The fall of France to the German armies during World War II was a dark period in the history of the nation. Paris was occupied by the Nazis from June 14, 1940 until its liberation by the Allied armies on August 25, 1944. In addition to facing difficulties such as shortages of food and lack of heat, the Parisians had to deal with the humiliation and shame of being under the authority of an oppressive, fascist regime. Emerging in 1941, a small group of defiant Parisian youth adopted a style of clothing they referred to as zazou, which was inspired by the zoot suits being worn in America by jazz musicians. Their flashy fashions, love of swing music, jitterbug dancing, and rebellious behavior stood in opposition to the conservative and austere Nazis. Couturier Christian Dior recalled the zazous and how they "...floated through Paris like revolutionary banners." They opposed the fascist government by ignoring it, and dressing in the over-the-top zazou style was an amusing way of annoying the Germans.
The zazou boys sported long jackets several sizes too large, and often in bold, checked patterns. Cuffed trousers with incredibly baggy knees were worn, and ended above the ankle to show off brightly colored socks. Boys would also wear incredibly high collars, and carry an umbrella, rain or shine. The starched collar and umbrella are accoutrements of the English gentleman; it is likely that the zazous adopted these garments as a way of showing their solidarity with England. On observing zazous at the Cafe de Flore, Simone de Beauvoir noted that their"…Anglophile…attitude did stand for a kind of opposition to the regime."
Zazou girls dressed in a complementary style to the boys; plaid blazers were a staple of their wardrobe. Girls would also wear incredibly short, full skirts (that would show off their underpants while dancing), ankle socks, and thick soled platform shoes. They styled their hair in extreme pompadour styles, and wore bright red lipstick and nailpolish. It is interesting to note that the austere Nazis abhorred women wearing makeup, and elaborate hairstyles; these young troublemakers used fashion as a visual resistance to the German occupation.
The zazous would organize underground parties where they could dance to their beloved swing music. Jazz and swing, originally American styles of music, became symbols of resistance during the years of the Occupation. The zazous would dance feverishly, "…marking out the tempo with a raised index finger." Cab Calloway and Johnny Hess were particularly popular amongst the Parisian youth.
The rebellious zazou became a powerful symbol of resistance during the later years of the Occupation. The Nazi's were so threatened by these youth that they arrested them, shaved off their elaborate hair-dos, and shipped them to work camps in Germany. Some zazou abandoned their extreme outfits to avoid trouble while other became more involved in the militant Resistance movement that was growing in France.