The best chance to see the next FLOTUS style will come at the January inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump, when the eyes of the world will be on his family. Fashion insiders who traced Melania Trump’s evolving wardrobe during the campaign give us hints about what to expect from the new First Lady of the United States on Inauguration Day and the days that follow.
It may be too early to judge whether Mrs. Trump thinks about her clothes in terms of communicating a message to America beyond her desire to look polished and professional in her new role. We do know that the former fashion model chooses clothes that reflect her wealth and access to expensive designer clothes. “If you were to open a fashion magazine, that’s what she looks like,” Kathleen Felix-Hager told The Hollywood Reporter. Felix-Hager is costume designer for the television show Veep.
Before her husband’s bid for the presidency, Mrs. Trump’s style signaled more red carpet than White House in many ways.
She displayed a preference for low necklines such as the V-neck on the gown she wore to the 2001 Oscars. She wore lingerie-inspired styles, strapless mermaid gowns, hip-hugging numbers, fur coats, and looks with lots of sheer lace, shine and shimmer. The silhouette of the dress she wore to make her speech at the Republican National Convention was quite body-hugging, clinging and semi-sheer.
But that’s changing. While she has a style all her own, Melania has taken seriously the role of political spouse on the national stage. During her meeting with First Lady Michelle Obama following the election, Mrs. Trump wore a streamlined sleeveless black sheath, a matching coat and Christian Louboutin shoes. One observer noted that she seemed to be trying to avoid calling attention to herself.
At Donald Trump’s victory speech in New York, she donned a $4,000 one-shouldered, silk jumpsuit by Ralph Lauren. On the campaign trail, Mrs. Trump moved toward conservative yet fashion-forward options. She chose a sleek white silk crepe dress with bell sleeves by London-based designer Roksanda Ilincic and a dusty rose silk blouse by Emilia Wickstead.
The Gucci “pussy bow” shirt she wore to the final debate drew controversy. Her choice came on the heels of the Entertainment Tonight tape that caught her husband bragging in vulgar language. She later explained her selection of the shirt was an unintended coincidence.
Felix-Hager said Mrs. Trump’s brand has been “sort of this very glamorous glamazon really, a little bit over the top with the perfect blowout and perfect makeup. She wears this white, seemingly angelic dress but it’s very body conscious, with sleeves that are maybe a little fashion forward. She has a steely elegance, but it’s also sort of sharp-edged, with the sky high pointy shoes, it has a severity to it.”
Mrs. Trump has shown she prefers clean lines and subtle design embellishments, such as a capelet, a puff or a bishop sleeve, said Scandal costume designer Lyn Paolo.
“She’s telling her own story,” says Felix-Hager. “She’s a privileged, wealthy woman who has access to a lot of things. That’s who she is, and I don’t think it’s wrong for her to be true to her own aesthetic.”
American designers and fashion press now are calling upon her to choose an American brand for her Inauguration Day wardrobe. They say Mrs. Trump’s past choices suggest she may wear a European high-fashion designer at what will probably be her most-watched event so far.
As a private citizen, Mrs. Trump was not required to reflect on the way her choice of dress was interpreted. Her style evolution since the beginning of the campaign suggests fashion observers may be surprised. Again.