person in mask walks by Brooks Brothers store Image copyright Getty Images

Brooks Brothers, one of America’s oldest clothing brands, has become the latest US retailer to fall into bankruptcy.

The menswear company, which is more than 200 years old, sought court protection from creditors on Wednesday while it looks for a buyer.

It had already shut stores and warned of plans to close its US factories.

Known for its suits, it joins J Crew, JC Penney and Neiman Marcus as a business casualty of the pandemic.

The company dates back to 1818 and its clothes have been worn by dozens of US presidents, including John F Kennedy and Barack Obama.

It operates about 500 stores globally, roughly half of which are in the US, and employs more than 4,000 people.

Since 2001, it has been owned by Italian businessman Claudio del Vecchio, whose family founded Luxottica. It was briefly owned by Marks & Spencer between 1998 and 2001.

The firm, which has suffered as more causal office attire becomes the norm, had been exploring a sale before the pandemic struck. It is now looking for the right owner.

Classic style

“Over the past year, Brooks Brothers’ board, leadership team, and financial and legal advisors have been evaluating various strategic options to position the company for future success, including a potential sale of the business,” a spokesperson for the retailer said.

“During this strategic review, Covid-19 became immensely disruptive and took a toll on our business.”

Brooks Brothers styles itself as a classic American brand. It claims credit for popularising “preppy” men’s staples in the US, including madras prints, seersucker suits, argyle socks and the ever-present button-down shirt.

In a court filing, the company stated that it had assets and liabilities between $500m and $1bn.

In an interview with the New York Times last month discussing the US factory closures, Mr del Vecchio said the firm was taking steps to ensure its survival. It employed nearly 700 people at the plants in New York, Massachusetts and North Carolina.

“At this moment, all resources need to be maintained and saved to make sure we can come out on the other side of the crisis,” he said.

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