Last weekend, as Melania Trump left the White House for a second visit to victims of Hurricane Harvey, she donned a khaki Ralph Lauren Collection shirtdress she’d brought out once before on a trip to Saudi Arabia. This time, she swapped a leather belt for the original fabric one and added a pair of snakeskin Manolo Blahnik stilettos.
Business as usual, save one detail: Earlier that same week, as the first lady of the USA departed for the Gulf Coast, her shoe choice –another pair of Manolo Blahniks – drew Twitter fire for their incongruity with her mission there.
Yes, she switched to jeans and sneakers (Stan Smiths and Chucks, respectively) before touching down both times, but there’s more here than a small band of malcontents angry she didn’t board Air Force One in hip waders. No – together, these two incidents underscore a widespread denial of reality and refusal to change that’s become a hallmark of the Trump administration.
‘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,’ the Washington Post wrote. And it’s that outright rejection of the show – the veneer of realness we assume our celebrities will sometimes put on – that’s so troubling. With Trump’s predecessor and her marigold J.Crew cardigan, we got the sense that she was relatable – she could’ve picked it up at the mall, even if the very next night she stepped out in Jason Wu or Atelier Versace. With Melania Trump’s parade of $51,500 Gucci jackets and $3,000 Céline bags, we’re left thinking that it must be nice to be able afford it, given the long list of designers who’ve refused to dress her.
That is the game of wearing clothes as a famous person, particularly one from the political sphere: to satisfy the American public’s not-outrageous hope that, even if we don’t really expect leaders to raft around scooping up stranded senior citizens, they should at least look like they could. Melania failed spectacularly on that count, but perhaps even more fatally, she failed to deliver in a moment that called for humanity.
The first pair of heels could’ve been written off as poor taste, perhaps barely saved by a social-media-savvy staffer refreshing Twitter in-flight…if you’re optimistic. But the same two-part tragicomedy performed again only a few days later, with more spindly Manolos replaced by another obvious, impersonal dad cap (‘Texas’ for ‘FLOTUS’)? We can only call that willful ignorance. Because to miss out on a slam-dunk chance at redemption like that – when the act of appeasement would be as easy as not changing on a plane – you’d have to have done it on purpose. You’d have to have pretended not to hear the feedback.
But we know that this is a White House that operates in its own self-contained bubble – and that same White House previously pooh-poohed the public’s interest in the Manolo Mishap as ‘sad.’ But that too is an ostrich-buried-in-the-sand move. They know that shoes matter, especially when they’re on the first lady’s feet. They know that this won’t do anything to help her robotic, stilted image, like a video-game avatar that won’t stop buffering. So back to we go again to that old refrain, the one we’ve grown hoarse shouting for eight months now: Pay attention, listen up, and pick up the pace. Because when you’re elected by the people, maybe you ought to think a bit more carefully about dressing for them.