For her tour, Mrs. Trump wears all white: a dress with a simple jewel neckline, white stiletto-heeled pumps and a white coat. The coat is draped over her shoulders as she strolls through the White House.
The coat looks ridiculous.
But more than a silly fashion folly, the coat is a distraction. It’s a discomforting affectation taken to a ludicrous extreme. In a video that is intended to celebrate the warmth and welcoming spirit of the holiday season, that simple flourish exudes cold, dismissive aloofness.
As Trump gazes pleasantly at all that her staff and a host of volunteers have accomplished, her attire suggests that she’s casually passing through and has little affinity for the occasion. She’s not getting comfortable, so why should you?
She has styled herself in a manner that contradicts what her staff has so often insisted — that she is an engaged hostess who sweats the details and frets about her guests’ comfort. Instead, she looks like the sort of host who greets her guests at the front door, tells them to remove their shoes and warns them not to sit on the Lalanne sheep.
The coat tossed over the shoulders is a generic styling maneuver. It’s often used in editorial photographs so that a model can show off the entirety of an ensemble, including what’s underneath the coat, because all of it has been thoughtfully coordinated. But even the most devoted fashion stylist realizes that at a certain point, when aesthetics start to overwhelm logic, when a flourish becomes a cliche, it’s time to retire it. For Trump, the cliche seems to be a crutch — a way of not having to be fully present.
The first lady doesn’t speak in the 2019 video. To a soundtrack of jingling bells and sprightly piano tinkling, Mrs. Trump glides silently through the White House summoning our attention with her gestures. She’s seen mostly at an angle and from a distance, and there’s never a moment when she looks at the viewer straight on. There’s not an intimate moment. She is all body language and aesthetics.
Except for her footwear, Trump appears to be wearing the same ensemble she had on when she, the president and their son, Barron, arrived at Joint Base Andrews on Sunday evening after their Thanksgiving trip to Mar-a-Lago. Over the weekend, she had tweeted that volunteers were “hard at work” decorating the “People’s House” and that she looked forward to viewing their handiwork when she returned to Washington. And when she did get a peek at it — one that was for public consumption — she had the look of someone who had swooped in on the way from here to there.
Trump is alone in her video walkabout except for a single scene when she examines the traditional gingerbread house and one can see two figures in chef’s toques standing in the background. She is the mistress of the house inspecting the work of others.
The coat-over-the-shoulders is a repeat from the 2018 video in which Trump viewed the White House decorations while wearing a dark overcoat that she alternately wore buttoned up with her hands slipped into a pair of red leather gloves, and tossed over her shoulders with the gloves clutched in her bare hands. To be clear, Trump was not viewing the decorations outside the White House. She was wrapped in the warm embrace of modern heating as she walked 2018′s gantlet of red trees. In the 2017 video, Mrs. Trump wears multiple coats: red for a bow-making exercise and navy plaid for conferring with chefs. Her lips move in the video but the only sound is the swelling orchestral music in the background.
Trump is keen on coats. In 2018, she used the graffiti on the back of a Zara coat to deliver the fashion equivalent of machine gunfire to all who caught a glimpse of it when she made a trip to visit detained migrant children: “I Really Don’t Care. Do U?” Last week, when she spoke to students in Baltimore on the opioid crisis, she wore a brown trench coat buttoned up to her neck, giving it the look of a fencing jacket. She did not look at ease in the situation — and who could blame her after the president had insulted the city as “rodent infested” and “filthy?” Trump, who was booed, resembled a woman who pays a visit to someone’s home and refuses their invitation to “have a seat” because she suspects the chair might be soiled.
Trump rarely delivers long, formal speeches. In the realm of politics, her casual remarks are notably brief. She is most voluble using the language of aesthetics. She has asked that she be judged on what she does rather than what she wears. But as both a host and a guest, her attire would be less attention-grabbing if she took off her coat and indicated that she was happy to stay a while.
Read more of Robin Givhan on Melania Trump’s fashion choices: