On Wednesday, Melania Trump gave arguably the biggest speech in her role as First Lady thus far. During a luncheon held at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations, she took the podium to condemn bullying (which, given her husband’s Twitter fingers, will never not be ironic). But it wasn’t just the content of her speech that had people talking — it was her hot pink, bell-sleeved Delpozo dress.
It’s no secret every time Melania Trump steps out in public, people pay close attention to what she’s wearing; throughout history, First Lady fashion has been both celebrated and scrutinized, regardless of political affiliation (Michelle Obama, for example, was lauded for championing American designers, but called out for wearing $540 Lanvin sneakers to a food bank). But this specific instance felt different — especially when reflecting on what happened with her stilettos last month.
During Hurricane Harvey, the Trumps took Air Force One to Texas to survey the damage the storm had created. Melania infamously stepped out in a pair of sky-high Manolo Blahnik heels, and it caused a tweetstorm. I, too, was pretty appalled by her stilettos — they oozed of elitism, the same elitism both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton would get reamed for in the press. As a result, I sent out a couple of tweets and forgot about them — until my father called me later that evening.
“What did you do? You were on Tucker Carlson tonight,” he said. Apparently, Carlson had read my tweet on his show and accused me of judging Melania and called me a bad feminist. Oh, and his guest called me a “harpy,” which was amusing, considering they were discussing how wrong it was to “attack” women.
But I actually agree with Carlson. It is wrong to attack women, which is why there are decidedly less tweets about Melania’s dress today. There is a world of difference between judging a woman for her clothing and being critical of the optics of a public official’s outfit choice: Saying her heels were inappropriate given the circumstances is being critical. Calling her pink dress ugly is just being mean.
The idea that Melania is off-limits because she’s a woman, and that we shouldn’t think critically about what she wears, is just silly. She is the First Lady, and before her comments at the UN on Wednesday, the country hasn’t heard a whole lot from her. As Robin Givhan wrote in her Washington Post oped, “every time [Melania] comes into public view…the image becomes a silent expression of intent and self-awareness.” And Melania is more than aware of the importance of optics.
As someone who’s had a career in fashion, Melania knows the types of messages certain outfits can send. Her blue Ralph Lauren dress on Inauguration Day was a nod to Jackie O, and it’s not a coincidence she chose to be dressed by an American designer that day. Ditto with her choice to wear a red Dior suit while visiting Paris in July, and to wear a veil to the Vatican. But on the day she headed down to Houston, Melania didn’t even consider she might be wading through water — and that was reflected in her shoe of choice.
So yes — judging Melania based on her pink Delpozo dress is mean and uncalled for. But don’t tell me that I can’t point out when our First Lady is doing a bad job of representing our country because of what she’s wearing. In the same way we criticize President Trump for what he says, we should be allowed criticize Melania based on what she wears — because that’s the closest we get to hearing from her regularly. And that isn’t bullying — it’s keeping accountability.
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