It's a zoot suit riot


Candid Closet: Nothing suits John McCalla more than the authentic swing gear, with fitted waists, billowing legs and stunning colors.

January 13, 2000|By Stephanie Shapiro | Stephanie Shapiro,SUN STAFF

It all started when John McCalla was invited to a swing dance. Next thing you know, he's a zoot-suit riot of color and action and outrageous aerials. It's taken only four years for McCalla to become one of the most accomplished and lauded Lindy Hoppers in the region.

He's such a fast learner that he's shut down much of his home construction business to teach the vintage dance in halls around the Washington and Baltimore region -- and in his New Windsor living room -- through Swing Dance University.

The Gap ad, featuring a gang of khaki-clad, Lindy-Hopping guys and dolls, has done wonders for enrollment, but McCalla prefers authentic zoot suits -- fitted around the waist, billowing around the leg -- black and white shoes, a pocket chain, knee-length jackets and of course, a Tando hat with a pheasant feather. McCalla, 38, says he should have been born 85 years earlier, so he could learn at the feet (and billowing legs) of the masters. "I love dancing more than anything else," he says.

Where do you find zoot suits?

There are two or three places on the Internet I've found so far that make them. Zoot suits, it doesn't matter if someone's 9 or 80, they're like, "Nice suit." Man, I can't figure out why everything else seems to come and go, and with swing music and dance coming back, why designers haven't capitalized on the attire.

What has been the ultimate compliment?

From some tough guys in a car: "Nice suit, Pimp Daddy."

Who do you order suits from?

My favorite would be El Pachuco. They have a lot of swatches they'll send out to you, or if you find material you like, you can send it to them. And Zoots by Suavecito. I get my Stacy Adams shoes from both companies, too. Stacy Adams has made these kinds of shoes since the 1920s.

What about your shirts?

I've just been using dress shirts from department stores, with a nice looking tie. I never pass a tie rack. I'm always looking for something that looks like it could be from the 1930s. A more typical feature was not the width, but the length. The waist lines were extremely high back in those days.

Your dance clothes must be roomy to make all those moves.

Zoot pants are very baggy in the legs, with cuffed, pegged legs. The waists are fitted, but below the waist, they just balloon. It's like wearing gym shorts.

You must get pretty hot dancing with all those clothes on.

You keep it all on when you're trying to strut your stuff and look cool. When a jam breaks out to "Sing Sing Sing," there are a few really killer dancers who keep their jackets on and show off. But if you've got a hankering to just tear it up, you'll lose the jacket after a little bit.

At Glen Echo dances, when I'm just into it and dancing and dancing and dancing, I'll go through a shirt and tie in an hour. I bring extras. The girls know what time it is by the sweat stain on my tie.

How many zoot suits do you have?

I'll just tell you the jackets. I got a gazillion pants. I have four jackets, a black, a red, a yellow and this Scottish tartan plaid. And I'm dreaming constantly, looking at swatches and dreaming what my next zoot suit is going to be.

Do you know any snappy dressers? Let us know. Write to Stephanie Shapiro, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore 21278.

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