News & Opinion

State of the Union

The State of Their Union: Why Melania Trump Wore White

Website
The Daily Beast

Date:
January 31, 2018

She wore white, and social media immediately sparked into wondering why.

She traveled to the chamber separately. Everyone wondered why.

On the night of President Trump’s State of the Union address, Melania Trump was living the best life she could in the mysterious kingdom of Melania Trump she has created for herself in the year that her husband has been president.

As Melania Trump rarely speaks, one looks to what she doesn’t say, and to what she wears; for deliberate effect, who can deductively tell.

On the night of the State of the Union, Melania Trump wore the color that Democratic women wore last year to show their support for women’s equality, in memory of the Suffragettes. White. She was a year late, but still.

As sands through the hourglass and all that, this year, Democratic women wore black for equally symbolic reasons. For them, what is there to do but use the evening as a symbol of anger and grief at what they see as President Trump’s various calumnies and attacks.

Fashion: It can look pretty, but it has power, especially when words are absent.

Melania Trump was telling us something with that white pantsuit, and everything since the Stormy Daniels affair allegations broke, has pointed to a wife “furious,” as The New York Times reported, at her husband; and you sense that fury rooted in public humiliation, rather than infidelity. CNN noted that the president and first lady have not been seen publicly together since the New Year.

So on Tuesday night she supported him, but from the separate transportation to the white pantsuit—and this white pantsuit was disco, not lunching Real Housewife—the mechanics of the evening seemed to imply separation.

The suit was Christian Dior, the blouse by Dolce & Gabbana. “Resistance curious,” mulled one Twitter user of the duds. Another posited that Melania was giving a nod to Hillary Clinton, and her wearing of the white pantsuit, or she was “giving a nod to #TimesUp. Either way, she’s saying she hates her husband.”

What struck you Tuesday night, and has struck you so far throughout this presidency, is that this is a marriage of two very separate people. Melania’s applause was not focused on her husband, it was focused on the people he spoke about. She played comforter of others, not proud and moist-eyed applauder-in-chief of the president.

Before the speech, Melania tweeted nothing about pride in her husband’s first year of office, nothing about the speech, nothing about him at all.

“I will be joined tonight by an honorable group of Americans. Sitting with me are heroes who have served our nation in times of need, families who have suffered at the hands of evil, and citizens who have embraced the American dream.”

In the eyes of many, Melania Trump is a symbol of suffering in a very different way, for herself and as a glossy cypher of wider American suffering under her husband. To Trump detractors, she is a victim of him, and so are they. Any swatting away of his hand, any perceived strike for independence, is a cause for online glee.

When President Trump went to Davos, there was cheering as Melania was perceived to have escaped, even if it was to the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington and then Mar-a-Lago.

So, in the game of semiotics Melania Trump and the media play with each other, the SOTU white suit stood out: a statement not just of independence but separation, and as powerful a statement of feminism as Melania could make in contrast to what many see as her husband’s misogyny. And maybe it was a jab at him. Hillary Clinton remains a thorn in his side. He talks about her such a lot. Melania’s white suit could have been a nod to Hillary directly.

As her husband’s stories about grief, pain, and endurance rolled on, she applauded, she waved, she smiled. But Melania Trump seemed to be there by herself and for herself.

The president and his wife were due to drive home together, CNN reported. Some would want to be a fly on that car window. But Melania’s white suit had said enough, and President Trump probably knows that too.

All is supposition. In saying nothing publicly, Melania Trump keeps her options, private and public, open. She is a fashion, a feminist, a sociocultural, tabula rasa. She is intensely private, and intensely not like the very public and embracing and warm Michelle Obama. And so of course, it’s possible to read an absurd amount into a white pantsuit. But then, until Melania says or writes something of revealing significance, what she wears makes for its own irresistible speechmaking.