Pufer On (Men’s) Suits - Latest Revision
OCI looms. You spent an entire weekend crafting your various resumes and cover letters to downplay the fact that you have not been meaningfully involved in anything, and your grades (even though they were randomly assigned in the form of shades of lavender and pictographs representing woodland creatures) are mediocre at best. Oh well, perhaps some lunatic will read your resume and be impressed with the fact that you passed Property and are Secretary of the Space Law Society.
In the off chance you do get a pity interview, you figure that you should probably at least look like someone they might want to hire. However, you have a suspicion that the Sears suit your mom bought you for that funeral back in high school might not quite cut it.
Fortunately, you found this awesome webboard post online, which will cure your sartorial ignorance with advice that your average haberdasher would sell his measuring tape to be able to give. I mean, it has already used words like “sartorial” and “haberdasher,” it must be good!
So here it is: the definitive guide to the male law school interview suit.
I know. Places to go, people to see. Here is what you get to wear:
A suit: wool, plain navy or charcoal, single-breasted, two button, notch-lapel, tailored to you
A shirt: white, freshly pressed, classic point or medium spread collar, barrel cuffs
A tie: silk, subdued red or blue, 3-3.75 inches wide, silk, classic and understated pattern
Shoes: black leather lace-up dress shoes, cap-toe, thin sole (preferably leather), clean and uncreased
Socks: plain, thin dress socks that match your pants (or your shoes, if you must)
T-shirt: white, crew neck
Belt: black, thin, should match your shoes in gloss and grain as near as possible
If you are wildly insulted by this shopping list, read on for explanations. I promise you, however, that this is the uniform. Deviations from it will not help you, and could cost you a job.
There are a plethora of never-ending debates that surround men’s suits. A lot of these debates rage on because they lack context—what an advertising executive should do with his wardrobe in Los Angeles does not have all that much to do with what a conservative banker should be doing on Wall Street.
Fortunately, we are presented with a common context here: you are (or are about to be, or want to pretend that you are) a law student. While there are certainly variations in legal fashion between regions, cities, types of legal work, and even branches of a single firm, none of that matters here.
Employed lawyers are limited in sartorial expression only by their partners and their clients. Law students looking for an interview suit are limited by the expectations of the most conservative firm they could conceivably end up interviewing with, and law is a profession full of very conservative expectations.
Therefore, a few fundamental maxims can be stated about the law student interview suit, and the rules can be derived therefrom.
The well-dressed law student needs to understand ten maxims about the situation in which they find themselves. For purposes of choosing an interview suit, you should take these ten maxims to be undeniable truths:
1. You are a law student.
2. You want a job.
3. You have no leverage. There are hundreds of unemployed lawyers and other law students who are likely every bit as able as you to do whatever job you are interviewing for.
4. The legal profession is conservative and hierarchical. You have a place, and are expected to stay in it.
5. Your status as a law student designates how you should dress. Personal style, impressing random passerby, getting into that hot 1L’s pants, and whatever you did before coming to law school may be important to you, but are absolutely irrelevant to your choice in an interview suit.
6. When it matters, the clothing of a law student should always follow the maxim (in bonus pompous Latin) primum non nocere. First, do no harm. This is to say that the first rule of law student dress is that it should always be so well thought out and tailored to be totally unobtrusive.
7. An interview is the primary example of a time when it matters, but is not the only one. Thus, these maxims are not limited only to interviews for a law student.
8. Unobtrusive is not to say unnoticeable. The aim is still to look good, only in a way that it is you that looks good, not your clothing.
9. People do notice.
10. Interviewers will always notice.
Granted, at any given time, in any given interview, any and/or all of the above maxims might not hold true. The odds of your being able to guess when this will be the case are very slim. Just because the partner interviewing you works at a “lifestyle firm” and is certain to be wearing jeans does not mean that he expects anything less than subtly perfect formality from you.
The Presidential Law Student
In essence, a law student’s interview suit should fade into the background, bringing the focus to the law student himself. Anything at all that is noticeable is a liability. If the interviewers remember nothing at all about how you were dressed, chalk that up as a win. If they noticed, that means they either figure do not know how to dress yourself properly, or they are remembering you as that idiot with the paisley tie.
