CONSTELLATION: Case Study: The Zoot Suit, The Teds: Cath Davies: Session 3

THE ZOOT SUIT

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The Zoot Suit was a cultural statement. Its characteristics included baggy trousers with tight ankles, shoulder pads which over emphasised the physique, a wide-brimmed hat and they were usually brightly coloured. The suits were very over proportioned and exaggerated. There was an excessive use of fabric accompanied with Dutch type shoes and conked hair straightened into a point. The straightening of the hair was considered no difference to whitening your skin. It portrayed the idea of claiming a common white person suit and changing it for the Black man.

 The Zoot Suit protested against racial tension, it broke rules. Particular the rule of Blacks not being as valued as the whites in 1940s wartime. The use of excessive fabric in a time of war-time rationing was a statement being made in itself. The Blacks wearing the Zoot suit were basically putting two fingers up to the governments rules. The Zoot Suit was highly related to the breaking of rules and became associated with criminal activity and therefore creating a sense of panic and anxiety about people’s looks to do with hip hop culture. A few years ago, the wearing of the Hoodie had a criminal meaning, it was no different to the wearing of the Zoot suit. The way the wearers of the suit walked and presented themselves enhanced the meanings behind the suit. This is showing us that style is not just about clothing, it is about mannerisms, us and them. The way people speak can sometimes come into subculture – not knowing the language or slang of a subculture could make you not part of it.

Everything the Zoot Suits stood for was then revisited in the Hip Hop movement in the 1980s. There were many statements and meanings relating to racial identity hidden within the wearing of the Zoot Suit.

The Mens Fashion Reader – THE TEDS

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The Subculture “The Teds” was characterised by reinvention of the suit. They took an Edwardian look of the past and replicated it. Characteristics of this street style included expensive waistcoats and Edwardian style suits a dress that would have been worn by the Edwardian upper class gentleman in its originally incarnation. Expensive fabrics in the Edwardian times spoke of your wealth, power and class. The Teds wore these Edwardian suits as best as they could get them, it wasn’t the fashion of the day and the suit was not offered in shops. It was a street style marked by a style from the past, a very vintage look. In terms of difference, they wanted to disassociate themselves from what people were wearing from the high street. It is interesting to think that an old-time fashion was resurrected in the 1950s within a subculture.

Teds is a slang name for Edwardian. The Teds were the wrong class wearing the wrong suit in the wrong period. It was a working class sub-culture wearing suits that once belonged to the upper classes. The Teds were making a statement saying they could claim the objects that the upper class thought were theirs. The wearing of this suit was a statement purely about class. They modified the suit, new meanings emerged in the Edwardian suit because of change, it was modified and a new group of people wore it.

The “Teddy Boys”, “Teds” were revived in the earlier 1970s. In comparison, both the 50s and 70s Teds wore velvet waistcoats and ties but there were more modifications to the Edwardian ensemble in the 70s. The drainpipe trousers were thinner and the jackets became longer, the shoes were crepe soled and blue suede shoes came about by Rock and Roll. The 1950s Teds influenced the Psychobillies wearing of the creeper shoes. Here, a different meaning and usage has been created from one pair of shoes. This is an example of an item having a cultural biography.

WHAT HAS LINKED THE OLD SKOOL B-BOYS, THE TEDS AND THE ZOOT SUIT?

The answer is simply Rebellion. Fighting the power and Fighting the rules of society and Fighting it through Style. The Symbolic marking, in other words style, is the place that you can challenge how societies think you should dress and behave. 

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