Pufer On Men’s Suits
The well-dressed law student needs to understand six things, and take them as undeniable truths:
1. You are a law student.
2. Your status as a law student designates how you should dress. Personal style, impressing the ladies (or guys), and whatever you did before coming to law school are irrelevant.
3. The legal profession is conservative.
4. When it matters, the clothing of a law student should always follow the maxim 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 unobtrusive. If folks don’t notice it, it can’t hurt you.
5. An interview is the primary example of a time when it matters, but is not the only one.
6. People will notice.
At any given time, with any given crowd, any and/or all of the above might not be applicable. Nevertheless, you should be safe and stick to the following rules because you’re not going to know when and where the exceptions may exist.
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. It should be single-breasted.
You should have a shirt.
In this context, a shirt is not a t-shirt, a polo, a tank top, or anything with short sleeves. It is a long-sleeved, collared, button-down cotton dress shirt. Under no circumstances should the collar be button-down. Under no circumstances should the sleeves not be barrel cuffed and buttoned (this is to say no french cuffs).
You should have a t-shirt.
Plain, white, cotton, crew neck, short sleeved. Worn underneath your shirt (obviously) and tucked into your pants, not your underwear.
You should have a tie.
It should either be silk or a realistic approximation of silk. It should be between three and four inches in width. It should not be a clip-on, pre-tied, a bow tie, or a cravat.
You should have shoes.
They should be plain, black, and clean. They should be made out of leather. They should have laces. They should not be sneakers, boots, loafers, slippers, or wing-tips. They should not be bicycle-toed (square-toed).
You should have socks.
They should be plain, unobtrusive, thin dress socks. They should match your pants, or at least your shoes.
Not strictly necessary
Absent braces, you should have a belt.
It should match your shoes as well as possible in both color and sheen. The buckle should be unobtrusive and silver. Side tabs are acceptable as well, but most folks expect belts absent braces.
You should have a watch.
Not all guys have nice watches. This is okay, you’ll just not know what time it is (it is not acceptable to pull out your phone to check the time in an interview). If you do have a nice watch, it should consist of any combination of the following colors: silver, black, dark blue (if your suit is blue), gray, and white. If it has any colors other than these (except in a nominal manner, like an accent color on the hands or the numbers or something), don’t wear a watch.
You should not have a pocket square.
If you feel you must, it should be plain white cotton or linen, clean, pressed, and folded into a banker’s square. You should probably not be wearing one anyway. If you are, under no circumstances should it depart from these specifications (no fancy folds, no silk, no matching your tie, etc.).
Picking out a suit
A law student’s suit should, like everything he wears, be unobtrusive. It should be tailored to his body by an alterations tailor if off-the-rack.
Color: Solid navy (almost-black blue) or solid charcoal (almost-black gray). It should not be pinstriped, chalk-striped, beaded, herringboned, plaid, or anything other than a solid color. It should not be medium blue, light gray, khaki, black, or any other color.
Fabric: Wool, or a wool-blend that is very much like wool. It should be pliable and it should not be shiny.
Should always be clean and free of wrinkles. Must be tailored. The bottom button should always be unbuttoned. When you sit, unbutton the top button. When you stand again, rebutton it. You should never take off your jacket when you’re wearing a suit.
Cut: It should not be severely darted. It should be an American sack suit. American sack suits are not especially form-fitting. The shoulders should end where your shoulders end and should not be excessively padded (if at all). Holding your hands at your sides, the sleeves should end at your wrist, showing some shirt sleeve, and you should be able to cup your fingers around the bottom edge of your jacket.
Buttons: You should have two or three buttons. Preference between the two should be towards two. They should be plain, dark colored buttons.
Vents: It should be vented. If you’re fat, side vents are probably better. This is mostly a matter of taste, though. Just make sure your jacket has some kind of vents.
Neckline depth: Depends on your body type.
Should always be clean and pressed. Must be tailored for length, even if nothing else.
Hem: The bottom of the leg should be finished, with or without cuffs. If your pants are pleated, you have a choice between going with cuffs and not - personal taste, although cuffs are probably more traditional (if you're especially tall, maybe go with cuffs; if you're short or portly, maybe omit them). If your pants are flat-front (see below), the bottoms should be finished, without cuffs. Remember that the rule is unobtrusiveness.
Length generally: It should break once over the top of your shoes, and sit about even with the top of the heel of your shoe in back. No bunching around the ankles.
Pleats: Your pants probably should be pleated unless you’re very thin (remember the six things, particularly number two). You should not have excessive pleats (more than two, maybe three if you’re huge), and your pants should fit. Pants fit at the waist, which is right around one’s navel. Do not wear your pants below your waist. Do not buy suits that are cut such that the pants have to be worn below your waist. The pants of American sack suits are not fitted and drape loosly, regardless of how stylish pants may drape.
(Special note on the pleats: this is not a contentious issue anywhere except here and on style forums. There is a reason why virtually all the pants everywhere suits are sold are pleated – this is and has been the norm for a long time. Remember that the rule is unobtrusiveness. Nobody in the business world notices pleated pants because literally everyone wears them. Number six states that someone will notice your fitted flat-fronts.)
Should always be clean and pressed.
White, cotton, two-ply, pinpoint, with point
collars (collar stays installed - do not wear button-down collar shirts
, they are sport shirts, and not appropriate) and buttoned barrel cuffs that come down to the notch of your thumb (if you hold your fingers together, where the last bone connected to your thumb ends on the side of your hand).
You should be able to move your neck around freely in the collar.
It shouldn’t be striped, it shouldn’t be blue (or any other color), it shouldn’t be french-cuffed, it shouldn’t be textured, and it shouldn’t have a medium or spread collar (or no collar).
Black leather with a round-toe, either cap-toed or plain oxford lace-ups. The sole should be as thin as possible, preferably leather. They should be clean. They should be matte – not high polish patent leather.
Preferably silk. The primary color should be blue, grey, or dark red. Accent colors, if any, should be subdued. It should either have a very subtle pattern (small dots) or should be striped (large stripes). As far as I’m concerned, this
is the standard by which all ties should be judged in terms of unobtrusiveness (note that it’s not a solid-colored tie).
It should be knotted either with a half-windsor or a four-in-hand knot. Care should be taken with the dimple, although it shouldn’t ever be exactly perfect. The end of the tie should hit the middle of your belt when tied.
“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 of us talking that way is that most of us can't afford that type of quality (I know I can't). These folks are talking about garments that they’re going to enter into their suit rotation and wear for the next 20 years. By and large, this is a different world than the one we’re living in.
Similarly, this pertains to law students in interview settings. On your summer internship, 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’ve gotten a job. By then, you’re no longer a law student, and can afford to do it right (hopefully).
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 a shithead, 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.
As far as I'm concerned, there is nobody who 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, and you’ll be golden.
Jos. A. Bank
A shady retailer of eminently decent menswear.
Up until the state of New York sued JAB a couple 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, 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, if not a little more (SigGold 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 sale is anything below $300 (happens maybe a couple times per year), but I've seen selected suit styles go as low as $197 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.
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.
Those are the only three lines you should be thinking about from them.
JAB’s Traveler’s shirts are one of the big-three 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 (especially striped), if a bit unimaginative.
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.
Most regular department stores (JC Penney, 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.
Nordstrom (particularly the Rack) is the go-to for ties. Macy's does relatively well too and is cheaper.
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. 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.
Lots of ties to be had on eBay.
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.