No Alternative Facts Here: the Media Loves Melania’s Clothing

The Blue Lady’s choices are sure to make a change in fashion

by Katie Moore-Gillon
Staff Fashion Feminist

The 45th Presidential inauguration was an atypical one to say the least: the crowd size, the “alternative-facts” about the crowd size, the worldwide protests to follow, and the fact that the man sworn into office was a reality-TV star. But one long-standing tradition remained: the dizzying fascination surrounding First Lady Melania Trump’s outfit. No inauguration is complete without the headlines regarding who will dress the First Lady, what the color of her dress symbolizes, and how she looks in her dress. In fact, the day of the inauguration every major media outlet had a story on Melania’s baby blue, Ralph Lauren ensemble.

Look, Melania is not proving herself to be a stand-out First Lady, as her sheer lack of participation during the election season was laughable. Her interviews were awkward, she appeared cold and confused, and she seemed to simply regurgitate whatever her husband (or Michelle Obama for that matter) was saying in a false-confident manner. But isn’t it time we move past the whole “aaand here’s the very pretty First Lady with her very pretty dress!” phase? I do not mean we all of a sudden need to congratulate Melania on all she has achieved (as she has frankly achieved very little, if anything) but rather make an effort to stop reducing her to a mere fashion statement.

Think back to one of the most iconic First Ladies, America’s favorite-Jackie Onassis. Did people cherish her so much because she simply stayed on the sidelines looking conventionally stylish and beautiful? She focused her attention on social events, as well as caring for her husband and children (playing the traditional, non-threatening gender role). Her style, on the other hand, enchanted people worldwide, and she was revered as a fashion icon.

Even though Mrs. Kennedy was less involved in political affairs, other First Ladies who made an effort to be more prominent still faced the overwhelming palava regarding their looks. Michelle Obama—a master orator, scholar, and human rights advocate—was subject to intense criticism and praise regarding her outfits. Even though she did not brand herself as “the caretaker” like Kennedy, what she wore hugely influenced the economic success for brands such as J.Crew, Ann Taylor, and even Target. While Michelle was clearly not solely influential through her style, the intense fascination regarding her wardrobe is worth noting…and don’t get me started on Hillary’s pantsuits.

The sensationalism regarding the First Lady’s wardrobe is a tradition so secure and ingrained in our history that it is difficult to imagine American leadership without it. It is a way in which women can have power—determining trends, influencing brands, and showcasing up-and-coming designers. However, there is something to be said about men having power over things like foreign policy, economic regulations, and national healthcare while women have control over…fashion. As we fight against a man who frequently calls into question whether or not men and women deserve to be treated as equals, we ought to address the sexism both within and outside of Trump’s circle.

Continuing to treat First Ladies as fashion statements is indicative of women in leadership positions. “First Lady fashion” is sensationalized to deter us from focusing on what a woman in the White House can actually achieve and instead directs our attention to how “acceptable” they can look. On both sides of the political spectrum, Melania has been subject to criticism based on her looks. Many conservatives eagerly await her outfits, praising her for being “classy,” and perhaps hoping she will emulate Mrs. Kennedy, while people on the left are eager to poke fun at the fact that she lays out all the qualities of a “gold digger.”

After the Women’s March this past week, I felt an overwhelming sense of empowerment as a woman in the collective goal toward striving for equality. I think that all Melania has right now is her wardrobe, and if the press actually focused on her actions rather than her outfits, it could prompt a more vocal and influential First Lady. This is not to say that we should all come together and give Mel a pat on the back that she quite frankly doesn’t deserve at this point in time. However, I do want to encourage individuals to analyze Melania as a human, not a sexist label. That is, to call her out when she repeats ignorant rhetoric rather than harping on her looks or age. Feel free to point out her unusual behavior in interviews, but there’s no need to comment on her outfit. This is not going to be the Holy Grail to gender equality, and I know for many of us there is such a strong inclination to just throw darts on what seems like a damn easy target. But perhaps if people actually encourage her to be more vocal through analyzing her words and actions rather than her clothes (and when I say encourage I DO NOT mean support) then perhaps it will prompt more involvement on her part. Whether or not you even like what she would have to say, it is better than just her standing around as decor.

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