I want to dress like Robert Mueller

Adroit readers might have noticed that last Thursday, I put up two posts, by mistake. The Passage was in disarray. Several weeks ago, a longtime client called, ignored my retired status, and asked me to work on a project.

The old skills clicked into place, but so did demands on my closet; he said that I would attend several meetings. That meant formal business attire, not business casual. I had to shop, in the middle of tight deadlines. Even under pressure, I did not want to buy something I'd never wear again.

One evening, I read Troy Patterson's New York Times piece, Robert Mueller, Style Icon, which parsed the image of the current Director of the FBI. Words used for his "uniform" (white-shirt-with-American-cut suit) included, "elegant in their reticence", "an unostentatious grace in its polish", "compromise of poise and ease", and "smart without seeming excessively smooth". My most-wanted list!

If you told me I'd draw style inspiration from the Director of the FBI—well, book me! Now, those words would serve as my shortcut for business-world re-entry.

Something died within when I thought of buying a skirt suit. A dress felt more capable of that "poise and ease". I had additional criteria: no big bucks for something I wouldn't have needed if not for this gig. I wanted sleeves at least elbow-length, and a long-enough skirt for my height.

I gave myself one hour, two max, to find something that could be delivered quickly. I was sailing straight into the Perfect Storm of Shopping Mistakes: out of one's zone, pressed for time, tired.


Left: Boden Kassidy jersey dress, shown in navy-white pattern but also comes in a red version of the print, or solid navy, and black. I could full-Mueller in a dark, but I liked the pattern. (Hey, Mr. Mueller wears a foulard tie.) I fretted about the jersey's weight: would it look flimsy in early spring, here?

Centre: I also liked the Siobhan ponté dress, probably more substantial. Biggish baroque pearl earrings, navy shoe: done. I preferred it, though, in green and pink, so much more fun—but wait, this not for a garden party. And what shoes do you wear with pink and green? I don't own them, that's for sure.

Right: Lafayette148's Tory dress would be perfect: a simple shape and elegant smocked-sleeve detail, shown. But I'd get limited wear from it, and wondered, Why make a synthetic that mimics wool crepe (one of the best fabrics ever), in dry clean only poly-acetate? I suppose g-men in their wool suits don't care, but I do. It's twice the price (on sale) than the Boden dresses and looks it.

My plan: order the Boden dresses first, then, if I had to, the Lafayette148. But the next morning, my client said that I wasn't required to attend the meetings. I dropped this investigation.

Still, the praise for Mueller's unvarying, perfectly-suited style struck home: resist the "wearable art" (which is never, ever artful), the badly-cut, the indifferently-finished.

I will testify: finding your look and sticking to it is no crime!


In a perfect world I'd love to dress like the Royals - did you see the photos of them all at the Commonwealth service yesterday? A sea of navy and white from Kate, Meghan, Princess Anne (who looked amazing), Camilla AND Sophie - it was an amazing turnout! And then of course the Queen turns up in a gorgeous wine/red outfit. Well done ladies!
Duchesse said…
Margie from Toronto: I thought the Queen looked fantastic!

IMO Princess Anne looked dated;I couldn't tell what decade those clothes were from if you showed me the photo out of context. The coat fit well, but the shoes are dowdy and the gloves too heavy and dark. And the brooch on the coat-bitsy. The Queen can carry one off (and she or her dresser have a sense of scale) but Princess Anne's looked lost. The older royals always display conservative taste, but the Duchess of Cornwall's embroidered coat is far more contemporary.

Princess Anne is unlikely to want the stilettos Megan Markle wore, but there is a world of better-looking low heeled shoes out there.

LauraH said…
Booked indeed! What a challenge... all the dresses I see are too short for my taste, including two of your possibles. And the rest seem to have short sleeves. A couple of years ago I decided to try dresses but the frustration/annoyance level was too high so I dropped the idea. May go back to it if hems ever drop:-)

Speaking of Royals, I loved the navy/white coat that Meghan wore a few days ago..smashing.
Boston Girl said…
Yes to dressing like Robert Mueller! In my gentlewoman years, the words "polished, simple, and elegant" are my mantras.