In this manner, the law student is much like the President of the United States. If the President is meeting with some foreign head of state, delivering the State of the Union Address, or making a formal campaign speech, he knows that everybody and their brother will surely overanalyze anything strange that he is wearing.
A vivid illustration of this comes as a result of somebody’s screw-up. In May 2009, President Obama met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In June 2009, he met with Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah. Meeting with the heads of two rival Middle Eastern states within a month of one another at best warranted a passing mention on the international pages. That is, until someone happened to notice that the President wore the same distinctively-striped necktie to both meetings.
Suddenly the simple act of re-wearing a particular necktie turned two marginally-related diplomatic meetings into either necktie diplomacy or a complete affront to a nation, depending on which blog you were reading.
That should not have happened. Someone should have been paying attention the President’s neckwear to verify that, first, he did not wear the exact same tie to those two meetings and, second, that he never wore any ties that were distinctive enough to be picked out in such a manner in the first place.
When it matters, the President—any recent President—should wear (and usually does wear) a plain navy or charcoal suit that fits well, an inoffensive tie in either blue or red, and a plain white shirt. Law students should follow the same code.
Got that? Good. Now onto the specifics.
The Suit Generally
You should have a suit.
A suit is not a sports coat and a pair of khakis. A suit is not slacks and a tie. A suit is not a pair of pants and a jacket that happen to be the same color. A suit is a jacket and a pair of pants cut from the same cloth and sold as either a suit or as suit separates.
The suit should be made of wool, featuring a smooth and tight weave, in a three-season weight.
No cotton, no camelhair, no herringbone weaves, no noticeable pores in the fabric, no ultra-thin or ultra-thick wool, no matter how desperately hot or cold it may be outside. Like everything you wear, the fabric of your suit should be completely unobtrusive.
The suit should be plain navy or charcoal.
Navy does not merely mean “blue.” Charcoal does not merely mean “gray.” Neither term means “black.” Plain does not mean “really subtle pinstripes.” You should be able to wear your interview suit to a state funeral without anyone looking at you twice.
Navy is a very dark blue. Charcoal is a very dark gray. Plain means plain, as in completely unadorned with stripes, windowpanes, checks, dots, or any other pattern you can think of.
The suit should be tailored to your body.
Your suit is only as good as it fits you. If you just picked it up off the rack, it does not fit you, regardless of what the salesman may say. This means you get to deal with an alterations tailor, but more on that later. Just expect that you will have to get your suit tailored.
The suit should be clean and free of wrinkles.
If your suit is dirty or smelly, get it dry-cleaned. If your suit is dusty, use a lint roller. If your suit is wrinkled, get it pressed. Pretty straight forward.
The Suit Jacket
Jacket style: single-breasted, with notch-lapels.
No double-breasted suits under any circumstances. One row of buttons is sufficient. No peak, shawl, or any other variety of non-traditional lapel.
The notch on the lapels at the jacket’s gorge should be a notch, and a notch only. It should not be unusually high, nor should it be unusually low. Look at a picture of a recent President wearing a suit (not tuxedo) for guidance.
Buttons: the jacket should have two (or, at most, three) buttons, and a medium-depth “V.”
The key here is less the number of buttons than the “V” that shows off your tie and shirt behind the jacket (oddly, in the pompous world of sartorial nomenclature, there is no actual term for this “V”). In the recent past, the style has been to have a very high “V” and a lot of buttons: this must be avoided. Similarly, the older style of a plunging “V” with a single button is similarly to be avoided at all costs. Somewhere in the middle is where everyone should be, and stay. Again, look to the Presidents for guidance.
The proper “V” height is more likely to be found in two-button jackets these days, although it is possible to find three-button jackets that are fine. The button-stance (where the buttons fall relative to the base of the “V”) is largely a matter of taste. The buttons should be plain and dark-colored.
Vents: the jacket should be vented.
Unvented jackets traditionally will appear in three contexts: (1) when it is the style; (2) on formal jackets for occasions where one will not be sitting; and (3) on cheap suits where not much attention is paid to the back. The first two are irrelevant for the law student, and any hint of the third should be avoided (even if you actually have only a cheap suit). Therefore, your jacket should be vented.
Center or side vents are a matter of taste. Side vents have the dual bonus of being more traditionally formal, and more practical. Center vents are definitely more common and easy to find these days.
