Can you believe it was just a few months ago that Melania Trump wore a field jacket with “I Really Don’t Care Do U?” painted across the back to tour detention facilities where children separated from their families were being held along the Mexican border? While many interpreted the Zara jacket’s message as a middle finger to the very parents and children her husband’s immigration policies were directly harming, the president himself swiftly tweeted that the message “refers to the Fake News Media,” he wrote. “Melania has learned how dishonest they are, and she truly no longer cares!” Meanwhile, Melania’s spokesperson Stephanie Grisham said, “There was no hidden message.”
It turns out, maybe neither of those things was true? But also maybe they were both true? According to a new story in The New York Times, an anonymous source said the jacket “was actually directed at anyone—both outside and inside the White House—who wanted to criticize her decision to visit the children in light of the administration’s aggressive immigration policies.” So, yes, directed at The Media writ large. Also at everyone else, including, it would seem, her husband (as part of the “anyone…inside the White House” the Times source referenced).
Confoundingly, Omarosa Manigault actually sort of drew the same conclusion in her recently released book, Unhinged. “I believe Melania uses style to punish her husband,” she writes. “It’s my opinion that Melania was forced to go to the border to mop up her husband’s mess. She wore that jacket to hurt Trump, setting off a controversy that he would have to fix, prolonging the conversation about the administration’s insensitivity, ruining the trip itself, and trying to make sure that no one asked her to do something like that again.”
The daily psychodramas of the Trump White House cycle past so quickly, it’s tough to focus on just one—and yet it perhaps speaks to the peculiar power of messaging through fashion, especially on the former-model first lady. Though Melania has most often been responsible—think also of the pussy-bow Gucci blouse, her off-the-rack designer ensembles (or, when that fails, her co-designed designs), or the stilettos she wore on a visit to Texas in the wake of Hurricane Harvey—she’s not the only one. Kellyanne Conway, for example, wore a red, white, and blue Gucci coat and hat to the Trump inauguration, describing it as “Trump revolutionary wear.” (The revolution of the one percent?)
In a White House where the first lady and president keep close tabs on how they’re spoken of in the press, the idea of messaging seems to be confused with the actual message, though. As Omarosa wrote of Melania, “The messages behind her style choices aren’t always clear, but they are never accidental.”