In this op-ed, Teen Vogue Fashion News Editor Alyssa Hardy explains why Melania Trump's clothing is political.
On June 21, First Lady Melania Trump was seen at Andrews Air Force Base, in Maryland, on her way to visit detained immigrant children. She wore a Zara jacket that had “I Really Don't Care, Do U?" written on the back, causing an instant social media firestorm over her tone-deaf outfit choice.
Melania Trump must know that her fashion choices can cause a stir. In 2016, when she wore a "pussy bow" blouse to the presidential debate, just weeks after her husband was caught on tape bragging about how he could grab women "by the p*ssy," it put the media in a tailspin of conspiracy theories. And while we never really found out why she wore it, the sartorial choice was the top headline for days.
What a First Lady wears matters, whether she is trying to make a statement or not: It is always considered a calculated decision. After Donald Trump won the election, several top designers, including Marc Jacobs and Sophie Theallet, announced they would never dress her as First Lady. They obviously know how it works: Fashion is political, and their clothing in her photo ops could translate as being tacit support of Trump administration policies.
Melania has either not internalized this reality or, as her jacket says, she truly does not care, because she’s had one optics disaster after another. She wore stilettos on the way to visit Hurricane Harvey victims who had been displaced from their homes because of flooding. She then wore a $3,000 Valentino jacket to go visit a middle school, a choice that many felt was distracting to the important anti-bullying cause she was there to “promote” with the students. And she seems to mostly wear European designers, which is a strange decision considering her husband's tagline is literally “Make America Great Again.” One would think, at the very least, that she’d want to spotlight American designers.
Considering just how much people care about the issue of family separations and the hardships Trump’s zero-tolerance policy is causing, her decision to wear this particular coat feels especially out of touch.
And while her spokesperson Stephanie Grisham said there was no "hidden meaning" in the "I Really Don't Care, Do U?" message that Melania wore on her way to visit the children, she didn't give the First Lady enough credit. Melania put on a jacket knowing she would have her photo taken during one of the United States's darkest moments.
Melania's team doubled down, saying they hoped that "the media isn't going to choose to focus on her wardrobe." Rather than take accountability for this insensitive fashion choice, they tried to turn on her critics. As writer Liz Plank explained so succinctly in a tweet, Melania's decision to wear a cohesive and relevant message, written in large print on her back, and then to pretend that we shouldn't care about what it says is purposeful. She wrote, "This is 100% bait. This is an effective strategy to get the media to criticize her wardrobe so that they can criticize the media for criticizing her wardrobe and delegitimize us as fake news."
The public outcry around the practice of separating children from their parents at the border is about compassion and yes, caring. So, to claim that she just didn't think about it, or that she didn't mean anything by a literally spelled-out message that she apparently doesn't "really" care, defies the purpose of her trip: to show that she cares about the children being detained at the border.
After the initial criticism, Donald Trump weighed in to contradict Melania's team completely, saying that there was, in fact, a "meaning" behind her jacket. And — you guessed it —in his opinion, she was referring to the "Fake News Media." Either way, it's a strange time to choose to send a message to the media when you are supposed to be on your way to see children who have been taken from their parents.
In the 500-plus days that Melania has been the First Lady of the United States, she has remained relatively silent on political issues, adding shallow commentary here and there when criticism reaches a fever pitch. Her crafted responses, when they even happen, barely brush the surface of being meaningful and instead simply mirror Donald Trump's ideas in a softer way. For instance, in a rare statement, made through a spokesperson, regarding the current immigration crisis, she claimed that she "hates to see children separated from their families," but she qualified that by mentioning that "we need to be a country that follows all laws."
The way she communicates directly with the public is through her appearances, and with that, through her clothing. So, yes, Melania Trump knew exactly what she put over her shoulders as she walked onto that plane, knowing a photographer would be there. And the message on her jacket is loud and clear: She doesn’t care.
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