The bottom button on your jacket must be unbuttoned at all times, no matter how many buttons you have. The top button on a two-button suit (middle button on a three-button suit) should be buttoned while you are standing, unbuttoned while you sit. The top button on a three-button jacket is optional while standing.
The bottom line: Fit.
The shoulders should roughly be as wide as your shoulders, and should not be heavily padded. Suits are not supposed to ever be baggy, but neither are they supposed to be form-fitting. You want some definition and shape from your jacket (a bit of an hourglass creating a waist in your suited profile), but you also want to avoid a particularly slim-fitting suit that makes you look as if you were wearing a corset. Your jacket is supposed to drape, so it is not supposed to ride your body anywhere but at the shoulders and upper torso.
Standing with your arms loosely hanging at your sides, the bottom of your jacket should hit around the knuckle in the middle of your thumb, such that you could cup your fingers around the bottom of your jacket.
The jacket sleeves should be cut such that they are around one-half inch above the bottom of your shirtsleeves when your arms are hanging loosely at your sides (this means that you have to be wearing a properly-fitting dress shirt when visiting your alterations tailor).
None of this has to be perfect, but it should be pretty close.
Wearing trousers: you will wear your suit pants at the waist.
You feel those bony bits at the sides of your pelvis where you wear your jeans? THAT IS NOT YOUR WAIST. Your waist is supposed to be the narrowest part of your torso, right around the level of your navel. That is where you will wear your pants.
You will not get low-rise suit pants that duck below your awesomely defined abs. You will not wear your waistband low to clear your gargantuan gut. The waistband of your pants will be at your waist no matter how fat, skinny, fit, tall, short, or whatever you happen to be. Spread the word.
Pleats or no pleats: that is the question
The more traditional look features pleats. Pleats look fine on everybody, and it is not like anyone will ever see them under your jacket anyway. Additionally, if you ever plan on sitting or bending over, they provide more room for movement. Why is this even a question?
It is a question because this is one of the rare occasions where the Fifth Commandment does not interfere with the Sixth. With pleats or without, your pants can potentially be completely unobtrusive (the fronts are always going to be covered either by a table or your suit jacket), and the current style dictates that flat-fronts simply look better on a distinct minority of American males.
The question first is one of fit, and if you are one who can get away with wearing flat-fronts, it then becomes a matter of preference.
First, some background. Pleats have gotten a bad name recently thanks to the khaki revolution. Khakis have inherited the role traditionally held by the baggy odd trouser, which is to say that they’re big, comfortable, semi-casual pants that almost universally look bad on everyone. Khakis are more comfortable if they’re pleated, and fat Americans are nothing if not comfort-seekers, so these ugly pants are almost always of the pleated variety.
Seeing their dads and grandfathers in these billowy abominations, many folks have gained a distinct distaste for the pleated pant, and have moved to the flat-front as a response. However, many of these guys have gone too far, thinking that their flat-front khakis should be cut and worn like jeans. This has resulted in a lot of guys who cannot pull off flat fronts wearing them.
Suit trousers are not khakis, nor are they supposed to be fancy jeans. Unlike khakis and jeans, your suit pants are supposed to float over your body, and drape to the ground, not billow or hug your legs. Basically, they are supposed to fit your waist perfectly, look to be cut just generously enough to get over your hips, then go straight to the ground, with a slight taper.
If you are a skinny person, regardless of whether you are wearing flat-fronts or pleats, your pants should cut the exact same profile. If your pleated trousers look baggy when you’re just standing there, that does not mean that you should have purchased flat-fronts, it means that your pants are cut too big and you should go see your tailor. The only difference between the two styles on a skinny guy will be that one looks a bit busier at the top, and has more expansion room for when he sits or bends over.
If you have either an athletic build or are on the heavier side, flat fronts are less forgiving. If you have a gut, or giant muscled calves, or a large ass from all those squats (or all those pies), they will interrupt the drape of your trousers. Therefore, if you are at all overweight, or you are particularly fit, you should probably go with the more forgiving pleated pants.
If you decide to go with pleats, you may encounter the questions of how many and what type. Two pleats is the standard, and if you are within 150 pounds of your ideal weight, you should have no more than those two. Forward-pleats are generally more flattering to most people who are not exceptionally fat, but they are also exceptionally hard to find off the rack in American stores, so you will probably end up with reverse-pleats.
