Anyone who says personal style isn’t political is fooling themselves—and anyone who’s ever been discriminated against because of their chosen hairstyle or non-gender-conforming style of dress knows this. From “message tees” to choosing to wear our natural hair to work (or on the red carpet), our appearance is our statement to the world of who we are and what we hope to represent.
No one is more aware of this fact than those who have spent time in the public eye, as Melania Trump has, long before her husband entered the White House, and certainly well before she eschewed her usual designer wardrobe and donned a $39 jacket that read, “I Really Don’t Care, Do U?” to board a plane to visit terrified children detained on the U.S. southern border (to whom she purportedly said, “Good luck”).
Perhaps this is why—aside from the fact that well after the (likely expected) uproar, Trump was still wearing the jacket when she emerged into 81-degree heat in Maryland on Thursday afternoon—it was perceived as a direct message, rather than, as her spokesperson attempted to explain it, “just a jacket.”
But even the bag of hair that she married—who reportedly didn’t want her to make the trip—knew better, tweeting (of course):
“I REALLY DON’T CARE, DO U?” written on the back of Melania’s jacket, refers to the Fake News Media. Melania has learned how dishonest they are, and she truly no longer cares!
Sure, Donald. But at least we’re all being honest about the fact that Melania Trump wanted to send a message. After all, this isn’t the first time she’s made a literal fashion statement. Remember her first public appearance after a recording of her husband bragging about “grabbing women by the pussy” surfaced in 2016? She wore a bright pink silk “pussy bow” blouse to his next debate.
At the time, Melania’s spokesperson said that the choice was “unintentional,” and while media outlets were dubious, they were, for the most part, willing to give Melania the benefit of the doubt. Or more likely, they didn’t think her capable of that much intelligence.
But we’re not so sure. After all, in recent years, fashion has become as meaningful a tool for the right—and the “alt-right”—as for the rest of us. We can’t take credit for the term, but “fash-lighting”—or “fashion gaslighting”—has been largely responsible for making far-right rhetoric literally more attractive to the masses, as it effectively dresses up wolves in sheep’s clothing.
Take Tomi Lahren, who wraps her racism in Barbie-like sex appeal, no doubt stoking the libidos of basement dwellers everywhere. Or Ivanka Trump, who evolved from miniskirted New York City socialite to perfectly coiffed mother, wife and mogul, representing the ultimate aspirational prototype for conservative white women. And then there’s white nationalist leader Richard Spencer, who has dressed up neo-Nazi philosophies in bespoke three-piece suits and GQ-worthy polish, lending his rampant racism an air of respectability.
In fact, when Spencer’s followers descended on the University of Virginia campus in Charlottesville, Va., looking like rabid dads escaped from a backyard barbecue with their pressed khakis, polos and tiki torches, it was an effort to replace the menacing specter of the white hoods and robes of the Ku Klux Klan (or, more recently, punk-inspired skinhead attire) with an innocuous “all-American” image, as author Susan Campbell Bartoletti explained to GQ:
They want to show that they are standing for what they believe is the true American ... They want you to believe that they’re the same people we go to church with on Sundays.
So why should former model-turned-first lady Melania Trump’s carefully curated wardrobe be perceived any differently? From her Manolo Blahnik “hurricane heels” to the message on the back of her Zara jacket, she has repeatedly reminded us that she is above it all, that despite her descent from her gold-gilded palace over New York City’s Fifth Avenue to the relative squalor of “the People’s House,” the regular rules of first ladyhood—specifically, the pretense of caring—need not apply to her.
As Maya Angelou famously said, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” Melania Trump may not be dressing herself up to be something she’s not, but she is dressing for the job she’d like to have.
It’s just clear that job isn’t first lady.