I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

Home Uncategorized The Kids Are Alright

The Kids Are Alright

Maurice Earls
Zoot Suit, The Enigmatic Career of an Extreme Style, Kathy Peiss, University of Pennsylvania Press, 238 pp, $24.95 ISBN: 9780812243376 The key attributes of the classic US zoot were very high-waisted pleated trousers which ballooned out at the knees and were pegged in at the ankles. Cab Calloway’s Hepster’s Dictionary defines zoot as something done in an exaggerated style and describes the suit as having “a long killer-diller coat with a drape shape and wide shoulders; pants with reet pleats, billowing out at the knees, tightly tapered and pegged at the ankles; a pork pie or wide brimmed hat; pointed or thick soled shoes; and a long dangling key chain”. The zoot enjoyed a significant afterlife through Teddy Boy drapes in the 1950s and, in more recent times, in a steady retro celebration, one of the latest being in the distinctive form of the talented showman singer Cee Lo Green. In Europe the extreme dress of the zoot era was often quite different from the classic US style, whereas in Canada, Trinidad and Mexico, it was similar. One question which arises early on in Kathy Peiss’s thoughtful and comprehensive narrative relates to the ways in which the zoot suit can be regarded as political. Peiss is uncomfortable with the assumption of many academic commentators who ‑ influenced by the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies at Birmingham University ‑ argue that the phenomenon was deeply political and that it was primarily about resistance. However, while Peiss rejects the idea that the aesthetic is subsumed by the political, she does not deny the political dimension and seems, rather, to call for greater nuance in unfolding the relationship between the two. Perhaps the zoot suit is best thought of as having something to do with race, sex, coming of age and letting the older generation know that another one ‑ one with new ideas and a greater purchase on the future ‑ had arrived. And maybe that is political, even if not in the classic sense of a class-based struggle for resources. Certainly the zoot suit evoked a political response among its critics, who appear to have experienced pronounced political fears concerning the wider ramifications of the phenomenon. In Los Angeles in 1943 the extreme youth fashion sparked violent rioting, when sailors on shore leave descended on young Mexican Americans who favoured the dramatic style. Peiss tells us that “… the zoot suit appeared across…



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