Are you in the groove? Can you "dig a zoot suit with a reet pleat and a
drape shape and a stuff cuff to look sharp enough to see your Sunday gal?"
Want to see more of this once-cool but now quaint jive talk?
If your answer is yes, the lyrics from a popular 1941 song called
A Zoot Suit
(For My Sunday Gal) by L. Wolfe Gilbert and Bob O'Brien make a great
way to get in the groove. The version you are now hearing, one of the most
popular of all the versions, is by the Big Band of Kay Kyser
and his Orchestra. Vocal credits go to Sully Mason, Jack Martin, Ishkabibble, Dorothy Dunn, and Trudy Erwin.
A Zoot Suit (For My Sunday Gal) was written by
Wolfe Gilbert and Bob O'Brien. It received a lot of attention;
it was one of the most popular tunes of its time.
It was played on jukeboxes, in diners, bars, and juke joints everywhere. It
seemed to say something valid and important about the music and spirit of the times.
The song was recorded by these artists in 1942:
- Kay Kyser & His Orchestra, vocal by Sully Mason,
Trudy, Jack Martin, Max Williams
- The Andrews Sisters.
- Paul Whiteman & And His Orchestra.
- Bob Crosby & His Orchestra, vocal: by Nappy Lamare.
- Ray Herbeck & His Orchestra, vocal by Hal Munbar &
- Harry Roy & His Band.
The song is still popular in some circles. In a
recent performance, the song was played by Wendi Williams in the 1999 film
Introducing Dorothy Dandridge. It was also recorded by Benny
Goodman and the Bill Elliott Swing Orchestra.
the lyrics examined
Kaiser's version consists of three sections: start, orchestral bridge,
and end. The bridge in the middle portion is excluded from the playback on
this page because it contains no lyrics.
Watch out: Kyser's arrangement takes liberties with the original lyrics. Some of
the lyrics on the page you are now reading, which are the Gilbert and
O'Brien lyrics, don't agree with the words the vocalists are
singing. That's because Kyser revised the order in which some stanzas are sung and
has given male and female vocalists parts to sing that don't coincide with
the printed version of the lyrics. The male vocalist also makes a
contribution to confusion by turning the second
stanza into a mouthful of mush.
Despite these discrepancies, we've presented the lyrics you see on this
page because they're faithful to the original lyrics;
we've retained Kyser's revisions because they make for what we
think is a mighty fine musical arrangement; you might even say it's cute. We hope you can tolerate the asynchronism.
Careful examination of the lyrics can tell us a lot about the clothes
zoot suiters wore and how they felt about them. As you might expect, the
clothes made the man, even then.
The lyric is printed below. Notice that it's divided into two halves.
Click below to play each half and read along as you listen.
- The guy sings to
- The gal, who appears to be a seamstress,
describing the clothes he wants her to make for him. If she makes them
well, he can properly sport his favorite lady in the style he desires
on Sunday, his day off. Of course, the style he wants is the zoot
- The gal assures him that she knows exactly the kind of clothes he
wants by describing the outfit she's going to make for him. She's so
in, he confirms his order. Then he asks her what she wants to
- Play the first half of the lyrics for A Zoot Suit:
- The gal answers by describing the outfit she's going to wear to
please her man on Sunday, her day off. The guy realizes that her man
wears a zoot suit and that she wars the female counterpart to the zoot
suit. She must be in the groove.
- The guy is now positive the gal knows the clothes he wants her to
make for him and he reaffirms his order.
- Play the second half of the lyrics for A Zoot Suit:
lyrics from A Zoot Suit (For My Sunday Gal)
I want a zoot suit with a reet pleat
And a drape shape, and a stuff cuff
To look sharp enough to see my Sunday
You want a reef sleeve with a right
And a rare square, so the gals will
When they see you struttin' with your
You wanta look keen so your dream will
"You don't look like the same beau"
So keen that she'll scream, "Here comes
my walkin' rainbow."
So make a zoot suit with a reet pleat
And a drape shape, and a stuff cuff
To look sharp enough to see my Sunday
Now, what you want, baby?
I want a brown gown with a zop top
And a hip slip, and a laced waist
In the sharpest taste to see my Sunday
(In his zoot suit).
A scat hat and a zag bag
And a slick kiss, so the other chicks
Will be jealous when I'm with my Sunday
I wanta look keen so my dream will say
"Ain't I the lucky fellah"
So keen that he'll scream, "Baby's in
So make a reet pleat with a drape
And a stuff cuff, to look sharp enough
To see my Sunday, Sunday gal.
More about the song and lyrics
Did you know that there are alternate versions of the lyrics? Different
bands recorded the song and thought nothing of using their own variations on
the lyrics when it pleased them to do so. The song was popular and received a lot of attention.
It was played on music boxes in diners, bars, and juke joints everywhere.
- Explore the Paul Whiteman version of the lyrics. See who else recorded
the song: click here.
explore zoot suiters and the Zoot Suit era
A zoot suit (For My Sunday Gal) was an
integral part of the Big Band era when it was cool to be cool in America, but only
in certain circles. The vast majority of "circles" varied from conservative to
ultra conservative. Most of America was square.
There were far more "not cool" people than cool people. Their differences
rubbed some of them the wrong way, causing friction that gradually heated up until it
boiled over into the streets of wartime Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, and
other cities. A succession of riots
lead to some deaths and many arrests, rapidly bringing to a close this brief
but colorful period in American history.
A zoot suit was not just a song, it was a
style of dress and a symbol of a lifestyle that a group of people in search of
their own identity used to distinguish themselves from others whom they
believed to be "not cool."
|See more about zoot suits and zoot suiters on the
next page. Click this guy
The mentality behind A zoot Suit (For My Sunday
Gal) was an integral part of the zoot suit scene, which in turn
was part of the Big Band era. Also part of the zoot suit scene was a now-famous series of
riots that broke out in Los Angeles in 1943 between whites and Chicano zoot suiters.
These riots became known as the Zoot Suit Riots.
What mentality did the song and the suit give voice to?
Explore the connections between the Zoot Suit music,
zoot suits, the zoot suit mentality, and the Zoot Suit Riots:
Why not get your personal copy of A Zoot Suit (For My Sunday Gal),
the song? For those who like what they're hearing, this version is the one
by Kay Kyser and his orchestra, which was the most popular version of
its day. It's mellow compared with other versions.
For those who want to branch out, ETAF also recommends versions
by the Andrews Sisters (more lively), Paul Whiteman & And His Orchestra,
and Bob Crosby & His Orchestra, which were also big hits at the time.
They're all hard to find but well worth the effort.
May be pricey because they're dated.
See the Zoot Suit movie, a filmed version of the famous play, with
a sensational performance by its star, Edward James Olmos, when he was a
brooding actor just beginning his screen career.
Olmos plays a wild, flamboyant, hectoring, all-seeing figure called El
Pachuco, a Greek chorus with an attitude. Zoot Suit is a landmark
Latino work directed by Luis Valdez, an important
figure in Chicano theater. Valdez based his acclaimed play on the zoot-suit
riots of 1940s Los Angeles, when a group of young Chicano men were
railroaded into jail on a murder charge.