These are 3000-year-old Central Asian pants, worn by horse-riding nomadic people. A generous seat and narrow legs are like modern riding pants. Personally, I’m most impressed by the beautiful weaving.
The Story of Japanese American Zoot Suiters
One of our readers tipped us to this great article on the forgotten history of Japanese American zoot suiters. An excerpt:
In popular memory zoot suiters are often associated with African Americans and Chicanos during World War II. But many Nikkei also participated in this cultural movement. While it is not possible to determine the exact numbers of Japanese American zoot suiters, the available historical evidence suggests that they were a visible presence.
So the internment experience itself was an incubator for Nikkei zoot suit culture. Japanese Americans even invented their own slang for Nisei zoot suiters. One was “pachuke,” a Japanese version of the Spanish word “pachuco”/“pachuca.” The other was “yogore,” a derivation of the Japanese verb yogoreru (to get dirty). Sociologist Shotero Frank Miyamoto, a contemporary observer of Japanese America, explained that “yogore” referred to individuals who were “shiftless, transient, constantly drinking and gambling, hanging around pool halls, always picking fights, visiting prostitutes or attempting to engage in illicit sex relations.”
Yogore posed a serious problem to the War Relocation Authority (WRA), the federal body charged with administrating internment. From the WRA’s point of view, zoot suiters endangered the very future of the entire Japanese American population. The federal government planned to scatter (or “resettle”) Japanese Americans around the country so that they might “assimilate” into the white middle class instead of returning to their West Coast farms and Little Tokyos. Pachuke troubled this vision for solving the “Japanese Problem” because they spurned polite standards of decorum. Their brashness loudly advertised their differences from the white middle-class. It also suggested an explicit kinship with working-class black and brown folk—the very opposite of the message that the WRA wanted to send to mainstream America.
Even worse, the zoot suit itself signaled an open defiance of the nation’s war effort. The War Production Board had banned the sale of zoot suits as a means to ration fabric. So wearing a zoot suit could be read as an unpatriotic act. The eruption of Los Angeles Zoot Suit Riots in June 1943—when thousands of white soldiers and civilians violently attacked Mexican Americans and other zoot suiters of color—drove home this point. Thus pachuke let loose from the camps might place Nikkei under further suspicion of disloyalty. No wonder, then, that the Manzanar camp’s Free Press newspaper editors beseeched its readers: “Leave your zoot suits behind. And above all, be an ambassador of goodwill for the sake of the Japanese in America.”
You can read the whole story here.
Is That a Unicorn in Your Pocket, or Are You Just Poorly Translating the Bible?
Unicorn-print accessories, like Lisa Frank stickers but for men, have enjoyed a good couple of years. Pictured above are Drake’s tonal printed pocket squares (derived from La Dame à la licorne; not currently available) and Kent Wang’s more colorful version, based on the Verteuil Tapestries). Reginald Jerome de Mans has talked about the history of these accessories with Drake’s and Hilditch and Key going back to the late 1980s, but what about the history of the unicorn itself? And why are we keeping ol’ one horn in our jacket pockets?
Annalee Newitz talks about the evolution of the unicorn myth via Chris Lavers’ 2010 scholarly study of unicorns through history:
As Lavers explains, the original Hebrew text of the Old Testament mentions an animal called a “reem.” When scholars tried to translate this word into Greek, they were flummoxed. They had no idea what this “reem” was. They knew it was big, and it had horns, and that it obviously wasn’t a goat. (Goats are mentioned elsewhere in the Bible.) So they translated it as “monoceros,” meaning “one-horn.” Then, when the Greek Bible was translated into Latin, the word became “unicornus.” And that word, translated into English, is unicorn.
Early in the 20th century, when scholars cracked the code on ancient cuneiform script, they finally learned what that mysterious reem really was. In these ancient texts, written around the time when the Hebrew Bible was being penned, there are many references to an animal called a rimu. Like the biblical reem, the rimu was enormous, strong, and had horns. That animal was an ox. So all of those references to unicorns in the Bible? Those are actually to an ox. Which, if you read the actual sections of the Bible, makes a lot more sense.
But for nearly 1500 years, Christians believed in the unicorn version of things. The unicorn came to symbolize Christ, its horn the cross, and its tribulations during the hunt were like Christ’s tribulations on earth. Interestingly, the idea that unicorns were attracted to virgins comes from a pagan source. A Latin book called the Physiologus, probably written in the second century CE, mentions that a unicorn can only be caught when it lays its head down in a virgin’s lap. Christian analysts seized on this idea, suggesting that this was symbolic of how Christ came into the world – with the help of a virgin. Keeping all of this in mind, it’s easy to understand what those 16th-century unicorn tapestries are all about.
Next time you’re decorating your Trapper Keeper or tweed patch pocket, think of the mystical beauty and profound majesty of the ox.
EFFECTIVE suit style via The New Yorker's Currency blog, which recently highlighted ads targeting the high earners of the 1920s. For reference, $55 in 1926 is roughly equivalent to $725 in 2013, and Finchley was a well-regarded men’s shop in the same league as Brooks Brothers.
WWII War Paint: How Bomber Jacket Art Emboldened Our Boys (Collector’s Weekly)