IF PREVIOUS US presidential campaigns have taught us anything, it’s that it’s not just the candidates who are forced onto the world stage; their spouses too must take a place in the spotlight and look the part of a future First Lady.
This year’s election gave us America’s first female candidate, and while I wish I were writing today about the style of the future First Gentleman — Where does Bill get his suits? Does he buy bespoke or off the rack? — I must instead turn my gaze toward the inscrutable, steely countenance of Melania Trump.
Having a former model in the White House must seem like a boon to America’s fashion industry, but though she’s as self-assured with her fashion choices as Michelle Obama, it remains to be seen whether the fashion world will embrace Melania with the same affection her predecessor enjoyed.
As the trophy wife of a billionaire, Melania knows how to dress to impress, but her sharp U-turn away from more overtly sexy choice shows she understands Trump’s demographic. Always a fan of form-fitting sheath dresses and jumpsuits, the ostentatious furs and revealing cuts she once favoured have been edged out for a softer, more elegant look, with muted tones and bouncy blowdrys softening her dramatic features.
Playing to a Christian fan base who expect her to look chaste and conservative even as her husband fends off countless accusations of sexual assault, she has dressed perfectly for the part, but her robotic demeanour and blowback from her plagiarised speech at the Republican National Congress left a campaign void to be filled — ideally by someone a little less “Stepford”.
Trump’s real secret weapon, his daughter Ivanka, was more than happy to lean in, and between them, Melania and Ivanka have become the acceptable face of the Trump campaign — poised and polished, they have mirrored each other in conservative, structured styles and soft tones; strong but unthreatening.
But while Ivanka has opted to wear her own, affordable clothing line, Melania favours high-end designers with eye-watering price points — a disconnect from the core Trump voter which belies her evident understanding of the symbolism of clothes.
In a cheeky nod to the notorious “grab her by the pussy” tapes, Melania wore a Gucci pussy-bow blouse (she denies it was intentional), and her outfit for Trump’s victory speech — a $4,000 (€3,600) Ralph Lauren jumpsuit — was an edgier take on Hillary’s signature white pant suit, by Hillary’s designer of choice.
The message it sent was clear: Mock Melania if you must, but underestimate her at your peril.