First lady Melania Trump’s approach to sartorially honoring her hosts during her visit to Britain has been about as subtle as Dick Van Dyke’s British accent in “Mary Poppins.” Her fashion choices for the across-the-pond jaunt are making headlines for being literal homages to icons of British culture.
Trump started off the trip by boarding Air Force One in a Gucci shirtdress whose fabric carried an overtly diplomatic message about the importance of our “special relationship” with the Brits: It included images of Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament and even London’s famous double-decker buses.
Trump’s overseas wardrobe, which isn’t so much coded as it is statement-making, fits with her typical on-the-nose strategy for dressing for the world stage. For a 2017 state dinner hosted by Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing, she donned a Gucci dress inspired by the traditional Chinese cheongsam style. And on her solo trip to Africa last year, her outfits included a pants-and-jacket ensemble that made her look, as the New York Times described it, “like a character straight from 'Out of Africa’ crossed with Belloq, the nefarious Frenchman from ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark.’”
Trump, a former fashion model, clearly understands the power of clothing to communicate a message. As our colleague and fashion critic Robin Givhan described it, “The first lady sometimes appears to be dressing for a fashion-shoot version of the event — a kind of heightened reality of an already rather surreal circumstance.”
Another case in point: The patriotically themed ensemble she wore for this week’s arrival in Britain — a blouse from classic British brand Burberry featuring images of military medals and the word “society” paired with a navy suit from quintessentially American designer Michael Kors. (Get it? Brits and Americans are meeting! They get along so well together!)
And of course there would be a Princess Di moment. For lunch at Buckingham Palace with the queen, Trump’s ensemble — a white Dolce & Gabbana skirt suit with a navy collar and belt, topped off with a white hat with a navy band — drew immediate comparisons to similar looks previously worn by two fashion-forward royals, Princess Diana and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex. (Some also likened it to the black and white costume that Audrey Hepburn’s character Eliza Doolittle wore to the Ascot races in “My Fair Lady.”)
And while we’re talking about clothing clues delivered in the most literal way possible, can we discuss the first lady’s penchant for white hats at key diplomatic events? The chapeau she wore this week to meet the queen (designed by her frequent go-to designer, Hervé Pierre) brings to mind a few other memorable headgear moments. Last year, she wore a broad-brimmed Pierre creation to greet French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife, Brigitte, for their state visit. And one of her most controversial looks was the time she donned a pith helmet, considered a relic of colonialism, while on safari in Kenya.
Could it be that Trump is trying to visually signal that she’s one of the good guys? The answer, like so much about the first lady’s wardrobe, seems pretty black and white.