The Length: One break over your shoe.
Find the place where the leather meets the top of your sole at the back of your interview shoes. That is where your pants leg should end, creating a single break over the top of your shoe in the front. You may be able to get away with a bit more length, but you should not go any shorter than that. Note that this means that you should wear your interview shoes to your alterations tailor when getting your pants fitted.
The Hem: cuffs or plain finished
The traditional rule is pleats have cuffs, flat-fronts don’t. Cuffs are certainly more common amongst the suited masses, but the traditional rules here have been eroded. On one hand, cuffs add weight to the bottom of your legs and help the drape of your pants. On the other hand, cuffs may be more likely to draw the eye and can look stodgy, especially on the more stylish flat-fronts.
You can get away with going either way on this one, but the preference should probably be for the more conservative cuffs, especially if you are wearing pleats.
Yep. Underwear. Just to remind you that you are not supposed to go anywhere or do anything without your suit jacket.
The Color: Solid White
White. Freshly pressed. Clean. No stripes. No patterns. If you must, you can go pale blue with your navy suit, but you shouldn’t.
The Fabric: Pinpoint Cotton
No piques, herringbones, oxfords, etc. Plain, crisp, multi-ply pinpoint cotton is what you should aim for—the standard dress shirt.
The Collar: Point or Medium Spread Only
No button down collars.
Most guys do not care at all about whether you go with button down collars or not. Those people who do care, though, really hate button down collars. They will argue—correctly, as a matter of history—that button down collars are for playing polo and wearing under a pastel sweater, not for business. Thus, this is the classic area where your choice should be dictated by your desire to do no harm: people either won’t care that you are wearing a shirt with button down collars, or they will absolutely hate them and think you look stupid. Because they can’t help you, avoid them.
As to the spread of your collar, the traditional rule dictates that the more formal the occasion, the wider the spread of your collar should be (in a formal portrait, for instance, the tips of your collar should be hidden beneath the lapels of your jacket). While we generally think of an interview as being a formal situation nowadays, it really is not. It is a business meeting, so you should probably leave the wide spread collar (often just called a “spread collar”) at home.
Medium-spread and standard point collars—collar-stays (those plastic or flexible metal tabs you insert into the back of the collars) installed—that are 2.75 to 3.25 inches long are ideal. If you have a thinner or a triangular face, lean towards the medium-spread collar. If your face is rounder or squarer, go with the point.
No varsity, narrow-point, tabbed, pinned, hidden button-down, or any other manner of collar.
The Cuffs: Barrel
There are two reasons you should never wear a French-cuffed shirt to an interview. First, French cuffs are inherently more flashy, and you don’t want to be flashy. Second, most cufflink aficionados cut their suits’ sleeves shorter to show off more cuff, as they almost need to. This basically turns those suits into French-cuff-only suits. Given that most law students will not have a closet full of suits to choose from, going with a multitasking sleeve length on one’s suit is probably the more economical bet.
The plain, buttoned barrel cuff is the way to go. It should go without saying that you should never wear a short-sleeved dress shirt. For any reason. Ever.
Go to a reputable men’s store and get yourself measured by some guy who looks like he’s been doing this for more than six months. Once he gives you your size (something like 16/34; if he tells you “large” go to a different store), try on a shirt in your supposed size nevertheless (ask the guy to disassemble it for you so they don’t get pissed as you fling pins and tissue paper all over the store).
Once you have your shirt on and completely buttoned, shake your arms out, then put them at your sides. The sleeves should completely cover your wrist, ending at the notch formed where the base of your thumb meets the base of your hand (i.e. it should completely cover a reasonably-sized watch worn on your wrist).
You should have a complete range of motion, so move around. Your neck should rotate easily within the collar without it moving. You should be able to insert two fingers inside your collar and move them all the way around your neck without it ever choking you.
Tuck the shirt into your pants and move around a bit. Traditionally-cut dress shirts will typically end up billowing out of your pants and look too big unless you are particularly fat. This really isn’t much of a problem as the shirt will always be covered by your jacket. You can always go with a “modern,” “tailored,” or “slim” cut shirt to cut down on this billowing, especially if you anticipate wearing that shirt without a jacket at some point. Better yet, get a nice shirt and get it tailored. Make sure that you do not compromise on quality simply to get a less billowy shirt.
