Jos. Bank and MBNA’s heyday


Good afternoon,

News that the California company that owns Jos. A. Bank and Men’s Wearhouse filed for Chapter 11 protection brought to mind tales from the glory days of MBNA.

You might remember MBNA had a straight out of the ’50s suit and tie culture mandated by the bank’s larger than life co-founder the late Charles Cawley. Cawley firmly believed that donning a suit improved your overall performance, even if most of the day was spent at a desk.

The suit-only policy continued as companies –including rival credit card bank First USA now Chase – moved toward business casual attire or casual Fridays.

With MBNA’s employment hitting at least 10,000 at one point, demand for suits was strong.

It was said that Cawley, who maintained ties to Baltimore (MBNA was born out of a credit start-up of the long-departed Maryland Bank) preferred to have executives and even staff shop at Jos. A. Bank.

Jos A Bank set up shop in Greenville and did a brisk business.

Never mind that downtown Wilmington men’s store Wright & Simon was a short walk from MBNA’s sprawling headquarters. To its credit, Wright & Simon carries on with a loyal clientele and Leonard Simon’s determination.

Jos. Bank hung around long after MBNA was acquired by Bank of America, which brought with it a business casual dress code.

Along the way, Jos. Bank decided to sell two and even three suits for the price of one at certain times. The strategy was skewered in a memorableSaturday Night Live sketch that used suits as cleaning supplies and has been credited with ending the bizarre promotion.

Lurking in the background was Men’s Wearhouse, a California-based chain with an appetite for acquiring rivals. You might remember its ad campaign with a suited-up George Zimmer saying “You’re going to like the way you look.”

Zimmer was later forced out of the company, but its acquisition strategy continued when management decided to take a run at Jos. Bank.

It turned into an epic takeover battle. that had each company trying to buy the other, with Jos. Bank attempting to buy casual clothing retailer Eddie Bauer. That gambit ended up in Delaware Chancery Court, which ordered Jos. Bank to offer more documentation, suspecting that the deal was merely a way to fend off Men’s Wearhouse’s overtures.

After some back and forth, the Maryland company was acquired by its California rival for an impressive $1.8 billion.That was a lot of money and did nothing to stop the trend away from suits, and the company’s limited success in hawking upscale casual attire area.

Things only got worse when a work at home setting allowed many to sit around in their sweats before (sometimes) donning a sport coat for Zoom meetings.

In the meantime, Jos. Bank and Men’s Wearhouse have four stores in Delaware – three within an easy drive of one another.

Plans announced before the Chapter 11 filing call for a reduction in locations, although no specific sites have been identified. This time around, there is no Charlie Cawley to spur demand. –Doug Rainey, chief content officer.

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