Just as the controversy over her husband’s immigration policies had begun to cool off, first lady Melania Trump touched off a new backlash. As she boarded a plane for Texas to visit immigrant children who were separated from their families at the border, a message blared from her $39 Zara jacket: “I really don’t care, do u?”
The choice, her spokeswoman said, conveyed “no hidden message.”
But slogan T-shirts and other statement-bearing pieces have become clothing-as-lightning-rod in an era of political unrest, according to fashion psychologists and retail experts.
Runways and store shelves have been filled in recent years with T-shirts bearing several messages: “We should all be feminists” shirts at Dior, “I am an immigrant” at Prabal Gurung, “People are people” at Christian Siriano. Even President Trump’s red “Make America Great Again” hats have become a way for people to express their views. The controversial Zara jacket is from two years ago and doesn’t appear to be for sale anymore on Zara.com.
“Slogan T-shirts have often been a vehicle for communication, and they’ve come back in vogue in the last year or two with the political upheaval in many countries, including our own,” said Wendy Liebmann, chief executive of consulting firm WSL Strategic Retail. “Fashion is a very powerful billboard, and it’s become a way people feel comfortable communicating a message without carrying placards or holding protest signs.”
Amaya Guillermo, a spokeswoman for Zara, declined to comment.
The first lady’s choice has raised a number of questions about exactly what she was trying to say through her clothing.
“You can say there are no hidden messages here, but of course there are,” said Dawnn Karen, a fashion psychologist and branding consultant. “You’re very clearly signaling that you don’t care. You’re saying something that maybe you don’t feel like you can verbalize.”
More than 2,300 children, some as young as 8 months, have been detained by the government in recent weeks as part of the president’s “zero-tolerance” policy on illegal immigration. On Wednesday, the president signed an executive order calling for an end to the separation of families, but it is unclear what will happen to the children who already have been split apart from their families and, in some cases, sent to facilities around the country.
“You have to be very careful with statement fashion,” Karen said. “When you wear something like that, you’re telling the world what your values and your beliefs are, without saying a word — and that’s particularly the case when you’re a public figure.”
By the time Melania Trump was in front of the children, she had taken off the jacket.