So glad you didn't have to buy a dress! Perhaps we should all have one business wear outfit in the closet. Funerals? Important meetings? Projects? Always handy to have such an outfit.
Duchesse said…
LauraH: Boden dresses come in Long as well as Regular but even then some are too short. They also have a number of midi-length ones like the one on the far left, but some of those are sleeveless.
Frugal Scholar said…
I got stressed out just reading this. Happy to see the happy ending. What brings me out of blog hibernation: For a while, Mueller has been at the top of my "sexiest man alive" list. This is so even though I'm sure he doesn't share my lefty political views (usually a requirement for my sexiest man alive). That NYT article cemented his status: in addition to the details you mentioned: The Casio watch! The historical/vocational reference in his choice of white shirt.
Lynn L said…
I keep wondering why there are so many sleeveless dresses. I live in Florida so they are fine outdoors, but once the air conditioning comes on a sweater or jacket is needed. Many dresses do not look good with a topper.
I love the colour the Queen is wearing. Poor Kate though, in those stilettos at 7-8 months pregnant!

The Princes are also wearing navy suits.

Boston Girl, perhaps because my mother's funeral was in the summertime, and in a village, but nobody was really wearing formal business wear, except some of the men in suits or sport jackets. I was wearing a top, skirt and light jacket - perhaps business casual. I remember my father's funeral (when I was 15, a long time ago) being much more formal.

I guess sleeveless dresses are simply cheaper and easier to produce. It is odd, with all the emphasis now on covering up from the sun.
sgillie said…
In the corner of my closet, I have a small capsule I call "Weddings & Funerals." It's a set of black (of course) skirts, trousers, 3 tops and 2 jackets, plus a pair of Manolo Blahnik pumps. The clothes are all the same brand (Exclusively Misook) and can be used year round. These clothes are uber minimalist, so they never go out of style. Whenever I have to go somewhere formal or fancy, I have my look ready to go.

As for Princess Anne's style, I suspect it's a deliberate choice. She has a reputation as a dude magnet, so dressing dowdy keeps the press off her trail. Smart lady! She can rock riding clothes, that's for sure.

A very tall friend, originally in London, was thrilled to find jeans and tops long enough for her when she was busking in Amsterdam and other Dutch cities decades ago. She is at least 6 feet tall, a decade or so younger than I am, and amazingly, so is her mother, who is still growing strong.

I don't always like Dutch or other northern European design (too many bright colours; I prefer Italian colours) but some things are lovely, and all for TALL people.

Duchesse said…
Bostongirl: Funny: I have something I could wear to a funeral, but not to a business formal meeting- at least and feel good in it. I would be equally panicked about a formal wedding.

Frugal: I really hate those watches, on men or women! I wish he'd just get a Timex. The point would still be made.

Lynne L: They are cheaper to manufacture, as lagatta points out, and I suppose can be sold to a broader market: you can cover sleeveless, but you can't take off sleeves. And I agree a sweater or jacket over a sleeveless dress can clutter it.

lagatta: There was very careful coordination for that event! I too was surprised by the heels on the Duchess of Cambridge.

sgillie: Always good to have those, and though I can dress for a funeral, as I have often said, when it is for someone very close to me I cannot wear the clothes again. Have not gone to all that many weddings lately but they have all been full summer so those things would not do. Princess Anne does look good in equestrienne clothes.

lagatta: I do not need tall specialty stores for all clothing, just dresses and skirts. . I want skirts to the knee, not above the knee. (I do not need extra length in the sleeve or torso.) Anyone who needs length "everywhere" will really appreciate the list of shops in the link you shared, thanks!
Anonymous said…
Your link to the Robert Mueller article didn't work for me; I found the article in the New Yorker (not the New York Times) here: https://www.newyorker.com/culture/on-and-off-the-avenue/robert-mueller-style-icon
Duchesse said…
cstokley: Link works now, thanks.

(Some readers may be unable to access because they are already at the free article limit.)

Jan West said…
Elegance and ease, that is what I go for. I wear dresses and cardigans nearly all the time and, once you find your style they make dressing easy. Slip on a dress add cardigan if necessary, flat shoes or boots and you are good to go. All my dresses and cardigans are washable and interchangeable. I have a high hip 8 shaped body and find trousers and most skirts very difficult to wear. I do understand that this might sound a little formal for many but for me it is the easiest, most comfortable and flattering way of dressing. I live in the UK and get clothes from Boden, Marks and Spencer and Bravissimo. Plus pearls, of course

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