Outcry against the Trump administration’s policy of separating children from their parents at the border between the United States and Mexico has been at the forefront of almost all news outlets during the past week. The administration is under considerable pressure from not only the Democratic party, but also the Republican party to unify families. On Thursday, First Lady Melania Trump visited some of the children who have been forcibly removed from their parents' custody and taken to a government detention center.
Mrs. Trump arrived in McAllen, Texas to visit the detention center and spent time inside with the children and those in charge of the facilities. However, this act performed by the first lady was overshadowed by something else entirely: Melania’s clothing choice.
While boarding the plane to fly to the detention center Mrs. Trump was photographed boarding the plane wearing a surprising outfit. The back of her green jacket read, “I really don’t care, do u?” Though she did not wear the jacket inside the facility, she put it back on as she came home and walked back into the White House.
This jacket has become a major point of contention and speculation. Zara, the clothing brand behind the jacket, did not comment on its original meaning according to NPR. Many are asking what the First Lady’s intention was in adorning the jacket—fashion, after all, is its own sort of politics.
“Today’s visit w the children in Texas impacted @flotus greatly,” said Stephanie Grisham, the first lady’s spokesperson on Twitter, “If media would spend their time & energy on her actions & efforts to help kids - rather than speculate & focus on her wardrobe - we could get so much accomplished on behalf of children. #SheCares #ItsJustAJacket”
But is it really just a jacket? Before Melania Trump became the First Lady of the United States, she was a model.
Fashion has a power all its own in our society. The way we choose to dress ourselves, the designers we wear, the aesthetics we adopt say something about who we are and how we want to present ourselves. The first lady is not short on jackets, or on outfits, to choose from. There is a certain expectation of professionalism in clothing at any job, and the position of First Lady is a job, chosen or not.
What would someone say if an employee wore a jacket to their retail job that read, “I really don’t care, do u?” It would mean something entirely different from what it would if it were worn around a college campus, by Kanye West, or around town at the grocery store.
There is intention behind fashion. “I really don’t care, do u?” could mean a lot of different things in the context of this specific situation—a humanitarian visit. President Trump wrote that the jacket referred to “fake news” presented by the media; others have speculated that the jacket was a message for President Trump himself. However, speculating the jacket's various possible meanings is ultimately inconclusive. The vast majority of the public is not personally familiar with the first lady.
On Thursday, we received mixed signals: an activity of empathy and a display of apathy. Two different messages designed to placate two halves of a country divided.