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Friday, May 01, 2009

They still make men's suits in Illinois

But not for long, probably. Illinois company, Hart Schaffner & Marx, is in the middle of bankruptcy and fending off liquidation:

"We were assured that if the banks got the money, they would use it to help people to stay in their homes and help businesses to stay open," [Phil] Hare said. Last Christmas, however, he was disabused of these illusions when he learned that one of the largest recipients of bailout funds, Wells Fargo, was refusing to extend credit to the most venerable of America's suit manufacturers, 122-year-old Hart Schaffner Marx. Wells was the company's chief creditor, and with sales falling, it announced that it wished to liquidate the firm. (Washington Post: The Cutter and the Bank by Harold Meyerson.)

Phil Hare, my own congressman, worked in the cutting room at Hart Schaffner & Marx from 1969 to 1982. The company also has a factory in his district. So, you can see why he is particularly concerned with this company.

Hart Schaffner, which really makes more than just men's suits, makes high-quality clothes. These are not the cheap suits.

Which reminds me... One day about 15 or so years ago, my then boss (now deceased, unfortunately) wore a new suit to work. As he stood in front of my desk posing and turning like a male runway model, he exclaimed his glee with the the price he paid for the suit. A sharp dresser, who previously never paid less than $400 for a suit, got it on sale at one of those men's chain stores that has no vested interest in the community except to flood the market with cheap clothes. If I recall correctly, the sale was buy one for $99.95, get the second one for half price. So, he got two suits for $150.00.

The suit he wore that day was dark gray with a light pin stripe. I had to admit that it did have a nice nice cut. I asked him if he wasn't concerned about it falling apart at that price. He replied that even if it only lasted a year, he would have more than got his money's worth. True, I agreed.

As he walked away from my desk and through the light of the office back to his office, I got a better look at the suit. A much better look. Gulp. I couldn't believe what I was seeing. And I almost didn't tell him because I didn't want to kill his joy. But, I couldn't let him go to the courthouse looking like that. So, I said, uh, I can see every hair on your legs through that fabric. (I held back the part about his underpants.) "You are fucking kidding me?" No, I'm not. He went home, changed clothes, and gave those suits to charity.

I'm no connoisseur of men's fashion, or any fashion, for that matter. But, after that experience, it's plain to see that price isn't everything. I really hope Hart Schaffner pulls through bankruptcy so they can keep making good clothes in Illinois. Read the whole story - it's full of interestingness.

Edit: I just started reading the comments to the Meyerson article. The most recent commenter suggests "stuffed shirts in congress and high dollar CEOs" should shop at J.C. Penney or Wal-Mart. That's the answer? Hey I'm not saying everyone should buy expensive clothes. No way. I sure don't. I'm just saying this is an American company, with skilled workers, turning out a quality product. There's got to be some value in that even in these times.

Posted by Marie at May 1, 2009 5:33 PM


I honestly believe it won't be long before Walmart and Amazon are the only places to buy anything.

Posted by: Rob Author Profile Page at May 2, 2009 10:40 AM

Woe betide us if you're right. But never fear. My recent hinterland perambulations make me believe that other shopping options will survive: Dollar General and Casey's General Stores, for sure. The unfortunately named Kum 'n' Go won't quit without a fight. Walgreen's. Ninety-nine cent stores of every shape and variety. Of course, the only clothing you'll find in most of those places is underwear and pantyhose, but what else do you need along with your homespun?

Posted by: Dan at May 2, 2009 10:50 AM

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