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Paparazzi Stalk Zoot Suit Illustrator: The Most Shocking Blog Post Of 2012

November 30, 2012

I’m working on a little project involving zoot suits. I missed that era (1940s), but always figured I’d look good in one. Thanks to Photoshop, I was able to confirm my theory. But alas, as you can see I looked too good, and attracted a lot of those annoying paparazzi.

It is, of course, a composite photograph which combines my head and neck, a zoot suit and body, and a photo of paparazzi pasted in as the backdrop. I applied a number of adjustments to give it a semi-illustrated look. Here’s a close-up. Gosh, what a sweet face…

So what’s a zoot suit? Principal features include a very long suit coat with wide padded shoulders, and high-waisted, full-cut pants that narrow to pegged cuffs. Accessories often include a wide-brimmed fedora-style hat, and a very long watch chain.

Below left: an exaggerated modern-day zoot suit costume that one might wear to a party; right: a period couple strikes a pose. The man’s tightly pegged cuffs stand out, as does his extremely long watch chain.

Every age considers itself the most hip and daring, including its fashions. The zoot suit begs to differ. It dates back to the 1940s, and looks outrageous even by today’s standards.

I like this photo of hip teens circa 1950. I only see one watch chain, but the long coats and padded shoulders are very much in evidence. The three young ladies in the middle are also wearing very long coats– the female equivalent of the “zoot look,” perhaps.

So where’d I get the suit I’m wearing? I stole it from this young chap, who was clearly the hippest zooter of his time.
period photo of young teenage kid wearing zoot suit with wide shoulders, big bowtie, and long watch chain standing looking cool in men's clothing store

A few years ago, I did some local community theater. I played an unscrupulous music promoter, complete with cigar. I lifted my head and neck from this grainy photo taken during dress rehearsal. Is that a face you could trust? No.illustrator Mark Armstrong with cigar as devious music promoter Willett Greenstone in community theater stage production of Mike Cohen play Neon Coconut

Here’s the paparazzi photo I used for the backdrop. I used a Hue/Saturation adjustment to desaturate the image, then applied a simple Photo filter to give it a cool blue tint. I also applied a Noise>Median filter which blurs an image while largely preserving its natural edges.

I boosted the color in my face with a Brightness/Contrast adjustment, then applied the Median filter to smooth out the grain. The most skillful aspect of the piece is probably the tint I added to the B&W suit using color adjustments and a sepia Photo filter. The tint complements the skin tones, and creates the illusion of an integrated color image.

Here’s the final again.

What do you think? Will you be hustling down to the local vintage clothing store to buy a zoot suit? Is your favorite illustrator even more impossibly hip than you thought?? Hope you’ll leave a comment.

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34 Comments
  1. November 30, 2012 10:07 AM

    Hmm. Well, it seems very apparent that James Edward Olmos will forever be associated with the zoot suit, or at least as far as the Chicano connections. I’ve never seen it in our local Latino communities, however (the modern cholo/vato look seems more prevalent), and I don’t think the high waists would catch on with everyone else, as the hip/buttcrack level of pants has been far too pervasive. Such is still the “butt” of jokes, for everyone knows that “crack” kills. Maybe you’ve noticed that the chain stuck around, though, but for wallets… and you might be a redneck wearing one, according to Jeff Foxworthy (especially if your dog is wearing one, too).

    • December 2, 2012 8:12 PM

      I think you were making a few wisecracks there, Jak, butt it’s OK with me… : P

      Hmm… how did Mr. Olmos manage to go back in time and have that picture taken?? The space-time continuum must be more permeable than I thought… : )

  2. November 30, 2012 5:49 PM

    Oh aye lad, tha looks the business in that Zooter! Great piece of photoshop art here!

    My favourite illustrator just broke the cool metre! ha ha

    • December 2, 2012 8:16 PM

      Well, thank’ee, my dear fellow. I really must give you the credit, however. As you know, I try to emulate the Murray Style. You’re the only person I know who could successful combine the refinement of Jeeves and the attitude of Mad Max– well done, sir!

