By now we’ve all read about Melania Trump’s outfits yesterday during her visit to Texas (my home state). As others have details (here and here), she wore black slacks and a T-shirt with an Army-green bomber jacket … and miles-high black stilettos.
Once the plane landed, she emerged wearing the same or similar pants, a white button-down blouse, white Adidas Stan Smith sneakers, and a white baseball cap adorned with the word “FLOTUS.”
Let’s take them one by one.
I don’t disagree with anything that’s been said about the first outfit. The shoes were ridiculous—tone deaf and optics-unaware.
I’d just add this. It’s been pointed out that she swapped out her usual style of sunnies for aviators. Aviators have a long history that began in the 1930s as protection for pilots. They’ve become associated with the history of military dress.
The Army green jacket
The color of Melania’s jacket also obviously has military overtones. She might have been wearing five-inch heels, but she was heading into a war zone, it seems, and least above her ankles, she was dressed for it. We’ve all seen correspondents in disaster and war zones wearing khaki and Army green vests and jackets, the same color as Melania’s. They are the color of the trenches and look ready to get into the trenches. It seems to me that someone thought Melania would look more prepared to deliver compassion in the Houston’s trenches wearing this type of outfit.
The bomber jacket is having a moment right now; you can find them in every color at every price point this fall. Yet it too has its history as a part of military dress. Also called a flight jacket, it has its origins in World War I, when pilots wore them to keep them warm.
I don’t see anything so terrible or misguided as borrowing from a wartime sartorial vocabulary for an outfit to a disaster zone. It’s the combination of these things with the shoes that are so confusing and misguided. She’s headed into a flood zone, not so unlike a war zone in some ways, and the disconnect with her shoes—designed for pleasure, not work—is huge.
The white shirt + sneakers
Now for the second outfit. The white is startling: white—pure, clean, unsullied. The opposite of the mud and sewage coursing through Houston’s streets-turned-rivers. Others have talked about how her stilettos promise literally and figuratively to keep her above the fray and out of harm’s way. The white does the same—suggests that she can wear these clothes because she’ll be kept clean and away from the unseemliness of Houston’s mud-covered disaster.
The FLOTUS hat
It’s the hat that is the icing on the cake for me.
It’s been written frequently that Melania is a cipher. We don’t hear her speak. She is rarely quoted, and when she is, she’s either using others’ words (Michelle Obama’s; a WH comms officer). She rarely smiles. In short, we know nothing about her.
All we know is that she’s the current First Lady.
Hence the hat: She’s FLOTUS, lest we forget.
What’s so confusing is that it’s weird to wear a hat with a label for a category of one. Typically a hat shows fandom, allegiance to something bigger than oneself (a team, a movement, a candidacy). I might wear a hat saying “Hillary Clinton” refer not to an individual but to an idea, a candidacy. She probably wore a Hillary Clinton hat, too, but even then, her hat wasn’t a label for her, like a name tag. No one was in danger of forgetting who she was. It showed that she too was part of the movement to elect her. (And for a more appropriate analogy, no one would forget who Michelle Obama was. She didn’t need a hat to remind her or us.)
Who is FLOTUS, anyway?
Melania’s hat tells us who she is, lest we (or she? or her husband, the president?) forget. She’s pure image, just another pretty woman. The hat labels her, like an exhibit in a museum, guaranteeing that we not forget who she is, that we remember she’s unique—that there’s only one FLOTUS. But who and what is this FLOTUS, anyway? It wasn’t clear before the trip to Houston, and it’s not true afterward, either.
To my mind, there’s a target customer base of precisely one for the hat. But if you disagree, you can get yours here.