You may not have heard of Pachuco style but you have probably heard of zoot suits. They were initially worn by African American performers with the jazz, swing and big band music that took the world by storm in the 1930’s & 1940’s.
These exaggerated suits with broad shoulders, fingertip length jackets, wide lairy ties
cat chains, high waist pants that were wide as possible at the knee, but as narrow as possible at the ankle, making them easy for dance moves, they were the coolest style ever in men’s fashion, and still are in my opinion!
Pachucos were the Mexican youth living “North of the border” who took to stylishly wearing zoot suits which became part of their identity. The style was slick, neat and smart, sometimes a little loud, with tons of attitude!
The most famous wearer of the zoot suit was Cab Calloway.
If you have ever watched the classic film “Stormy Weather” 1943 you will see zoot suits
galore at the height of their popularity, in all shapes and sizes! Including ladies and children.
Pachuca’s were female, this sassy style is neat and uncluttered, not much jewellery, maybe just simple hoop earrings. Wedge shoes or Huarache (sandals) made in Mexico still, were a favourite, skirts were often shortened, sometimes worn above the knee, but really, it was quite a masculine look, with trousers sometimes been worn and even cat chains like the men, long jackets , and very big high hair! Sometimes with a hair flower rather than a hat. Make up was fairly heavy with dark lipstick.
However in 1942 things turned sour for the community. A Latino man called Jose Diaz was murdered and accusations revolved around a Pachuca gang ( 38th St. Gang) seen in the vicinity. 17 teenage members were arrested and put on trial (the sleepy lagoon trial) they were sentenced for murder and were sent to serve long terms in San Quenton jail.
But the media had already drummed up hysteria and prejudice against the Mexican-American community. In 1943 serviceman stationed in Los Angeles waiting to go to the pacific looked down on the Pachuca style of dress, as they thought it was unpatriotic to dress so flamboyantly.
Zoot suits took large amounts of fabric at a time of cloth rationing during the war.
They ended up in skirmishes with Pachucas, leading to the infamous “Zoot suit riots”
They attacked, stripped and even burned their attire, and the riots spread across America.
In Los Angeles it was even made illegal to wear a zoot suit on the streets, punishable by a jail sentence!
Eventually in 1944 the convictions were overturned via appeal and they were all released due to lack of evidence.
I admire these guys for standing up for style and risking so much to make a stand. During my research I realised that most of the kids didn’t wear actual zoot suits, but an array of items that were as similar as possible, so like them, we have tried to pick items from our own vintage wardrobes to emulate a feel for this cool look.
Frankie wears a 1940’s blue American suit, gaberdine shirt and tie, with a fedora hat and saddle shoes.
I’m wearing a longer length original 1940’s jacket which is one of my earliest buys, years ago. Teamed with a plain grey wool pencil skirt (I don’t have a shorter one) 40’s style work blouse form Freddie’s of Pinewood and typical wedge ankle strap shoes from Rocket originals, my hair flower is from Shazam vintage pin up hairflowers.
I made my hair bigger by the use of a “rat” or in my case, a rolled up stocking! It’s something I used to wear everyday in my twenties, and I’m going to start again, as it worked quite well for me!