"Our November 2 fashion sale in New York City was filled with surprises but none quieted the crowd in attendance as much as the bidding for one of our featured lots, the World War II era zoot suit discovered at an estate sale in New Jersey.
The bidding moved rapidly back and forth between bidders on the floor and those on multiple phone lines before settling in on two serious phone bidders. And the bids kept on coming.
Auctioneer Leila Dunbar kept the crowd entranced as the rare striped wool zoot suit rose from its $500 opening bid to settle at $65,000 ($78,000 including the buyer's premium).
During a brief time in history, 1938-1942, zoot suits were worn by hep cats of the early jazz age. The extreme design appealed to urban minorities, primarily Hispanics and African Americans. As America entered the war, restrictions on excess use of fabric were instituted and those who wore zoot suits were seen as unpatriotic.
What made this object so desirable went far beyond it's rarity as a garment fad. We had never seen one outside of movies and newsreel clips and know of only one other in an American Museum collection - at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan.
This zoot suit was made of two contrasting striped woolens, one a red & grey stripe on cream and the other a blue stripe on oatmeal. The trousers boast an extremely high waistline, a 17" zippered fly, and balloon legs tightly pegged at the cuffs. The knee length jacket has exaggerated padded shoulders, wide notched revers fashioned from the two different striped fabrics, and floppy oversized external pockets.
A similar, though not as dramatic, example was featured in a 1942 Dorothy Dandridge and Paul White film clip that extolled the virtues of the zoot suit style in a musical soundie, the precusor to music videos."