The Undershirt: White Crew Neck
If a gentleman is not wearing an undershirt, he is liable to sweat most unbecomingly through his shirt in potentially stressful situations. That aside, dress shirts are also generally somewhat sheer, so it is noticeable if you are not wearing an undershirt, or are wearing an undershirt that is anything other than a crew neck.
The Socks: Match Your Suit
Your socks should be plain, thin dress socks that match the color of your suit as closely as possible. If this is impossible, go black to match your shoes.
The Skivvies: Dark
What!?! Micromanaging us a bit much here, aren’t you?
Nah; just a tip. Stories abound where a law student shows up at an interview only to rip the back of his pants open while bending over to pick up a pen or something. The quick fix to this is to grab a roll of duct tape and tape your pants back together again on the inside. If you don’t have the time to do that, you probably should not be caught in your lucky bright orange boxers (with lavender tiger stripes). Your situation would be rather less likely to be noticed if they were dark navy to match your dark navy suit.
The Tie: Blue or Red, Four-in-Hand or Half-Windsor Knot
“Wear a power tie.” This is advice commonly heard whenever business dress comes up. The problem with that advice is that “power tie” is about as well-defined a term as “business casual” is (which is to say that it is a totally useless term).
Instead of trying to figure out what a solid interview tie is, think Presidential. Specifically, look to the ties that our more recent presidents have worn when addressing Congress.
Basically, we are talking subdued blue or subdued red, with a subtle, classic pattern consisting of small tonal pindots or stripes. The tie must be silk, and should measure somewhere between 3 and 3.75 inches wide at the tie’s widest point, depending on how heavy you are (no skinny ties).
Modern, quality ties are thick enough that they will produce a sufficiently substantial knot using either the Four-in-Hand or Half-Windsor knot. Full-Windsor knots are generally too wide and pompous looking for the collar styles recommended for an interview.
As to the Four-in-Hand vs. Half-Windsor debate, it is purely a matter of personal preference. Whichever you choose, make sure that you practice enough that you can pull off a flawless knot and a perfect dimple every time. The end of your tie should hit somewhere in the center of your belt.
Do not wear a tie bar, clip, pin, chain, or anything else. Your jacket and gravity keep your tie in place. Don’t wear a bow tie or a cravat (or no tie at all, unless specifically told so).
The Shoes: Black Leather Cap-Toes
Your shoes should be black, fine-grained leather. Brown would normally be perfectly acceptable in business situations, but everyone else will be wearing black shoes, and black will look perfectly acceptable with a suit as dark as the one you will be wearing.
Your shoes should have a round-toe (not at all squared). They should be either cap-toed or be plain oxford lace-ups, with a preference for cap-toes.
The sole should be as thin as possible, preferably leather. They should be clean and shined, but they should not be high polish patent leather.
Do not wear “wingtip” brogues for the same reason you should not wear button-down collared shirts: most do not care one way or the other, but some really dislike them in a formal business setting.
Do not wear loafers as they are generally considered too informal (and are often too noticeable) for interview duty.
The Belt: Plain Black, Matching Your Shoes
You should pick out your belt to match your shoes as closely as possible in grain, gloss, hue, etc. It should be unadorned and just long enough to pass through the first belt loop past the buckle. The buckle should be plain and should be silver rather than gold, bronze, or any other color.
If you choose to wear a watch, it should be an inoffensive and thin analog dress watch. A leather band should match your belt/shoes, but a metal band is perfectly acceptable. The watch should probably be silver and match your belt buckle.
Plain, black, leather padfolio without a zipper, stocked with paper, a pen, and copies of everything you submitted and anything else you might need. This is all you should have in your hands, with the possible exception of an umbrella if rain is likely.
Dark colored and wool; only if absolutely necessary.
Spend some money on a nice-looking black collapsible umbrella if it is raining.
Hat, Cane, Monocle, Sunglasses
Leave them in the car unless medically necessary.
A Suit for All Occasions
The above mostly deals with what law students should wear in interview settings. However, as a summer associate, an attendee at a conference or job fair, or any other law student event, the same general rules apply, but you can probably mix it up with your shirt color, ties, and toss in the odd pinstripe here or there. You should only become the dandy that you want to be after you have a permanent position (and maybe not even then, putting it off for after you make partner).
