twelve inches at the bottom

In the 1940s a strange fashion for men really  took off – the zoot suit.

In his autobiography, Malcolm X (then Malcolm Little) recalled the excitement of purchasing his first zoot suit at the age of fifteen. His description emphasises the importance of ‘striking the pose’:

image (not Malcolm X)

‘I was measured, and the young salesman picked off a rack a zoot suit that was just wild: sky-blue pants thirty inches in the knee and angle narrowed down to twelve inches at the bottom, and a long coat that pinched my waist and flared out below my knees. As a gift, the salesman said, the store would give me a narrow leather belt with my initial ‘L’ on it. Then he said I ought to also buy a hat, and I did – blue, with a feather in the four-inch brim. Then the store gave me another present: a long, thick-lined, gold plated chain that swung down lower than my coat hem. I was sold forever on credit. … I took three of those twenty-five cent sepia-toned, while-you wait pictures of myself, posed the way ‘hipsters’ wearing their zoots would ‘cool it’ – hat angled, knees drawn close together, feet wide apart, both index fingers jabbed toward the floor. The long coat and swinging chain and the Punjab pants were much more dramatic if you stood that way.’


Here in Australia, zoot suits were tailored by Andy Ellis. Fledgling rock artists brought in sketches or album covers featuring the new style and paid big money for Ellis to create suits in gold lame, leopard skin or polka dots. One of his most intriguing outfits was featured in an August 1957 edition of the Weekend newspaper.

“A full page was devoted to the wondrous outfit made for Sydney rocker Bruce Hart by the Dior of the Drape Shape, as Ellis was dubbed.

Hart, a 22 year old milko from Lakemba, wanted to update his image after his girlfriend called him a square.


Ellis assisted by stitching up an apricot and blue jacket with Miro inspired lining and the words “Dig the Rock” embroidered on the pocket. The jacket was teamed with black polka dot pants with mandatory knife edge pleats. A chrome yellow shirt and red and white striped tie completed the look.”


Published in: on April 22, 2010 at 8:10 am  Comments (42)  
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42 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. And they say men look good in suits…


    Le King

    • You’d look good in anything Your Majesty

      • Or nothing…

        So I’m told.

        The King

  2. It was back in 1999… and it was fashionable to actually go for class while looking like you couldn’t care less… jeans, flip flops and tees. Emphasis on the flip flops 🙂

    • I think it’s still fashionable for students to look like they couldn’t care less

  3. Perhaps Corset Friday will feature gold lame with knife edge pleats? Dig that rock, Nurse!

    • I don’t think I’ve got any gold lame Mitzi

  4. Fabulous post! If only zoot suits were back in style…it would be a great fuss and make us all forget about the woes in the world. Reminds me slightly of parachute pants in the ’80’s.

    • Oh no, I don’t want them to come back, I think they’re weird

  5. Beauty (and style) is in the eye of the beholder.
    I’m feeling much better about my own fashion sense.

  6. i’ve always had a soft spot for the zoot… my dad, a jazz musician in the 40’s, would wear them for his gigs. never saw a pic, but he described it with the same joy as malcolm x…

  7. I’m rather proud of your efforts Miss.You probably don’t get the accolades you deserve, however, I feel that as you learn, we learn. Thank you.
    As an aside, have you looked into Norman Lindsay as yet?. There is a gold mine, and Mr.Whiteley’s art and departure in a motel on the South Coast?. Or too soon.
    Please don’t think it forward of me to suggest, they fit into the meme, we have sages and minstrels, scoundrels and saints, the quaint and the haughty.
    Oh, so many and history(the last moments) just happens. Why, in Melbourne just last Monday was there not a subject that could be covered when the Legal dust dies, and what a story! And still unfolding.. Thanks again for you work. LM

    • Thanks for the comments Lang, have we seen you here before at the Gimcrack?

      • Well yes, once, to praise your efforts. You would be a most desired and acceptable guest, of a short list,to converse to, because of your interest in people rather than events. And events do happen ,caused mostly by people, mostly to mirth and hand over mouth and mourn.
        I live in Frederick Wordsworth Ward’s ,so called, much debate,area, and the FOI has only been pressed now.
        “The Thunderbolt legend lives on most strongly in the New England district of northern
        New South Wales and especially around Uralla. Of all the bushrangers who engaged in
        their illegal and often colourful careers in Australia during the first 100 years of white
        settlement, Thunderbolt, hero or horse thief, was at large for probably the longest period.”
        Ah, Doc. Holliday, Jessie James, Cole Younger and etc:, hardly hold a candle to our ‘agitated’, why even Tassie (the fondly held map of) probably has the best recorded of the kind eating their kind.
        If I had your ability I would express to others of our history, I don’t so I hold it to you to do so.
        I hold you in great respect and thank you. Laird Lang. (LM)

  8. I was once involved in a Zoot Suit Riot where I threw back a bottle of beer.

    • Awesome!!!

    • did you have to wear a zoot suit? if so, that would be impressive.

  9. I love flamboyant dress on men. Oh to be a walking work of art!

    • You already are one darlin’

      • Ha! Face like a Picasso and brain like a Pollock, today. 🙂

  10. “…milko from Lakemba…”

    Eh? I know what milk is. I searched the phrase and got a link to some nurse. Maybe it is an illness.

    Bing Crosbing

    • I was wondering about that myself.

      • Lakemba is a not so fashionable suburb in Sydney’s west. Milko? Well, Aussies have a habit of abbreviating everything they possibly can – brickie, chippy, arvo, bluey, barbie… you’d learn the vernacular pretty quickly if you were here for a month

        (that’s bricklayer, carpenter, afternoon, person with red hair and barbecue)

      • And at the barbie you could have a longie or a stubbie with the likes of Bazza, Dezzo, Stevo and Mal.

  11. some styles should not be revisited.. but some of the saggy pants, long chains stuff does resurface here in the US where young men wear pants that sag and are excessively large. I think they look awful!

  12. I want a zoot suit! I’ve always loved crazy pimp fashion as well, though never worn it outside of Halloween.

    Do you watch the Project Runway Nursemyra?

    • No I don’t Scott, is it entertaining?

      • Very, and I don’t know much about fashion. I think you’d love it.

  13. I kinda like the idea of wearing a Zoot suit masel. I wonder if they do them in an XXXXXXL long leg?

  14. Looks like it was Hammer Time long before was Hammer Time.

    • You can’t touch this 😉

  15. Apparently fashion has never been about rationality or practicality. I must be lacking that gene.

  16. I think I’ll pass on the zoot suits. I am trying to visualise the milkp#s new clothes. I think sunglasses would help there

  17. All I know about suits is that a black suit and tie like the ones in Reservoir Dogs or Pulp Fiction never go out of style.

  18. I where one today, and I would look so freakin’s cool!

  19. I love the zoot suit, but I would look totally silly in one, in fact, I look silly in most clothes.

  20. I remember reading Malcolm X’s autobiography back in the 80s – still got it somewhere I think. As I recall, another of his obsessions as a young man was to sport the perfect ‘conk’ hairstyle which a de rigeur accessory to the suit.

  21. Damn interesting. I have to concur with Scott and advise a viewing of “Project Runway”. It’s addictive and very fashion learning-teaching-watching show.

  22. Awww, I LOVE the white suit. But you’ve gotta have the legs for this look.

  23. […] Twelve inches??? (GimcrackHospital) […]

  24. One of my fav songs is “Zoot suit Riot” by the Cherry Poppin Daddies – check it out!

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