While Melania Trump’s fashion blunder last Friday at a guided safari in Kenya stirred up a flurry of hilarious memes and Twitter posts – including one which compared her to Jane’s dad from Tarzan – it also reflects a much wider problem: FLOTUS’s ignorance or apparent lack of social awareness.
Here’s what happened: The First Lady of the United States decided to polish off an otherwise sleek and crisp outfit with an actual pith helmet.
Now, you might be thinking, she just wore an ugly hat – why is the whole Internet losing their minds? It’s less the hat itself that’s the problem, and more the history that it represents. In the heyday of colonialism, the European military frequently wore white pith hats in Africa and India (you know, while they were raping and pillaging, committing genocides, and all that other lovely stuff generally associated with colonisation). The hat was then worn as a simple sun hat by civilian Europeans in the colonies in the 1930s. So to wear that hat in Kenya (a former colonial territory), is culturally insensitive, to say the least.
If only that were all. In addition to this, there’s also the time she wore the now infamous ‘I really don’t care, do u?’ jacket in June of this year. Said Zara jacket was worn while visiting immigrant children at the Texas-Mexico border – children who had been forcibly separated from their parents owing to the zero-tolerance policies of Donald Trump. It really makes you wonder just who is signing off on this. Think how many officials, or just generally anyone who can read English, saw her that day before she boarded that plane, and no-one chose to say anything.
And let’s not forget the time Trump chose to wear high heeled shoes (believed to be Christian Louboutin’s) and a $4,000 Valentino floral pleated skirt while attending a tree planting ceremony at the White House – during which she was required to walk across dirt and actively plant a sapling herself. Hardly practical gardening wear. While this incident doesn’t appear as problematic as the rest, it does strike as being ostentatious and again re-enforces the complete lack of thought that goes into what she wears.
But why does any of this matter? Why should we care what she wears? After all, Trump herself responded to critics of the colonial hat incident saying she wants people to “focus on what I do, not what I wear.” Yet Melania Trump’s clothes speak volumes to the world, given that she doesn’t. The famously silent FLOTUS is a public figure of international proportions. As the wife of the American President, arguably the most powerful position in the world, all eyes are on Melania Trump as she is expected to comment upon the actions of the presidency. In not taking the time to think through whether or not to wear a colonial hat to a previously colonised country, Trump demonstrates the same cultural insensitivity as her husband. If the leaders of a country do not up hold a certain standard of sensitivity, then the people of that country will not follow suit, as evidenced by the rise in hate crime in America since Trump’s election win.
In 2014, former President Barack Obama also sparked massive controversy with his wardrobe, with Republicans being especially outraged. His crime? Wearing a tan suit. Apparently, it was considered to be ‘un-presidential’. This pales in comparison to Melania Trump’s mistakes, which have genuine implications and consequences, as opposed to just being too light a colour for a serious occasion. And yet, those Republicans who took such offence to Obama’s tan suit have unsurprisingly stayed silent during this whole debate…
By Tasha Johnson
Image: The Independent