By: Arnoldo de León

Type: General Entry

Published: September 1, 1995

Pachucos are Mexican American adolescents, generally ages thirteen to twenty-two, who belonged to juvenile gangs from around the 1930s to the 1950s. Mainstream media referred to them in English as "zoot suiters." The Zoot-Suit Riots that had Los Angeles as their setting in June 1943 were so labeled because the press identified the confrontation as being between Mexican-American zoot suiters on the one hand, and United States servicemen and civilians on the other. Scholars speculate on the origins of pachuquismo (zoot suiterism). Some find connections between the pachucos and Spanish gypsies, between pachucos and the lower-class mixed-blood soldiers and civilians that settled the Borderlands during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, and between the pachucos and the poor and oppressed common folks that filled the ranks of armies such as those of Pancho (Francisco) Villa during the Mexican Revolution of 1910. More immediate reasons advanced for the rise of pachuquismo include the social dislocation associated with the rapid process of urbanization experienced by Mexican Americans during the 1930s through the mid-twentieth century, youth hostility toward the traditions of an older generation, racism against Mexican Americans, the spread of drugs into Mexican-American enclaves, and the process of Americanization gone awry. The fact that the zoot-suit style prevailed among American youths at large and that the era of World War II saw an increase in juvenile delinquency may also have contributed to the emergence of pachuquismo.

During the era of the 1930s and 1950s, pachuco youths in urban areas of Texas became known for their style of dress, idioms of speech, and countercultural activities. During the 1930s and 1940s, some of the pachucos wore zoot suits-this outfit included baggy trousers held high on the waist and cuffed snugly at the ankles. A sport coat that fitted wide at the shoulders and hung down halfway to the thighs, as well as Florsheim shoes (perhaps with a double sole) pointed at the toes, rounded out the costume; though other variations of attire occurred. Accessories to the pachuco look included hair groomed into ducktails and kept down with pomade, tattoos on the arms and hands, long decorative chains displayed conspicuously on the sport coat, and perhaps a concealed weapon, such as a knife. Pachucos spoke what is termed caló, a unique argot that employed words and phrases absorbed from the language of the gypsies, creatively applied formal Spanish terminology, and imaginatively adapted English loan words. Some of the pachucos engaged in criminal behavior that included gang rivalry, harassment of both Mexican and Anglo-American citizens, vandalism, and even killings. Many juveniles, however, were no more than imitators who dressed in the pachuco dress of the day, or sought to emulate the pachucos' antiestablishment attitude.

Reasons for the decline of the phenomenon are difficult to ascertain. Obviously, pachucos passed beyond their adolescent phase of life, the fashions of the 1940s and 1950s changed, and the youth movement of the next decades produced new ways of displaying nonconformity. After the 1960s, what was termed the "cholo style" continued the tradition of the pachucos.

Arnoldo De León, Ethnicity in the Sunbelt: A History of Mexican-Americans in Houston (University of Houston Mexican American Studies Program, 1989). Mauricio Mazón, The Zoot-Suit Riots: The Psychology of Symbolic Annihilation (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1984).
Time Periods:
  • World War II

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Arnoldo de León, “Pachucos,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 27, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

September 1, 1995