      • December 3, 2012 10:37 AM

        A true gentleman you are!
        I might quote this if I may dear sir?! Such a description makes one chuckle :)

      • December 3, 2012 12:54 PM

        A true gentleman– hmm… Far be it from me to contradict you, my dear fellow… : P

        Quote away– I’m always happy to promote a living legend… : )

  3. November 30, 2012 6:12 PM

    You are indeed impossibly hip in your zoot suit if I do say so myself. I was unaware of this wild fashion trend until my high school prom many years ago….since then I’ve used this suit knowledge to demolish my words with friends competitors by strategically placing “zooty” to have the ‘Z’ cover a triple letter and the ‘ooty’ reach out to hit a triple word score…for a grand total of 108 points+ whatever word it’s hanging off of…a bit evil but hey it’s a fun word and a fun suit!

    • December 3, 2012 10:16 PM

      “You are indeed impossibly hip in your zoot suit…” Why thank you, Mei– it’s always good to have one’s theories confirmed… : P

      “Zooty” as a kind of doomsday device in Scrabble?? I knew zoot suits were devastating in a fashion sense, but I hadn’t considered their potential for complete annihilation in word games… evil!!

      OK, but fun… : )

  4. December 1, 2012 5:53 PM

    You are quite naughty with your comments!!!!

    • December 3, 2012 10:31 PM

      I am?? Well, it must be my new zoot suit– it’s a bad influence… : P

  5. December 1, 2012 11:24 PM

    The high waist of the pants looks like something Steve Urkel of “Family Matters” wore. But that’s a heck of an improvement over the low riders that remains in vogue today.
    You captured that period very well.
    With that look on your face, I’ll bet you were very convincing in the play as the “unscrupulous music promoter.” :-)

    • December 4, 2012 10:13 AM

      Urkel!!– of course! I knew those pants reminded me of somebody! That kid had style, no doubt about it… : )

      Re the play: Yes, I remember the director handed me a cigar and said: “Just go out there and be yourself.” I guess being shady and slimy and unscrupulous comes naturally to me… : (

      Thanks as always, Judy, for your kind support!

      • December 4, 2012 6:30 PM

        No, I think what the director saw was that mischievous gleam in your eye. That comes naturally to you. :-)

  6. December 2, 2012 2:52 PM

    This might be my favorite post of yours yet, Mark. You look mahvelous with quite a Fred Astaire vibe going on. Shall we dance?

    • December 4, 2012 10:18 AM

      Dance? Simply enchanted, m’dear! Gee, Dancing with a Star Author… this is, like, a dream come true… : )

      Uh… you did remember to wear your cast-iron toe-protectors, right?? : (

      Thanks, Maddie!! : )

  7. December 3, 2012 7:18 PM

    Guess what I noticed about those folks in the old photos – no obesity. Guess what I noticed about high waisted trousers – no possibility of an exposed butt crack. I say bring back zoot suits! ;) lol :D

    • December 3, 2012 9:52 PM

      Ha!! You make an excellent case for The Return Of The Zoot!

      Re obesity: you don’t suppose high-waisted trousers were an early form of “gastric banding,” do you?? No, I suppose not… : P

      Thanks, TT! : )

  8. December 4, 2012 3:17 PM

    ::giggles::

    Hi-de-ho!
    What’s buzzin’, cousin?
    You bring the root’n-toot’n pizazz-a-loot’n to the zoot suit, Mr. Mark.
    Gotta scram, on the lam.

    (I looked up 1940’s slang)

    LOL…I can’t really see this very well so I’ll be back later. What I can see right now is soup-herb!!!!!!

    • December 5, 2012 9:57 AM

      Ha! I’ve watched enough old movies to know your lingo is bingo, Ringo!

