Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Origin of Pachuco and Cholo Styled Fashion

Have you ever wondered the history of why many Mexican-American male’s dress the way they do? Why is it that during certain periods of time they wore a set style of fashion? Being the history fanatic that I am, I decided to look into it. The “Pachuco” style was one that was pretty easy to figure out and research, but there was very little to go on about the style known by “Cholo’s” that shortly took off later. I will get into that subject in a little bit.

But first we will touch on the original Mexican-American flavor that first hit the scene in the early 1940’s of Los Angeles. First things first, the Zoot Suit style known famously by Pachuco's was not original at all. In fact, this style was adopted from other people in other areas across the country at the time.

Pachuco Style 

Pachucos were famously known for their flamboyant style in over sized, yet tailored and high waisted trousers. Their trousers were always tight cuffed at the bottom, narrowing from the top to the bottom. They wore long coats with wide lapels and padded shoulders. Many wore fedoras along with a feather in the rim known as a tapa.
In my previous research, it has been said the possible meaning of the word of Pachuco as deriving from the Nahuatl root word "Pachoacan,” meaning " place of silver and gold", and/or “patlachuican,” meaning "place of tears." Then there is the slang term "Pocho" meaning a Mexican-American living in society, becoming Americanized. No longer belonging to Mexico, and still not a Anglo, thus being some sort of mixed outcast. I believe that term could be closely related to the Pachuco word due to the fact alot of the parents of the Pachuco's were proud in their own Mexican customs, and their children were changing according to the changing world, thus in their parents minds they felt their children were disowning their own culture. 

Where and how the name Pachuco became defined by the style of Zoot Suit clothes is still undetermined and so there cannot be any straight answer being that the Pachuco's didn't create the look, style or design of the Zoot Suit in the first place.

Zoot Suiters were making a statement through fashion that they no longer wanted to be looked on as immigrants living in an American society, but they wanted to be accepted as Mexican-American citizens who just wanted to fit in, in their own way. This look was adopted by the Mexican-Americans in the Southwest areas, mainly of Los Angeles in the 1940's but the Zoot Suit had previously been documented being worn by Italian-Americans and African-Americans in Chicago in the 1930’s.  

Another note, author of "Gone With The Wind," Margaret Mitchell was basically quoted in a magazine article in the 1930's stating that Zoot Suits were a over exaggerated copy of the suits that Southern gentlemen wore during the time before the Civil War. Thus, the costumes you can see Clark Gable's character, Rhett Butler wearing in the movie is very similar to a Zoot Suit, although not quite exaggerated in dimensions.

The Oxford- English Dictionary states the zoot suit meant a “reduplication” of a suit. There have been no exact facts attributing the genuine original designer of the zoot suit. However, various people have been mentioned such as Harold C. Fox- a Chicago clothier, Louis Lettes- a Memphis tailor and Nathan Elkus- a Detroit retailer as being the initial influence on this trend.
Eventually after time passed, down the line the Pachuco style started to dwindle down. The more casual “Cholo” look was just starting to pick up steam and forge ahead staying the basic “Cholo” style for the next fifty years.

Many people associate the “Cholo” style to someone wearing Dickies (blue or tan), A Ben Davis jacket or Pendleton Jackets that have flannel print. They have shaved heads or wear their hair greased back, sometimes with a bandana or a hair net. Sadly, this is often stereo-typed of many Mexican-American males due to the popularity of this trend.

Why do you suppose this became such a trend? 

If you look in any old school year books of the 1940s and 1950s you will see that young men wore a lot of khakis and button down shirts. This was a classic American fashion style.  The reason the Mexican-American culture adopted this look to an extreme all started just after World War II when the Commissaries had mass amounts of inventory that had been made exclusively for the soldiers. Since the war was over there was no need to keep supplying the soldiers with the clothing that consisted of button down shirts, t-shirts, under shirts ( later referred to as “wife-beaters”) and tan khakis or chino's. The Commissary needed to move this extra inventory so they sold it “dirt cheap” to civilians. The majority of buyers were young Mexican-American boys and men who couldn’t afford the more expensive clothing, but instead were able to purchase large amounts of clothing from the Commissary for pennies on the dollar.

With all this supply of khakis (chino's) and t-shirts being sold in huge amounts, the Mexican-American community was overwhelmed with young men in the neighborhood dressing alike. They adopted the "American" standard military style of ironing the crease in their pants to remain a classic and sharp look. So as you see, this style was also adopted from another "American" fashion trend.

As time went on other trends were adopted into that fashion such as the hairnets, bandanas, the wearing of Jerseys and later implementing Denim Jeans and tennis shoes such as Nike Cortez, Shell-toe Adidas among other styles to their look. 

The original true “Cholo’s” of the day wore creased button down shirts, white t-shirts and military creased tan trousers known today as chino's or khakis. I hope that this short but informative article gives you a better insight on how Pachuco’s and Cholo’s of the 1940’s influenced the urban Mexican-American male fashion style of today.
J'aime Rubio (Copyright) 2011


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. This is a good article on a subject that's rarely given attention!

    I encourage you to have it reposted at If you'd like to have this done, you can contact me at: ~ Paz

  3. Hello, I am very interested in using the zoosuit black and white photo that you have posted here in a PowerPoint presentation. My PowerPoint is a collection of photos that represent the history of my life and as a youth in the Alpine Barrio in Los Angeles. I remember seeing this style of clothing being used as I was growing up. Can you tell me where you obtained this photo or if it is yours to provide permission for use? Thank you for your help. Luis

    1. Hello Luis,

      I found this photo on wikipedia a long time ago. I am sure you can use the photo it is part of Public Domain.

  4. Nice ...and well written...I think a big influence on the look today of the Modern day Cholo has come from going in N out of the system..the shaved head..(Because you never know when you got a haircut coming)..and the excessively baggy pants..To better conceal things..

  5. Thank you Clumsy. I agree that over the years the look of cholo styled attire has been influenced in many different ways. I just wanted to show the origin of how it all started. Glad you enjoyed it.

  6. are you still monitoring this post?


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