lady Melania Trump on October 2, 2018, at the
Child Welfare Clinic in Accra, Ghana.
becoming first lady, Melania Trump’s style selections
have been questioned on several occasions, most recently
after she wore a white pith helmet in Kenya — viewed
by some as a symbol of colonialism.
criticism for style choices include a Zara jacket that
read, “I really don’t care, do u,” worn in June
while visiting immigrant children at the border of
Mexico, and stilettos while boarding a plane last year
before visiting Hurricane Harvey victims. (When she
arrived, she disembarked wearing sneakers.)
the stir about the “I really don’t care” jacket,
the first lady’s spokeswoman, Stephanie Grisham, said,
“It’s a jacket. There was no hidden message. After
her important visit to Texas, I hope the media isn’t
going to choose to focus on her wardrobe.”
after criticism over the pith helmet, Trump aimed to
minimize fashion and instead focus on her trip, saying,
“I wish people would focus on what I do, not what I
wear.” She said her message for the continent was
“that we care and we want to show the world we
ladies have long been under scrutiny for various
reasons. But why does it matter what they wear? Why do
people analyze a choice to grab one item from a closet
instead of another?
to Abigail Glaum-Lathbury, an assistant professor at the
School of the Art Institute of Chicago’s Department of
Fashion Design, about what clothes symbolize and whether
Trump can escape scrutiny.
interview has been edited for space and clarity.
do you think about Melania Trump’s choosing to wear a
pith helmet on her recent trip to Kenya?
think that she can’t have her cake and eat it too.
There is a context to clothing. There are items of
clothing and accessories that invoke a sense of history.
I’m not really sure why people aren’t doing their
homework a little bit better. I think what clothes
signify for people in power is extremely important, and
I don’t think we should give anybody a pass.
it shows in a similar way with her jacket, “I really
don’t care.” It speaks to me of a cavalier attitude
to her position of power.
about those who believe her intentions were not
disingenuous — it’s just a hat, or jacket?
think that fails to recognize the difference in reach
and also position. She represents the United States of
America. And so there seems to be a dramatic difference
in position versus if I just grab a hat from my closet.
I’m not the first lady, and I do not represent the
doesn’t really matter what she feels at the end of the
day. What matters is the actions that she’s taking,
and there’s a very dramatic disparity between the
things that she’s saying she’s doing and the
ladies have long been under scrutiny about what they
wear. How do you feel about her comment that she should
be looked at for things other than her style choices?
ladies have historically been scrutinized. It is
definitely not a new thing.
comment, I should be looked at for the things that I do
versus what I wear, that’s true. Yes, sure. But I
would also say that your clothes express something.
it’s inherent in the position that she as a public
figure will need to take these things into
impact does timing have? If she’d worn this hat on a
different day, that jacket on a different outing, would
it make a difference?
comes back to the point of history and context. If
you’re wearing a wedding dress on the subway,
there’s an incongruity there because of the context.
Again, she is in a position of power. These are specific
public events that she is going to that are relevant for
current events, and so to pretend that they’re not
seems like wishful thinking, to wish a lesser
significance on something than it actually has.
Q: Do you
think she can ever escape this scrutiny?
Not really. They’re public figures, and until
there’s a standard uniform for women like there is for
men, no. That’s not a Republican or a Democrat or a
socialist or a communist thing, that’s just women
being scrutinized for what they wear, which is not new.
we care this much or be having this conversation if she
were a male politician?
The answer is no. There’s not much more to it. We have
historically evaluated women on their appearance and
dress, and this is not an exception.
advice for the advisers who might be helping her choose
rather than reject the criticism out of hand. Maybe give
it a minute, and think about it. I guess my advice is
stop pretending that the choices don’t matter when