The left spent eight years gushing about Michelle Obama as a First Lady style icon second only to – if anyone – Jackie O. Embraced enthusiastically by the fashion world, Michelle appeared on magazine covers from InStyle to Glamour to Vogue (multiple times). At the end of Barack’s Oval Office tenure, HuffPost even posted a farewell piece to Michelle titled, “Michelle Obama Breaks Hearts With Final Vogue Cover As First Lady.” “Looking ethereal in a white Carolina Herrera gown, she is, as usual, the epitome of elegance and grace,” HuffPost fawned breathlessly.
Last year, with Michelle on her way out, the heartbroken left, looking forward to Hillary Clinton as President, began to wax enthusiastic about Hillary’s “presidential” pantsuits. Had she won the election, there is no question that fashion critics would then have spent the next four years wracking their brains finding ways to praise Hillary’s boxy, Mao-inspired, solid-print tents. But Donald Trump burst that bubble, and the traumatized left watched as he and his wife, the stunning former model Melania, moved into the White House instead.
Literally overnight, the Trump-hating left decided fashion needed to be politicized and weaponized against the new First Lady. Designer Sophie Theallet, who had dressed Michelle for eight years, made a very public announcement of her refusal to work for Melania. Other virtue-signaling designers who are not exactly household names quickly followed suit, if you’ll pardon the pun.
As impossible as it might seem to find something to criticize about Melania’s simultaneously classy and sexy style, the media were determined to turn positives into negatives. “The former model’s daytime fashion choices often show a businesslike polish,” the Washington Post inexplicably complained. This is a bad thing? At least with Melania we know we’ll never be subjected to the kinds of unpolished clothing choices Michelle Obama sometimes made, which the fashion media never thought to criticize. “She knows fashion. She knows her angles,” WaPo wrote about the photogenic Melania. For the first time in the history of fashion writing, that wasn’t intended as a compliment.
When Mrs. Trump accompanied her husband to the scene of hurricane devastation in Texas recently, the pearl-clutching media gasped collectively in misplaced outrage because she boarded Air Force One in stiletto heels. “Those shoes. Those shoes. Good Lord, those shoes,” gawked WaPo jealously. “She defies gravity in them. She floats above it all.” The media collectively condemned her thusly: “Melania Trump is the kind of woman who travels to a flood-ravaged state in a pair of black snakeskin stilettos.” The heels “suggested that Trump is the kind of woman who refuses to pretend that her feet will, at any point, ever be immersed in cold, muddy, bacteria-infested Texas water.” It didn’t matter to them that, before disembarking, she changed out of those shoes into white sneakers, because the media took umbrage at that footwear choice as well – because white sneakers are racist, I’m guessing.
The media’s obsessive focus on the optics of Melania’s shoes while Houston drowned prompted such blowback that the Washington Post felt compelled to explain “Here’s Why it’s Not Sexist to Criticize Melania Trump for Running to a Disaster Zone in Heels.” This is what that headline is really saying: “Here’s Why it’s OK for the Left to Denigrate Conservative Women and Still Pretend to Champion Feminism.”
In ‘There Was No Pretense About Melania Trump’s Heels, But Sometimes a Little Pretense Helps,” the self-important Washington Post dismissed President and First Lady Trump’s visit to Texas as nothing but obligatory optics, and then proceeded to slam them for not getting the optics right. “[S]ometimes pretense is everything,” WaPo wrote – something the leftist media would never have stated about Barack and Michelle Obama. The paper criticized Melania for “offer[ing] up a fashion moment instead of an expression of empathy.” Cultural scholar Rhonda Garelick critiqued Melania as well for “labeling” herself with a “FLOTUS” cap.
Professor Garelick has written twice now about Melania for New York Magazine’s The Cut blog. First, in “Why it Matters That Melania Wore Dior in Paris Last Week,” Garelick spun an entire anti-feminist narrative out of a Christian Dior design Melania wore on the Trumps’ Bastille Day visit to Paris:
[T]he Dior style telegraphs a very particular, 1950s vision of womanhood (as did the First Lady’s bouffant updo), which resonates with the state of American politics today…
Dior’s designs were saturated with a yearning for a mythic past when aristocratic women molded their bodies into exaggerated, ornamental, nearly immobilizing shapes — a past sanitized of less pretty realities (like the starving peasants, for example)... Such royalist nostalgia can live comfortably in a Paris fashion museum; in the United States, however, it lives in the White House.
The Trump family and administration seem to embrace the rigid gender distinctions of the 1950s (or the French aristocracy), evoking a nearly prerevolutionary world of gilded palaces, fawning nobles (or cabinet secretaries), and governance through family dynasty. Even Ivanka, sitting in for her father at the Hamburg G20, wore an oddly girlish, baby-pink dress with giant bows on swinging sleeves... (That dress sparked some debate over whether Ivanka’s purported feminism was consistent with pink bows…)
The fact that Ivanka’s pink bows “sparked some debate” about feminism gives you some idea of the fragile, inconsequential, and yes, misogynistic state of feminism today. In any case, Garelick went on to undermine her own argument by conceding that Melania also wore the creations of other French designers during the visit; in other words, Garelick simply zeroed in on the one dress she could use to suggest that Melania is the new Marie Antoinette, and ignored the others.
In Garelick’s more recent piece, “Melania Trump and the Chilling Artifice of Fashion,” the professor viewed Melania’s high heels as a reflection of the entire Trump presidency. “The problem is not that Melania Trump wore an unsuitable, blithely out-of-touch outfit, although she did. The problem is that this administration turns every event — no matter how dire — into a kind of anesthetized luxury fashion shoot, which leads us to some disturbing political truths.”
The “profound truth” Garelick sees is that the Trump administration “is as dissociative as a fashion advertisement, brought to power by manipulating and rechanneling the electorate’s desires for wealth and possessions.” That is pompous nonsense; Donald Trump was not voted into office because the peasant electorate was somehow enchanted by his wealth. Equally nonsensical are her assertion that the Trump administration turns every event into an advertisement, and her insulting claim that the “Trump women evince a dazed blankness and anonymity that in turn cast doubt on the reality of everything around them.” If anything is dissociated from reality, it is that kind of academic gibberish.
For most women, fashion is shallow fun and nothing more. But for the media, now that a despised Republican is in the White House, virtually everything the First Lady wears will be an occasion for either a bitchy personal attack or an excuse to pontificate about the evils of the administration. FLOTUS, however, will float above it all in her stilettos, untouched by their pettiness, maintaining a dignified beauty. Because that’s Melania’s style.