Las Pachucas: Dressing Outside the Social Conventions

The influx of Mexican immigrants through the Bracero Program and the United States’ involvement in World War II, gave way to the development of new subculture among Mexican youth, the Pachuco subculture. The Pachuco/Pachucas, often characterized by their attire or “zoot suits”, were groups of Mexican youth that rebelled against the established social conventions. During the 1940s and 50s, the Pachuca/Pachucos gained national attention, as they were often associated with violence and a threat to the white, American society. In the newspaper clip from the Washington Daily News, a violent incident involving a group of “cholitas”; “cholitas”, are often defined as tough women, that could also have gang affiliations. The article further details how after the male zoot suiters were losing a street fight, their female counterparts stepped into the fight; the article also described other violent crimes that involved Pachucos/Pachucas. From all the incidents the article carefully reported, there was always in emphasis on the attire of the Pachucos/Pachucas. The notorious attire of the Pachucos subculture, was a point of contingency for many white Americans; the article states how many police officials went to the extent of, “ripping the zoot clothing from the male mobsters”. The attire of the Pachuco culture was further complicated by gender and notions of femininity during the postwar era.

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Mexican immigrant women and Mexican-American women were faced with the challenges of being in a cultural liminal space; as Vicki Ruiz describes in From Out of the Shadows: Mexican Women in the Twentieth-Century America, “young women, however, may have experienced deeper generational tensions as they blended elements of Americanization with Mexican expectations and values” (Ruiz 53). As mexican women attempted and struggled to find their place within the American landscape; they were were perceived as both un-American and unfeminine. Therefore, their involvement in the Pachuco subculture, only intensified the negative sentiments and treatment of young Mexican women. The Pachucas were seen as threaten given that they were unafraid to embrace their unconventional style and rebel against the status quo. Additionally, as mentioned by the article, “servicemen have been ripping the zoot clothing from the male mobsters, such treatment of the female branch presented a problem”; law enforcement feel aggravated as they could not take the same physical actions against the Pachucas. The emblematic unconventional style of the Pachucas defied and rejected the ways in which a woman is suppose to dress. The Pachucas proudly wore their “above knee tailored-made gabardine skirt, sweater or the standard zoot suit finger-tip jacket, and huaraches. Some wore the masculine version of the zoot suit… their hair would be teased or ratted into high bouffants… the make-up was heavy, particularly the lipstick which was usually a dark color” (Rios 2). Their bold style defied notions of femininity across both American and Mexican cultures. The Pachucas did not fit the stereotypical molds that can be seen in Dolores Prida’s Beautiful Senoritas or the exoticized images of Latinas, such as the “Lady with the Tutti Frutti hat, but the Pachucas also did not belong to the white beauty standards of the 40s and 50s. As the Pachucas rebel against social conventions and chose against assimilating into the homogenous, American society, they were labeled a threat and easily targeted as the reason for any criminal activity within their communities. Their appearance within American society allowed them to be easily read as criminals and ineligible for sympathy.



Vicki L. Ruiz, From Out of the Shadows: Mexican Women in the Twentieth-Century America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), 53.

William C. Payette, “Zoot Suiters Run for Cover but Their Cholitas Carry On,” Washington Daily News, June 11, 1943

Maria Rios, “La Pachuca: Mexican subculture in 1940’s L.A,” Museum of the City,,  (accessed May 31, 2017).



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