Op-Ed: Should We Care About Melania Trump’s Fashion Choices?

Melania Trump has made headlines recently due to her trip to Kenya — but not for the reason you may think. Instead of focusing on what she did on her trip, the focus has mainly been on the outfit she chose to wear. She wore a hat that has historical ties to colonialism, and she received a lot of backlash for this.

The hat she wore is called a pith helmet. This hat is a symbol of colonial rule across Africa for many Africans. These hats were originally worn by European explorers and imperialists in Africa and other parts of the world. They later were worn by military officials as a symbol of status and oppression.

In my opinion, this backlash was mostly unwarranted for several reasons. First, she likely doesn’t choose her own outfits. She probably has plenty of stylists who coordinate outfits for her in which she has little say in. Additionally, I think we are giving her too much credit to say she understood the history behind the accessory. The hat has no blatant message of racism that would be understood to the average American. So, I think it is unfair to assume Melania should have known this before wearing it as well. Another point to consider is that she is from Slovenia, a country which doesn't have a history of colonizing like America. This could contribute to her lack of knowledge on the subject.

During her trip to Kenya, Melania told reporters: "I wish people would focus on what I do, not what I wear," as documented in this video from The Washington Post.

Overall, I agree with her. Her actions as the first lady are far more important than what she is wearing. While Melania was in Kenya, she visited an orphanage, feed baby elephants at Nairobi National Park, went on a safari and had tea with Kenyan first lady Margaret Kenyatta.

Furthermore, I believe the excessive media coverage on Melania’s outfits has underlying roots of sexism. This scrutiny isn’t new for first ladies. Michelle Obama received negative media coverage for her outfits being “too revealing.” This reporting has no real bearing on what these women do for charity or diplomacy. When media coverage like this is circulated, it serves to reduce the impact these women have. It is essentially saying that because they are women all that matter is their outfits, not their accomplishments.

This perpetuated stereotype is increasingly frustrating as modern first ladies play a bigger role in American politics than ever before. Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move!” campaign aimed to reduce childhood obesity and promoted healthier lifestyles for children. Also, Laura Bush was involved in issues ranging from children, education, women and women’s health.

Melania Trump was in the news previously this year for another controversial outfit. She wore a jacket that had the words “I don't care, do u?" on the back. The real issue isn’t the jacket itself — it was that she wore this jacket when visiting migrant children and the U.S.-Mexico border. In an interview with ABC News, she said that she did not wear the jacket for the children, but for the “left-wing media.” She wanted them to stop criticizing her and let them know she will do what she feels is right despite what they may say.

Of course, we can never be sure of her true intentions with the jacket. However, her actions do seem to align with the message she attempted to send with the jacket. As soon as she saw the children being kept in cages and away from their mother's, she decided to go to the border herself. Thus, she publicly defied her husbands’ policies.

The major question though is if any of her outfit choices matter. Ultimately, I do not think they do. I think debating over the intentions of Melania’s outfits or that of any first lady just serves as a distraction from more important political events.

 

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of Her Campus UFL or Her Campus.