The style of clothing known as the zoot suit is largely associated with Chicanos and African Americans, but it also became popular with Japanese Americans incarcerated during World War II, reports the Nikkei Chicago.
According to Ellen D Wu, professor of history and Asian American studies at Indiana University in Bloomington, the zoot suiters became a source of contention at the camps.
“All we talked about was girls and we got to do more and more of this…. We would find out who were the most popular girls in camp and then go after them,”said Sus Kaminaka who acquired his first zoot suit while incarcerated.
Kaminaka recalls fist fights often breaking out over girls at Rohwer in Arkansas. At the Gila River incarceration center, the camp’s newspaper reports on complaints that the zoot suiters were taking all the chains from the laundry sinks to use as watch chains. At the Poston camp, escalating fights became known as the “zoot suit warfare.”
The Japanese American zoot suiters even developed their own slang. You can read about that along with efforts by the War Relocation Authority to stop the spread of the zoot suiters in Nikkei Chicago.