Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Modern Dancing: Swing (Part Two) - The War Years

Whilst the Swing Era began in the Thirties it was interrupted by World War II. The invention of the record player and men at war; allowed women to dance in their living rooms. The speed got faster and the jitterbug incorporated elements of other dances from previous times. Named after the jitters or too much alcohol, participants suffered many injuries. Dance halls replaced ballrooms and were filled with teenagers ready to boogie woogie to the jitterbug. Wherever GI's were posted the dance craze spread. The jitterbug was danced to the music of Benny Goodman.

Throughout the war years as teenage boys, too young to be conscripted, replaced their older brothers in the dance halls, hip kids wore zoot suits with baggy broad shoulders. The cut of the jackets inferred these belonged to bigger people i.e. the missing adult.

The jacket had wide lapels with a long narrow "reet" pleat heavily padded shoulders, and multi-button sleeves. The ensemble was complete with high wasted peg leg trousers cut full in the thigh and tapering to an ankle-hugging tightness. In many versions the foot opening was so narrow the trousers needed ankle zippers. Boys wore a wide brimmed fedora hat, a glaringly patterned fish tail tie, and a lengthy loop of curving key chain that began at the belt plunged below the knee and came to nestle in the trouser pocket.

Male clothing style in the forties was closely associated with the underworld and the loose fit jacket provided a place to conceal weapons and other contraband. The zoot suit was condemned in many states and clergy warned the suit only appealed to pre-repentant Mary Magdalene kind of women.

Riots broke out in New York and California in the 1940's when servicemen attacked wide boys wearing the attire.

This led to a ban on servicemen visiting the Big Apple and Los Angeles unless by prior permission.

In the UK a similar craze was happening and many historians believe the zoot suit may have been the invention of a tailor called F P Scholte at the end of the nineteenth century. He adapted the oversized coats of Guard officers to become zoots, i.e. rhyming slang for suits. These were very popular with the spivs or wide boys of the time. These were street traders selling black market goods. The fashion came to an end in the US when L-85 restrictions on clothing was introduced in 1943.

Everyday shoes of the 40s had smooth leather soles which made them ideal for dancing and street wear. Since swing dancing was mostly a young persons activity it was not uncommon to see girls dancing in sandals or casual loafers.

Reviewed 2/02/2016

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