“Super high quality”
I mention nothing about construction or fabric quality. When folks are talking about this stuff, they're talking about the longevity of the garment: pants and seams that don't wear out, unfused jackets that don't bubble and will keep their shape through the years, etc. The problem with most law students talking that way is that most law students cannot afford that type of quality. These folks are talking about garments that they are going to enter into their suit rotation and wear for the next twenty years. By and large, this is a different world than the one law students live in.
OTR, MTM, and Bespoke
For future reference, there are three varieties of suit out there:
First, there is OTR, which is to say that the suit is already built and you can pick it up at a store "off the rack" and then bring it to be tailored to your body. These range from the $100 suit you can pick up at Sears to a $4,000 Brioni. This category can also be referred to as RTW, or "ready to wear." This is almost certainly what you’ll be wearing as a law student. Keep in mind, however that if you are wearing your OTR suit to an interview as it came off the rack (as in "untailored"), you are an idiot, but that doesn't necessarily mean that you're wearing a bad suit.
MTM suits are suits that use a basic pre-built frame or template off of which components are hung off of that are custom cut to your body, thus making them "made to measure." These can range from a $700 suit made at your local tailors (or Brooks Brothers during one of their custom order sales) to a $5,000 unit purchased at Jay Kos. One hell of a lot of people call this bespoke (including a lot of tailors), but they're not really being accurate. MTM is mostly custom made to your body, sure enough, but there are some prefabricated/premeasured components to them.
Bespoke suits start off as a bolt of fabric and are really custom made from the word go. They range from a $1,200 suit purchased at the airport in Hong Kong, to upwards of $25,000 purchased off of Saville Row and made out of Aphrodite's pubic hair or some such.
Nobody should be buying a bespoke suit for law school. Maybe MTM if you're rich or Brad Pitt, but even so, it's way overkill. Stick with a nicely tailored OTR suit (list price in the $400 to $600 range), and you’ll be golden.
Jos. A. Bank
A shady retailer of eminently solid menswear.
Up until the state of New York sued JAB a few years back for misleading sales practices, it was literally impossible to ever pay full list for anything that JAB sold. Nowadays, they throw out these two and three for one promotions so they can at least occasionally sell something for what their ads claim that it's worth. The fact that you get three for that price plus a free overcoat, scarf, lint-roller, and thirteen shirts is merely incidental.
That said, at their real sale prices, JAB suits are generally decent bargains, the problem is that it's hard to tell what the everyday super ultra mondo valued customer sale extravaganza price of something is compared to whatever it happens to be today unless you actually break down and track suit prices. I’ve done the work for you.
Signature Gold is probably worth $500, and Platinum is definitely worth that, if not a little more (Sig Gold wouldn't be out of place as a lower-end line in a Brooks Brothers), a solid sale is when the price dips a fair bit under $400, a good value is anything below $300 (happens maybe a couple times per year), but I've seen selected suit styles dip below $200 upon occasion.
Signature is plausibly worth $350-400. It falls below $300 frequently enough that you don't want to pay any more than that ($266 and below is a good target), and is a decided bargain under $200. A Signature line suit is likely better than what a significant majority of your classmates will be wearing to OCI.
The Executive line is kinda' weird in that its quality can vary, but you don't want to be paying more than $200-250 for any of it under any circumstances. As a general matter, you should probably not purchase anything below the Signature line
JAB’s Traveler’s shirts are one of the three highest-reviewed wrinkle-free shirts out there. They’re also the cheapest of the big three, so you might look into picking one (or a couple) up to be your go-to interview shirt. Don’t ever pay more than $59 for one, however, and try to wait until they’re $50 or below. They also have solid ties above the Executive line.
A shady retailer of generally shady merchandise.
Up until recently, I’ve never seen a decent sale from them (their 2-for-1 at full face value is shit, but 2-for-1 at $150 off full face value is approaching decent). That said, their stuff is not what you think it is. They are basically a retailer of generic suits with quasi-designer labels slapped on them. I’ll go through a few of them:
Jones NY: Jones New York is a noted design house for women's garments. They don't design men's suits, they license out their name to a Mexican company that stitches their name onto and resells (typically) Mexican and Korean generic garments at a great profit. Some are decent, some are rubbish, none are great. $250 is a bit steep, especially as Alfani (same stuff, different label) can typically be found in the $150-200 range. Generic suits from the same shops can be found under $100 on eBay and elsewhere on the web (although it’s hard to figure out what they’re called).
