fox outfitted musicians such as Duke Ellington, Count Basie, and Louis Armstrong, who helped popularize the style. Fox was the leader of the Jimmy Dale Orchestra when he took over the his family’s tailoring business in 1941. He reputedly traded suits for musical arrangements made by the popular jazz musicians who frequently played in Chicago and sported the extreme style. In addition to jazz musicians, urban blacks and Latinos were the primary wearers of the style.

The zoot suit was regarded as fashionable by some and as rebellious and unpatriotic by others. Its popularity coincided with World War II. Rationing during the war led to clothing restrictions for U.S. citizens. To some people, the copious amounts of fabric required to construct a zoot suit constituted open defiance of the American war effort. In California, animosity between Latino “zoot suiters” and U.S. servicemen erupted in a fight known as the Zoot Suit Riots in June 1943. Racial prejudice lay beneath the servicemen’s outrage over the fashion, since the garment was worn primarily by blacks and Latinos.

The initial fad of zoot suits was short lived, but the 1990s witnessed a resurgence in the popularity of swing dancing and the zoot suit. In an effort to embody the spirit of the 1940s, many dancers dressed in vintage clothing which helped bring back the zoot suit. Soon, the fad expanded to dressier occasions such as high school proms. Several tailors throughout the country began offering custom-made zoot suits. Fox, who died in 1996, continued wearing the fashion throughout his life and was buried in a lavender one.

Fox, Vivica A. (1964–) [next] [back] Fox-Genovese, Elizabeth Ann (1941–) - U.S. Intellectual, Southern, and Women’s History; French History

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