Some observers claim that the "Edwardian-look" suits with velvet lapels worn by Teddy Boys in Britain are a derivative of the zoot suit.
One of Cab Calloway's zoot suits on display in Baltimore's City Hall, October 2007
Zoot suits were first associated with urban communities such as Harlem, Chicago, and Detroit, but were made popular by jazz musicians in the 1940s. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word "zoot" probably comes from a reduplication of suit. The creation and naming of the zoot suit have been variously attributed to Harold C. Fox, a Chicago clothier and big-bandtrumpeter; Charles Klein and Vito Bagnato of New York City; Louis Lettes, a Memphis tailor; and Nathan (Toddy) Elkus, a Detroit retailer.
Cab Calloway frequently wore zoot suits on stage, including some with exaggerated details, such as extremely wide shoulders or overly draped jackets. He wears one in the 1943 film Stormy Weather.
In 1943, there were a series of anti-Mexican youth riots in Los Angeles known as the Zoot Suit Riots. Norris J. Nelson, Los Angeles City Council member, proposed outlawing zoot suits after the Riots. The suits worn were seen by some as unpatriotic because of the amount of fabric they used, and zoot suits later became prohibited for the duration of the Second World War, ostensibly because of their wastefulness of cloth.
Pachuco was a style of Mexican-American dress and culture, is which was associated with the zoot suit.
Tin-Tan, a famous Mexican actor from the 1940s, wore zoot suits in his films. Labor leader Cesar Chavez sported zoot suit attire in his younger years. 
The last original clothing store that sells authentic zoot suits, pendletons, and other "old school" attire is "Greenspans". Located in South Gate, California, the shop celebrated 90 years of business in 2018.
Five men in modernized zoot suits
British Teds wearing locally tailored imitations of the zoot suit
Traditionally, zoot suits have been worn with a fedora or pork pie hat color-coordinated with the suit, occasionally with a long feather as decoration, and pointy, French-style shoes.
A young Malcolm X, who wore zoot suits in his youth, described the zoot suit as: "a killer-diller coat with a drape shape, reet pleats, and shoulders padded like a lunatic's cell". Zoot suits usually featured a watch chain dangling from the belt to the knee or below, then back to a side pocket. A woman accompanying a man wearing a zoot suit commonly would herself wear a flared skirt and a long coat.
The amount of material and tailoring required made them luxury items, so much so that the U.S. War Production Board said that they wasted materials that should be devoted to the World War II war effort. When Life published photographs of zoot suiters in 1942, the magazine joked that they were "solid arguments for lowering the Army draft age to include 18-year-olds". This extravagance, which many considered unpatriotic in wartime, was a factor in the Zoot Suit Riots. To some, wearing the oversized suit was a declaration of freedom and self-determination, even rebelliousness.
^Rottman, Gordon L. (2007). FUBAR: Soldier Slang of World War II. Oxford: Botley. p. 117. ISBN978-1-84603-176-2.
Osgerby, Bill (2008). "Understanding the 'Jackpot Market': Media, Marketing, and the Rise of the American Teenager". In Patrick L. Jamieson & Daniel Romer. The Changing Portrayal of Adolescents in the Media Since 1950. New York: Oxford University Press US. pp. 31-32. ISBN0-19-534295-X.