Jane Snyder realized the Washington Hospital Center had a serious problem with disappearing scrub suits last month when she stopped by a pick-up baseball game on a lot near the hospital. Both teams were wearing hospital center scrub suits.

Scrub suits, particularly the loose-fitting green V-neck tops with drawstring pants worn in operating rooms, have been disappearing from local hospitals like designer dresses in Filene's basement.

For would-be disco doctors, the apparent appeal is the same as T-shirts and sweat shirts -- comfortable, functional, uncomplicated, cotton clothes made more affordable through huge production.

While the rash of stealing may have been less than in other cities, hospitals here have found they have to replace the suits with remarkable frequency.

"You now have to show identification to be issued one [scrub suite]," says a Howard University Hospital spokesman. "And you cannot wear them out of the area of use. No more scrubs suits in the cafeteria, for example." A the Washington Hospital Center, doctors now have to turn in one suit before they can be issued a second.

At Parkland Hospital in Dallas, administrators say the thefts of scrub suits, operating coats and other linens have reached $500,000 a year. "We are trying to address the issue without getting nasty," said a hospital spokesman.

Several Washington stores quickly seized on the popularity of these items -- if they were good enough to steal, they must be worth buying. Gap stores isn't sure how many it has sold, but a spokesman said the misty green ones were snapped up at once, the blues were much slower to move, and eventually they got stuck with the white ones. According to Louis Lehman of Sunny's Surplus, his Washington area stores have sold 2,400.

Katherine Youmans at National Uniform Co. says her sales of scrub suits to nonprofessionals started to pick up with the karate craze three years ago and have "mushroomed since." She doesn't know how many she has sold. "We never could get in enough to fill the demand for the store," she says.

Steven Porter, marketing manager for Fashion Seal Uniforms, probably the largest maker of this item, says that in the last couple of months his production has quadrupled -- they now make 24,000 a week. And like any hot clothing item, the manufacturer is now adding bright colors and sizes for kids. c'We've already had requests from companies who want to stencil slogans on our shirts," says Porter.

What's next? Doctors' white consultation jackets are already a sellout in some cities, according to Porter. And let the cooks beware. He says he has spotted an interest in chefs' pants and shirts.