Zazou is a 1940s style of dress characterized by oversized suits and short skirts with checker-patterns, along with the usage of the Chamberlain umbrella as a signature accessory. It became a popular alternative fashion style among a small group of French youths during World War II.
The Zazou subculture has its roots in swing jazz and bebop music scenes in the German-occupied France during World War II. Under the Nazi occupation, the French government introduced a number of austerity laws that ultimately restricted freedoms of expression. In reacting to the ultra-conservative policies, some of the French youths expressed their resistance by wearing nonconformist clothes and aggressive dance competitions, who soon became known as the Zazous. The name originates from a line in the 1931 American jazz song "Minnie the Moocher" by Cab Calloway ("Za zou, za zou, za zou, za zou ze").
Based on written accounts of the scene from the era, the Zazou aesthetics was regarded fairly similar between men and women. It was also seen as British-influenced, as exemplified by the frequent use of checkered patterns and "Chamberlain" umbrellas, signifiers of "Britishness" in France.
- Long, greased up "Oxford" hairstyle
- Pencil moustache
- Oversized zoot suits
- Sheepskin-lined jackets
- High shirt collars
- Drainpipe trousers
- Bright colored socks
- Thick-soled suede shoes
- Shoulder-length hairstyles, often dyed
- Roll-collar sweatshirts
- Short flared or pleated skirts
- oversized glasses and sunglasses
- Bright red lipstick
- Wide-shouldered jackets
- Net or striped stockings
- Wooden platform shoes
The Zazous were mostly youths of working-class and middle-class backgrounds, generally between 17 and 20. While the Zazou aesthetics became a visible trend throughout France, most adherents were found in Paris neighborhoods. Many frequented jazz and swing music clubs in Champs Elysées and the Latin Quarter. The two most important meeting places of the Zazous were the terrace of the Pam Pam cafe on the Champs-Élysées and the Boul’Mich (the Boulevard Saint-Michel near the Sorbonne).
The Zazous of the Champs Elysées came from a more middle-class background and were older than the Zazous of the Latin Quarter. Working class Zazous used theft of cloth and black market activities to get their outfits, sometimes stitching their own clothes. Some of the more bohemian Zazous in the Latin Quarter varied the outfit, with sheepskin jackets and multicoloured scarves.
The Zazous also garnered a reputation for frequenting vegetarian restaurants and eating grated carrot salad.