What to Make of Melania Trump's State of the Union Attire

What to Make of Melania Trump's State of the Union Attire

For anyone who might argue that clothes are nothing but mere adornment, I offer Melania Trump in a white pantsuit at last night's State of the Union Address. I mean...

From left, Hilary Clinton accepting the Democratic nomination for President, at the third presidential debate, and at Donald Trump's inauguration. Images: Paul Morigi/GettyJustin Sullivan/Getty, Saul Loeb/Getty.

 

A. White. Pantsuit.

We very clearly need to discuss this.

First, context. Melania Trump is a perplexing figure at a perplexing moment in time. We almost had a female president, we've had two women's marches, an upending of Hollywood (by women), and the reverberations of that across other industries and throughout society with #metoo. This is a moment in which women are speaking up, and everyone is listening. At the same time, the President of this country, through his words and actions, and through the system that he is a proud part of, has come to represent to many, myself included, the worst facets of the time in which we live: division, repression, exclusion, disrespect, us versus them, me versus you. And on the topic of women, he hasn't done much better, either. 

In this picture, our society has struggled with how to treat Melania Trump. Is she a woman whose point of view deserves the same respect we've shown others? Is she a woman who endorses this unfit President and his damaging administration? Or not? Is she something else altogether? 

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Image: Mark Wilson/Getty

 

We don't know. She says very little, so we are left to try to piece together our understanding of her worldview from what she does and doesn't do. And most frequently, what she does is show up somewhere dressed in something that, although she's not saying anything, is speaking on her behalf. 

Enter white pantsuit, a garment immortalized by Hilary Clinton and a color associated in American politics with the suffragette movement.

 
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Hilary Clinton, self-described pantsuit aficionado

American suffragettes wearing white in the early 1900s. From left, image: Library of Congress and Heritage/Getty. 

 

As I see it, there are no feminist undertones here, only sharp overtones. A white pantsuit, especially when worn by a woman in a position of political influence, represents feminism. It is feminist. It's an object with its own story at this point. We had the pink pussy bow blouse, and now we have this, and I'm more likely to think today than I did months ago that Melania Trump is using her clothes to say something. And because I believe all women deserve their own voice, I'm listening. 

 

Feature image: Jack Gruber/USA Today. 

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