What First Lady Fashions Really Means
Melania Trump famously wore a jacket with the slogan “I don’t Care, Do You?” that caused a fashion black-out. Melania’s RNC Speech certainly began the conversation this week. What would she wear? What would she say? What was her topic? Who was writing the speech?
Melania’s stood at the podium tonight dressed in a military style jacket, again. Was this yet another “I don’t care, do you?” moment? From a fashion standpoint Melania (a former model) can “dress the part” but her performance as a First Lady has been largely unseen. But when she appears, it’s always controversial.
Let’s look at what a First Lady can do for an outfit or a designer.
It is universally acknowledged in the fashion world that former first lady MICHELLE OBAMA has earned her place. Her speech for the DNC was heard around the world. The intimate character of the speech was highlighted by the silk satin blouse that caught the light and shadows of her words while the VOTE necklace carried a message too. Michelle Obama has re-energized the role of First Lady for the future. First ladies of both Bush administrations were well loved by everyone and while Hillary didn’t always have fans, the “glass ceiling” would never be the same without her.
Let’s break it down and leave Politics behind for a moment.
Melania’s speech and her outfit tonight was her attempt at redressing all the critiques about her. From a fashion and cultural point of view there were several elements that were both disturbing and misplaced. Her militaristic style reminds me of the field jackets worn by FIDEL CASTRO. Russian military uniforms were also khaki green color and cut with double breasted pockets and flaps, heavy shoulders and belted at the waist. Melania wore what appeared to be an outfit based on the former Communist Party regime. To be fair, this “Safari” look was also adapted by Yves Saint Laurent in the 1970s and also inspired by military uniforms of soldiers in Africa. I imagine this is the actual touchstone for Melania. I imagine there is a ‘fashion’ reference guiding her (www.museeyslparis.com) that may have informed her choice. What she is wearing is an Alexander McQueen jacket that is an extreme choice for the event. I’ll explain why.
Fashion is informed by History: Soft Power of the First Lady
There is much more here that just a fashion statement. For someone who grew up in the former soviet bloc country of Slovenia (formerly part of Yugoslavia) and under communist rule, her outfit was both puzzling and oddly ill chosen for a speech at the White House Rose Garden. It speaks volumes when your outfit has roots in a past history of ‘authoritarian governments’. I often wonder who checks her wardrobe before she steps outside the White House and into the light? The same question keeps coming up for me: Does anyone in the Office of the First Lady read history? Do they do any research before her speeches and public presentations? Do they actually understand what they are doing?
MILITARY JACKET. LIGHTING. FLAGS. MICROPHONE. SPEECH.
These are the trappings of political theater from a Standard Playbook.
Remember EVITA? EVA PERON was the wife of JUAN PERON the infamous dictator. She always wore Couture Fashion when speaking to the people who adored her. Eva Peron was very clear on her image; she wanted to be both feminine and powerful. It worked very well for her. Melania’s outfit put in context with recent modern political fashion would be unthinkable (even for the wife of a dictator). Kamala Harris has styled the modern women’s suit with feminine accessories that have personal meaning to her. Suits are not by themselves negative. But when they resemble military outfits in style and color there is a hidden message.
How Politics and Image work Together
The First Lady and Popular Culture are lightning rods for what the society is about and the moment. Melania’s appearance in the ROSE GARDEN was calculated as a direct link to Jackie Kennedy. She had been very careful to formulate a link to image of Jackie Kennedy with some success most notably on Inauguration Day in 2016. Melania attempts in her own way to live up to the many first ladies before her. With the careful curation of Jackie Kennedy things were looking up. She had Mystery. Elegance. Model Looks. A Rose Garden. It was a winning combination.
What went wrong?
Her appearance tonight in one of the nation’s most hallowed locations was both a miscalculation and a disaster. Her message were drowned out by the imagery of her ‘designer battle attire’. Her renovation of the Rose Garden was like taking a bulldozer to the Lincoln Memorial. By cutting down the historic ‘Crab Apple Trees’ planted by Jackie Kennedy in honor of President Kennedy, she re-wrote herself into the ‘assault on history’ books that will long be remembered. Many will say that her message was both positive and empathetic. That may be so, but her “militaristic” attire drowned out any possibility of this message being carried by the doves of peace.
They have already gone in search of the missing ‘Crab Apple’ Trees.
Fashion Editor Pikke Allen has been quoted and written commentary on style and politics for the ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER, THE LOS ANGELES TIMES, AP WIRE and PEOPLE Magazine. Her background as a Stylist and Costume Supervisor in Hollywood was the prequel to her career as a fashion blogger covering Paris and New York Fashion week. A degree in Drama from UC Berkeley and MFA in Theater Design from Carnegie Mellon gives her perspective on politics and performance. The rest, is history.