“Silk suit, black tie, I don’t need a reason why.” Sharp Dressed Man by Frank Lee Beard, Joe Michael Hill, Billy Gibbons (“ZZ TOP”)
It’s been a tumultuous, if not downright difficult, year for Men’s Wearhouse, the men’s clothing chain known as much for its founder as its fashions. For years, television ads for this decidedly un-high end haberdashery featured the voice and dashing visage of George Zimmer, the avuncular eminence gris of good grooming who vanquished doubts–about our wardrobes, about ourselves–by ending each commercial with this simple but powerful promise: “You’re gonna like the way you look.” For George Zimmer, this was no mere idle quip or empty sentiment. No. He gave us his word, his bond: “I guarantee it!”
One would think that in this age of anonymous commerce, much of it conducted across the empty ether of the Internet, having a name, a face, and a voice we had come to trust, even befriend, would be a corporate asset of incalculable value.
Just this summer, Men’s Warehouse rewarded Mr. Zimmer’s years of dedicated service by holding the door open for him as they kicked him out, coldly, unceremoniously, and without explanation. Perhaps they thought that today’s younger workforce couldn’t relate to George’s gray beard and smokey baritone. Or perhaps the “Wearhouse” owners wanted to sweep the closet clean and start fresh.
But rather than bringing about a reversal of fortune, the zapping of Zimmer has provoked a feeding frenzy, with Men’s Warehouse being the main course. Today’s Women’s Wear Daily contains this report: “Jos. A. Bank Clothiers Inc. may have withdrawn its offer to buy rival The Men’s Warehouse Inc., but the real battle may just be beginning.” The New York Times also reports that dollars and cents seem to make a merger both sensible and inevitable: “A merger would create a powerhouse in men’s suits, drawing on both Jos. A. Bank’s e-commerce operations and stronger business practices and Men’s Wearhouse’s strength in tuxedo rentals and its higher-end Joseph Abboud brand.”
But even if pressing for this clothing merger makes good business sense, Men’s Warehouse aficionados must cringe at the prospect of their favorite men’s store being devoured by the buttoned-down Jos. A. Bank, the bastion of phantom bargains where every stitch of clothing is marked way, way, up only to be slashed to ridiculous depths in any number of temptingly transparent sales teases. Indeed Jos. A. Bank’s propensity to thrive and multiply (in Washington, D. C., there seem to be more Jos A.’s than Starbuck’s) suggests the secret to solving every problem facing this country–the economy, healthcare, the environment, the Kardashians-simply put out a big sign in red block letters that reads “Buy One–Get Three Free.” (Of equal or lesser value, of course.)
It’s one thing to axe the familiar and trusted face, as Men’s Warehouse just did. It’s another thing to be swallowed up by a persona so inscrutable that we know absolutely nothing about him. Who is Jos. A. Bank? Is he real? Did he ever exist? Does he care about the way we look? In fact, there really was a Joseph A. Bank. He entered the clothing business as an eleven year old garment cutter in 1898. He later teamed with his wife’s mother to start a tailoring business, making and selling suits. With his son Howard, he eventually opened the first Jos. A. Bank in Baltimore. Joseph died in 1954, before the golden age of television, and long before George Zimmer first took the the airwaves to become our sartorial savant. Quaker Oats eventually purchased the small bank of Bank clothing stores, eventually cutting the chain loose to become one of the nation’s premier homes for sub-premium threads.
It’s too soon to tell if a merger between two leading menswear chains will happen. But if Jos. A. succeeds in its hostile takeover of Men’s Wearhouse, there’s one thing we can surely bank on. George Zimmer will have the last laugh. I guarantee it.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: “Through tattered clothes great vices do appear; Robes and furred gowns hide all. Plate sin with gold and the strong lance of justice hurtless breaks. Arm it in rags, a pigmy’s straw does pierce it.” ― William Shakespeare, King Lear