I was about to defend Melania Trump for her choices in fashion. Previously, we talked about how her luxury label choices were forcing designers to take sides. Stefano Gabbana called out Miley Cyrus in the fray, while Tommy Hilfiger saw nothing amiss in dressing Melania. Others like Sophie Theallet and Tom Ford chose to use their influence to express their political views.
I was about to do it because no one should be shamed for their fashion choices. Last week, the US First Lady was criticized for her choice of high heels while visiting a disaster area was about a choice of appropriateness. It was about the image she presented to the world. The heels and the stylish pants paired with the bomber jacket and shades spoke of Melania’s fashion sense. She’s a model, she knows how to look good. She should not be attacked for that. The issue here is not the shoes. It’s so much more than that.
The role of the first lady, especially one who is married to the President of the Free World, isn’t tasked just to look good. There is a certain power and responsibility that comes with the role. There’s got to be some pretense that she’s relatable to the people, that she’s ready to get right there with them.
The Washington Post summarizes it aptly: “Well, sometimes pretense is everything. It’s the reason for the first lady to go to Texas at all: to symbolize care and concern and camaraderie. To remind people that the government isn’t merely doing its job, that the government is engaged with each and every individual. Washington hears its citizens. That’s what the optics are all about. Sitting around a conference table and talking into a speaker phone are not good optics. A politician has to get on the ground in work boots and a windbreaker. Rolled-up sleeves. Galoshes. Baseball caps.”
Just take a look at the immediate past three first ladies: Michelle Obama, Laura Bush, and, of course, Hillary Clinton. All of them forwarded respective campaigns and advocacies while their husbands held office. All of them also had their own fashion moments. Michelle had shown off her penchant for a designer piece here and there, be it in a Gucci dress or a Self-Portrait piece. But when it came to putting the boots on and the working white shirt, she was game to do it too. She was ready to look like she didn’t only sympathize but also to empathize in a time of need. She also didn’t really drop FLOTUS merch while responding to a hurricane-stricken state.
First ladies have also been viewed as fashion icons. Jackie O was recently reworked by Kim Kardashian for a cover feature, with a shameless line “America’s New First Lady.” It makes one think why the label was freely given to Kim and yet we find it a little off to see a FLOTUS hat on Melania.
If all it took to get the name was to be married to the President and to be a stylish woman, Melania would be a shoo in. But the job description is so much more than that. Melania should read up. Then again, we have President Trump to deal with first. And it looks like he’s hardly briefed with what he needs to do.
Art by Lara Intong