What about those fellows waiting still and silent there on the platform, so still and silent they clash with the crowd in their very immobility, standing noisy in their very silence; harsh as a cry of terror in their quietness? What about these three boys, coming now along the platform, tall and slender, walking with swinging shoulders in their well-pressed, too-hot-for-summer suits, their collars high and tight about their necks, their identical hats of black cheap felt set upon the crowns of their heads with a severe formality above their conked hair? It was as though I’d never seen their like before: walking slowly, their shoulders swaying, their legs swinging from their hips in trousers that ballooned upward from cuffs fitting snug about their ankles; their coats long and hip-tight with shoulders far too broad to be those of natural western men. These fellows whose bodies seemed — what had one of my teachers said of me? — ‘You’re like one of those African sculptures, distorted in the interest of design.’ Well, what design and whose?1
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Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man, New York, 1947, p. 380.
For the most extensive sociological study of the zoot-suit riots of 1943, see Ralph H. Turner and Samuel J. Surace, ‘Zoot Suiters and Mexicans: Symbols in Crowd Behaviour’, American Journal of Sociology, 62, 1956, pp. 14–20.
Octavio Paz, The Labyrinth of Solitude, Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1967, pp. 5–6.
See K. L. Nelson (ed.), The Impact of War on American Life, New York, 1971.
O. E. Schoeffier and W. Gale, Esquire’s Encyclopaedia of Twentieth-Century Men’s Fashion, New York, 1973, p. 24.
Quoted in S. Menefee, Assignment USA, New York, 1943, p. 189.
Joan W. Moore, Homeboys: Gangs, Drugs and Prison in the Barrios of Los Angeles, Philadelphia, 1978.
Although the Detroit Race Riots of 1943 were not zoot-suit riots, nor evidently about ‘youth’ or ‘delinquency’, the social context in which they took place was obviously comparable. For a lengthy study of the Detroit riots, see R. Shogun and T. Craig, The Detroit Race Riot: a study in violence, Philadelphia and New York, 1964.
Chester Himes, ‘Zoot Riots are Race Riots’, The Crisis, July 1943;
Chester Himes, Black on Black: Baby Sister and Selected Writings, London, 1975.
Quoted in Larry Neal, ‘Ellison’s Zoot Suit’, in J. Hersey (ed.), Ralph Ellison: A Collection of Critical Essays, New Jersey, 1974, p. 67.
From Larry Neal’s poem ‘Malcolm X: an Autobiography’, in L. Neal, Hoodoo Hollerin’ Bebop Ghosts, Washington DC, 1974, p. 9.
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© 1984 Stuart Cosgrove
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Cosgrove, S. (1984). The Zoot Suit and Style Warfare. In: McRobbie, A. (eds) Zoot Suits and Second-Hand Dresses. Youth Questions. Palgrave Macmillan, London. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-349-19999-0_1
Publisher Name: Palgrave Macmillan, London
Print ISBN: 978-0-333-39652-0
Online ISBN: 978-1-349-19999-0