Kenneth Cole: Although I don't know specifically who is making Kenneth Cole suits for them, it falls under the same category as most else at MW. Kenneth Cole is primarily a shoe designer, everything else is nominally designed by in-house people (watches, suits, etc.), but most lines are generic stuff made by generic manufacturers. Their watches are relatively interesting in that they use a solid movement (made by Citizen, if I remember correctly) and really are really pretty good looking. If you like the watch and realize that you're paying and extra $100 for a restyling of what is basically a $30 Wal-Mart watch, by all means, go for it. The thing is, suits aren't that differentiated - you're literally paying a few extra hundred bucks for the name alone. Probably not worth it.
Most other stuff at MW falls into this category, but there is at least one somewhat reliable exception.
Lauren by Ralph Lauren: Lauren, like everything else at MW, has nothing at all to do with Ralph Lauren or his actual companies. It at least used to be a Canadian reseller who would resell Chinese, Indian, Indonesian, and other generic garments in the American market under a name licensed from Ralph Lauren. You won't typically find any suit that Ralph Lauren actually designed for less than around $900, and that's assuming a 50% cut in price there.
Lauren makes decent suits though. They’re worth $250 easy, and can easily be found under $200 on a regular basis. You usually won’t find the best deals at MW, however (think Sierra Trading Post).
Most regular department stores (JCPenney, Macys, Foleys, etc.) deal in the same types of stuff that you’ll find at MW, so the same principles apply. Some will have some higher end, solid names (Dillards, for instance, often will have Hart Schaffner Marx and/or Southwick), and some will just have higher end stuff in general (Nordstrom, for the most part). The higher end stuff is worth it, but is probably overkill for our purposes unless there’s a sale.
Pressclusive is made by S.Cohen, Pressidential is made by Southwick, Presstige depends on the particular suit. You can pretty safely bet that all three are pretty generously marked up. S.Cohen is nothing to write home about (Canadian discount tailoring house), but is probably better than what some other "brand names" are using. How much better? I don't really know, but it's not going to be much better than anything you're likely to find at the higher end of your local JAB.
Southwick is absolutely quality and is definitely a worthwhile tailor. Given that the Pressidential suits aren't merely rebranded stuff, but a J. Press designed suit just made by a reputable outside tailor, they're absolutely solid. J. Press is probably above what a law student should be doing, unless there’s a quality sale going on.
They’re basically the standard by which menswear stores and lines are judged in America today, predominantly because they’ve held that title for about a century now. Are they still worth the hype? Probably, if you can shop their outlets and sales (but look out for their outlet-only lines). I can’t imagine anyone being upset with their Brooks suit purchases, but I’ve never been too impressed with their ties, and you can get comparable quality shirts for a lot less at Nordstrom (Rack) and JAB, depending on the model of BB shirt you’re looking at. Again, unless you’re getting a really good deal, probably more than is necessary for a law student.
Great source for generic suits, suits from a couple indie suit manufacturers that have the generic suit companies make stuff to their specs, and used suits (do an internet search for whatever name an eBay suit is being sold under and you should be able to figure out which category it falls under). If you're looking to get a, say, Jones NY suit that you saw at MW, you may well be able to find the generically-branded equivalent on eBay, but it might be hard to be able to do that. They don't usually keep manufacturer style codes or identifiers in the suits when they rebrand them.
If you know your measurements, the value of eBay is in the used suits. If you find a seller who has the same (or slightly larger) measurements that you do trying to sell a perfect-condition $2000 suit, you’ll be getting it for a huge discount. This takes some devoted searching and you’re always taking the risk of either a knockoff suit or the seller lying about being a chain smoker who worked around goats.
Other web sources
You can find unbranded suits elsewhere on the web as well. Amazon is usually selling a few, and I've found Sierra Trading Post to be a solid source for just about everything clothing-wise at excellent prices (they almost always have Lauren there at deep discounts, including, from time to time, actual Ralph Lauren stuff along with loads of real brands at super-discount prices in addition to generics and your run-of-the-mill rebranded stuff). Overstock.com has been solid in the past as well.