What does the word "drape" mean in Luis Valdez's play Zoot Suit?

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Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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One mention of the phrase "drape shape" appears in a song sung by El Pachuco, leader of the Los Angeles Chicano gang called the Pachucos, in Act One of Luis Valdez's play Zoot Suit. The song praises the zoot suit, saying, "Makes you feel real root." In his song, Pachuco also mentions, "The hepcats up in Harlem wear that drape shape." Historically, the term "drape shape" was first used by Malcolm X to describe the zoot suit: "a killer-diller coat with a drape shape, reet pleats and shoulders padded like a lunatic's cell" (John Lennard, Walter Mosley: "Devil in a Blue Dress").

The reason why the coat of a zoot suit could be described as "drape shape" is because the coat of the suit hung much lower than coats of other suits of the 1940s. The coat of a zoot suit hung down to just above the knee, whereas coats of other suits hung just past the hip socket. In addition to hanging low, zoot suit coats had a very relaxed, flowing fit and heavily padded shoulders to accentuate the masculine triangular shape. The pants of the zoot suit were also very baggy as they billowed out from the knees but cuffed tightly at the ankles.

Zoot suits became popular during World War II and were viewed as protestations against the war due to the fact that the suits were made of so much material, material that, in the eyes of the rest of the nation, should have gone to the war effort. Since they were mostly worn by African Americans and Mexican Americans, the suits also became racial statements.

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