      Soup-herb… that’s gotta be the most delicious compliment I’ve ever received– and it’s makin’ me hungry for lunch… : P

      I’ve never had much sense, and certainly no fashion sense, so I’m clearly making progress here, thanks to my new zoot… : )

      Thanks a ton, Robin, and jeepers-creepers, take good care a-them peepers!! : )

  9. December 4, 2012 3:42 PM

    I’ve never head of the zoot suits before. They look really hip.. Thanks for the enlightenment ! No wonder you attracted Paparazzi, you look great in it ! ;)

    • December 5, 2012 9:43 AM

      Many thanks, my dear Vandy! You clearly have a discerning eye for hip design and, er, attractive male models… : P

      Thanks for being your usual great influence on the universe! : )

  10. December 4, 2012 8:15 PM

    Very clever, Mark! I like it.

    • December 5, 2012 9:49 AM

      My sincere thanks, Karen. That’s high praise indeed from someone with your artistic sensibility.

      You’re an amazing photographer, and I really appreciate your stopping by. : )

  11. December 7, 2012 12:23 PM

    Absolutely impossibly hip, I’d say…! hahah… :)
    Oh, I would love to see you ‘on stage’ Mark… I just know you’d be thrilling… (that little face of yours is so expressive; it almost sings with joy).

    • December 8, 2012 12:22 PM

      Too kind, Carolyn, too kind– as is your custom!!

      I’m always “on stage,” but occasionally it occurs in a theater. That sweet little face of mine does sing with joy, doesn’t it? Of course, it’s when I open my mouth to sing that people start throwing things… : (

      Thanks again!

  12. December 7, 2012 4:44 PM

    I can see from your expression how much you are enjoying the paparazzi, Mark. It is certainly interesting to back track on old fashion statements. Certainly would be better than some modern fashion we have now. Loving the zoot suit though. Suits you well indeed : )

    • December 10, 2012 2:46 PM

      Ah yes, that expression: once a ham, always a ham, as we say down here at the deli… : P

      There’s probably no one more ignorant about fashion than myself, but I have to say I’m drawn to the vintage look of the 30s, 40s, and 50s. Charlie Chan walking around in an “ice cream suit” in an old movie– yes. The people I see shopping for groceries in old sweatsuits and pajamas– no!!

      Thanks for giving me a thumbs-up on the Zoot– if I get any cuter, I may turn into Sailor Moon!

  13. December 11, 2012 11:52 AM

    Oh how I would love to see a clip of that play! Now, I gotta say and I mean this as a compliment but you were born to wear a Zoot Suit, Mr. MacGiggles! The minute I saw the picture of you, I was whisked away to a simpler time, when Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland were fixing up the old barn to put on a show. Things were so wholesome back then. Even the rebel of the early 1950’s looked sweet and innocent — everybody had much better posture too! :D

    • December 17, 2012 10:28 AM

      Thank you, my dear Linda!! Yes, it’s true, I have a great fashion sense, that’s why I do all my shopping at the thrift store. They like me so well down there, they even throw in some extra moths when I buy a suit, at no extra charge… : P

      Say, I do look like Mickey Rooney, don’t I? I could be in that scene in the barn show where Mickey tap dances on some rotten boards and falls into the cellar… : P

      Your comment about 50s rebels looking sweet and innocent made me laugh. So true. I suspect they would have resented that observation, and maybe hunched their shoulders a little to hide their good posture. Thanks for that very jolly comment!! : )

      • December 18, 2012 2:28 PM

        I remember the family always talking about my mom’s sister who went to high school in the 50’s. Somebody asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up and she replied, “a juvenile delinquent!” Haha! I think she was probably about 13!

      • December 21, 2012 2:33 PM

        It’s good to have a goal– no wonder you’re so focused. : )

      • December 22, 2012 2:16 PM

        LOL!!

  14. December 30, 2012 5:21 AM

    Absolutely fantastic post and the piece of artwork is terrific!! I never really knew exactly what the term “Zoot Suit” meant, but I’m sure I won’t soon forget it! What a comically dramatic look!

    • December 30, 2012 7:38 PM

      Thank you, Jeanette! Your wonderful comment has made me even happier than getting my freshly pressed zoot suit back from the cleaner!! : )

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