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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