On the Runway: Melania Trump and the Case of the White Pantsuit


It’s possible.

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 sequined 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 cognizant 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.

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 accessorized 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 politicized 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.

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