Are Zoot suits considered an element of the 1940s Hipster subculture?

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Wikipedia: Hipster, as used in the 1940s, referred to aficionados of jazz, in particular bebop, which became popular in the early 1940s. The hipster adopted the lifestyle of the jazz musician, including some or all of the following: dress, slang, use of cannabis and other drugs, relaxed attitude, sarcastic humor, self-imposed poverty and relaxed sexual codes.

  • I've seen them mentioned as such in some material, is there a reason you think they are not.
    – MichaelF
    Apr 7, 2012 at 12:59
  • @MichaelF: What material? If you have a good reference (preferably accessible online) that can make a valid answer. Thanks!
    – nic
    Apr 8, 2012 at 11:14
  • I have to think back, but it wasn't anything online. If I can think of where I saw them before I will note it. Is there a reason you think they are not part of the culture?
    – MichaelF
    Apr 9, 2012 at 11:34
  • @MichaelF: I am skeptical by default ;-) I just need a solid reference before I can enter the information into Wikipedia.
    – nic
    Apr 10, 2012 at 4:20

2 Answers 2


Wearers of the Zoot suit were not really "hip" (in the usual sense of the word).


They were mainly Latinos and African-Americans, who wore them as a protest against oppression, rather than as a cultural statement, although some elements of jazz, slang, and "lifestyle" issues accompanied them. With the onset of World War II, the relatively fancy dress (in California) attracted the disdain of white servicemen stationed there. African- Americans and Latinos returned the hostility to white soldiers who tried to "date" their women, leading to the so-called "Zoot suit" riots. These disturbances (and the polarization arising from the suits themselves) are considered unfortunate episodes in American history.

  • This seems to be essentially correct. The only tweaks I'd make is that it seems to have been primarily a Latino (proto-Chicano) thing that black folk, and apparently a few whites as well, picked up on. The mention I found of whites wearing them was particularly tantalyzing, as it mentions that newspapers covered up this fact, presumably because it didn't fit the racial boundries of the stories they were trying to tell. I have to wonder how prevalent it really was among whites, and thus if this question might not be a better one than it appears at first blush.
    – T.E.D.
    Dec 26, 2012 at 21:01

There is a difference in Wikipedia between "hip" and "hipster" but I suspect that would be cleared up with an edit. "Hip" means "in the know" as in part of a sub-culture. The definition of "hipster" as used in the 40's as a jazz aficionado and etceteras (as someone above has posted) would have been the use within the jazz community and there were certainly other sub-cultures that were self-defined as "hip." The zuit suit crowd would definitely have been self aware enough to consider themselves "hip." This distinction would have indicated that the wearer of the zuit suit was aware of the political message he was projecting. There is no question that wearing a zuit suit was a political act since there were moves to outlaw zuit suits in Los Angeles and war times Federal acts specifically called for slimmed down suit profiles. Zuit suits were seen as both the target of these acts and it was a response to perceived oppression by zuit suit wearing latinos to continue to wear them. All of this comes from reading the wiki articles about "hip," "hipster," "Zuit Suit," and "Zuit Suit Riots."

With a word like "hip" you have to read between the lines. Even if the zuit suit wearers did not use the word "hip" (since many of them probably did not even speak english as their first language.) they were in fact hip and hipsters because of being aware of the political nature of their actions as outsiders. This is a distinction I choose to make, you may not feel the same way, but I believe that it is consistent with the historical usage of "hip."

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