Melania Trump’s inauguration as the First Lady of fashion

Famously scrutinised, what the First Lady wears can not only set trends but be a powerful tool for political messaging

U.S. President Donald J. Trump attended three balls in Washington D.C. as he celebrated his first day as Commander-in-Chief. Video: Reuters


As Donald Trump celebrated his inauguration day, the world’s attention naturally turned to his wife Melania Trump and her sartorial choices. From Michelle Obama to Jackie O, the First Lady of the United States inescapably becomes thrust into the fashion realm. Famously scrutinised, what they wear can not only set trends but be a powerful tool for political messaging.

Melania began her inaugural image strategy with looks that are certainly interspersed with meaning. Rarely speaking herself, she chooses to let her clothes do the talking.

Her polished FLOTUS makeover has seen her ditch anything too blingy or décolletage revealing, and abbreviated hemlines are replaced by demure shift dresses and low-cut necklines swapped for high-necked gowns. Most notably the sleek, long-sleeved gown by New York based designer Reem Acra that Melania wore to the pre-inauguration dinner on Thursday and the elegant black military coat by independent American designer Norisol Ferrari she chose for the laying of the wreaths.

The chosen styles have been in keeping of what we’ve come to expect of Melania: clean lines, monochromatic, body-conscious style and luxury. Sealing her established code of glamour on inauguration day, Melania’s Ralph Lauren powder blue cropped jacket and mock polo-neck dress with matching gloves was sophisticated and modest.

It echoed the outfit Jackie Kennedy wore for her husband’s inauguration in 1961, transmitting a meaningful message of the kind of first lady she will strive to be – stylish, iconic, graceful and with a return to classic style.

As a darling of the fashion industry, Michelle Obama wore outfits that were gallant, daring and irrefutably American while using her platform to put up-and-coming designers in the spotlight. In contrast to Michelle Obama’s inauguration outfit – she chose relatively unknown designer Jason Wu, launching his career – American stalwart Ralph Lauren was the decided designer for Melania.

United by a brand that’s positioned itself as America’s symbolic clothier, Hilary Clinton also chose Ralph Lauren. Clinton relied on her sartorial armour, a pantsuit in cream and white, which singled solidarity and gave a nod to the women’s suffrage movement.

With Melania’s choice of American designers, she is paying tribute to the American fashion industry and it’s craftsmanship. This makes sense in context of her husband’s “Make American Great Again” slogan and his political statement of “Buy American, Hire American”, which he proclaimed during his inauguration speech.

Editor-in-chief of Yahoo style, Joe Zee remarked, “I think it would have been a big mistake for her to appear for the first time at the inaugurations in a non-American designer.”

Live on CNN, fashion critic Derek Blasberg said: “I can’t emphasise the pressure it was for her to do something truly American, fabulous and memorable, I think she did a great job.”

For fashion-watchers, it has been an interesting run-up with many designers splintered on the issue of whether or not they would dress the new first lady. As a former model, appearing on countless covers including Vogue, Harpers Bazaar and Vanity Fair, you would think Melania’s ascension to FLOTUS would have fashion designers clambering to dress her. But it appears her husband’s contentious opinions, rendered her less attractive to many big designer names.

Sophie Theallet was one of the first to come out publicly saying she won’t be dressing Melania in a open letter published to Twitter. In the letter Theallet wrote, “As one who celebrates and strives for diversity, individual freedom, and respect for all lifestyles, I will not participate in dressing or associate myself in any way with the next First Lady. The rhetoric of racism, sexism, and xenophobia unleashed by her husband’s presidential campaign are incompatible with the shared values we live by.” Theallet was soon joined by Marc Jacobs, Derek Lam and Tom Ford.

Not all designers were so hesitant however, making the inauguration a key moment in seeing who was ready to take the plunge in dressing Melania. With much speculation that Chanel creative director Karl Lagerfeld would dress her for the inauguration ball, she collaborated with her long-time friend, the French-born American designer Hervé Pierre.

By working with Pierre, Melania has put her own stamp on FLOTUS dressing, abandoning the Michelle Obama sartorial school of looking to upcoming designers, instead highlighting a veteran of the American fashion industry.

As former creative director at Carolina Herrera and designer at Oscar de la Renta, Pierre has dressed previous first ladies Hilary Clinton, Laura Bush and Michelle Obama.

It was First Daughter Ivanka Trump that brought the glitz, in a dazzling design by Pierre’s former employer Carolina Herrera. In stark contrast, unembellished and understated, Melania’s gown was a move away from her retro-inspired day look to something that was sleek with a bold twist, thanks to the ruffle.

Her decision to wear white follows an incoming-first lady tradition. Michelle Obama, Jackie Kennedy and Nancy Reagan all wore white gowns, a colour which historically symbolises hope, and new beginnings for the country.

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