When the radical forces of rock, fashion and politics intersect, the result is high-impact style.

Those who dismiss the radical credentials of pop music fashion as just so much mass-marketed hype probably have never heard of the Zoot Suit Riots. In one of the only incidents in recorded history where men’s wear brought an entire city to its knees, the Zoot Suit Riots centered on suits worn by jazz-loving African- and Mexican-Americans during World War II. Zoot suits consisted of draped pants and broad-shouldered jackets (Think Kid Creole and the Coconuts. Then again, don’t.) Because it used a lot of material, the zoot suit flew in the face of wartime fabric restrictions. Given that the hedonistic jazzsters who wore it (including a young Malcolm X) displayed distinct draft-dodging tendencies and were less than enthusiastic about the war effort, the zoot suit soon became the World War II equivalent of sporting the peace sign during the Vietnam era. As a result, zoot-suiters often became targets for racial violence operating under the guise of patriotism. It all came to a head in 1943, when a group of sailors in Los Angeles attacked some Mexican-American zoot-suiters, and the violence quickly escalated — with the police taking the side of the white rioters.

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