It took the State of the Union to get her in a state of quasi-support.
On Tuesday night (US time) Melania Trump finally appeared in public alongside her husband (or at least in the same very large room, though they apparently arrived separately) for the first time since the public allegations that President Trump had conducted, just weeks after Mrs Trump had given birth to the couple’s son, an affair with porn star Stormy Daniels.
That Mrs Trump did so in a white pantsuit with a glowing white blouse – exactly the kind of outfit that became a symbol of her husband’s rival, Hillary Clinton, during the last election, and has since become widely accepted as sartorial shorthand for both the suffragists and contemporary women’s empowerment – seemed to be about as subtle a slap in the face as could be contained in a garment.
She was playing her part, applauding and smiling with the special invited guests whose stories were mentioned in the President’s speech, but she wasn’t doing it entirely as scripted.
Of course, it’s possible Mrs Trump chose the suit, an ivory Christian Dior style with cropped trousers and curvaceous jacket, to stand out against the sea of black worn by the Democratic Women’s Working Group and its supporters, following the donning of black at the Golden Globes in honor of Time’s Up and #MeToo. (Though many of those same women wore white to her husband’s first address to a joint session of Congress last year.)
It’s possible Mrs Trump did it to show solidarity with the female members of the GOP, who had been urged to wear patriotic red, white and blue, as were the members of the cabinet. Many of the men sported ties that matched the blue ones worn by the President and Speaker Paul Ryan, and the red one on Vice President Mike Pence.
It’s possible she just liked the colour, and what it symbolises about new beginnings (also, of course, purity, but that takes us back to the idea something else might be going on).
It’s possible she had no idea that Maria Grazia Chiuri, the artistic director of Christian Dior, made waves in her first collection with a best-selling T-shirt announcing “we should all be feminists”.
But given that clothes became a symbolic dividing line during this State of the Union like seemingly never before – the members of the Congressional Black Caucus also expressed their point of view through their attire, with some wearing kente cloth and black outfits in reference to, and repudiation of, the president’s denigrating comment about Africa and Haiti this month – it’s hard to believe that the potential (and, indeed, probable) interpretations of her choice escaped the First Lady.
Especially because during her husband’s address last year, Mrs Trump came under fire very quickly for her choice of what was seen as a let-them-eat-cake black sequinned Michael Kors suit, so she must know how much what she wears to this particular event matters. Especially because she has proved, over the last few months, perfectly cognisant of the way dress can be used as an implicit form of messaging, wearing red Dior for her trip to France for Bastille Day, and Dolce & Gabbana to the G-7 in Sicily.
She has proved, over the last few months, perfectly cognisant of the way dress can be used as an implicit form of messaging.
And especially given the almost elated reception that greeted her decision to wear a bright pink pussy bow blouse for an appearance during the campaign after her husband’s previous public sexual shaming, the Access Hollywood tape in which he made vulgar remarks about women.
If she has paid any attention at all to public reaction (or if her team has), she cannot be ignorant of the fact that when she seems to use clothing as a subversive tool to suggest what she presumably cannot say, it provokes a groundswell of support.
Though it was unclear at the time whether Mrs Trump really understood the implications of that blouse choice, wearing a white suit to the State of the Union indicates that, indeed, she did.
That when it comes to what she wears and what she means by it, she chooses her moments.
Sometimes, such as at the Easter egg roll, it’s just about a pretty dress. But other times, as this time, her fashion is accessorised with a pointed subtext.
At the very least, it’s dangled as a tease to those who would like to think it could mean more.
But taken together with the wardrobe choices of the Democrats and the Republicans, the First Lady’s white suit was the final piece of what appeared to be an unprecedentedly politicised use of dress during a State of the Union.
Indeed, Ivanka Trump, in understated plaid Oscar de la Renta, was one of the rare people in the room who didn’t seem to be using her clothes to communicate anything other than taking a back seat.
The audience was theoretically supposed to be silent — the President was talking — but their clothes spoke for them. And they did it at a time when millions of viewers across the country were watching, and could read the message in the material. Why wait for the official rebuttals? They can start white now.
– The New York Times