On Day 1, President Trump stood on the steps of the Capitol and pledged his determination to “buy American and hire American.” Cheering him on was his special adviser Kellyanne Conway, in what appeared to be a superpatriotic red, white and blue coat — that turned out to have been bought from an Italian brand (Gucci) whose products were manufactured in (surprise) Italy, and whose designer had been inspired to create it in honor of … the British. Huh. It was a moment of bungled dress symbolism that turned out to be a harbinger of much more to come. Practically every week.
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It’s not that what the president and his cohort wear is more important than what they do (or don’t do), the legislation they dismantle or the geopolitical relationships they threaten, but that their confused image-ineering has somehow become a lightening rod — a subject of debate, mockery, compulsive attention — representing all the rest of the above.
There has barely been a week since Jan. 20 without some sort of style news related to the administration bubbling up. Fashion, from the industry to the individual, has played a role in the opening narrative of this president that it hasn’t in any other administration. As a compelling expression of a (sur)real time it is, literally, everywhere you turn.
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There was the first lady channeling Jacqueline Kennedy in Ralph Lauren on Inauguration Day, seemingly giving living proof to her husband’s agenda and the age-old tradition of first ladies supporting local industry — until a few weeks later, when she returned to supporting Dior, Givenchy and Dolce & Gabbana, whose jacket she chose to enshrine in her official portrait. The industry, meanwhile, cast itself in the role of the resistance (along with pretty much every late-night talk show host and their costume departments), with designers from Sophie Theallet to Tom Ford marking their distance, or hid in the shadows, apparently afraid to be seen as endorsing the new administration.
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Not that Mrs. Trump needs them: She buys her own clothes, so she can do what she wants, and then she lets her clothes do the talking for her as she stands by in enigmatic silence. Even if that means settling into a look that calls to mind a militarized version of 1950s womanhood, one that favors tightly belted coat dresses instead of housedresses, with the passive-aggressive role playing that implies.
Speaking of the military, it, too, was pulled into the story when Mr. Trump boasted that his generals came straight from “central casting,” though apparently Sean Spicer, the press secretary, didn’t get the message until he was told to start dressing for his part behind the lectern. He smartened up, but then kept spilling on the ties, not to mention sporting his de rigueur American flag pin upside down during one briefing. As a sartorial metaphor, really, it doesn’t get much better than that.
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The president’s senior adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, however, does understand the desired dress code, as does Mr. Kushner’s rival Stephen K. Bannon, the chief strategist, who swapped his hunting jacket for a casual-Friday blazer when he got his office in the West Wing. Still, Mr. Kushner one-upped the costume parade when he wore a navy blazer under his flak jacket on a trip to Iraq. It may have prompted multiple comic memes — though possibly not as many as were inspired by a New York Times photo of Donald Trump Jr. in his woodsman outfit — but that probably mattered less than pleasing the boss back home.
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Admittedly, Mr. Kushner did not also wear a tie under the vest, but it’s possible that the only real tie of meaning belongs to the president himself: a red flag to all sorts of bulls that he wears like a primary-colored malapropism in the face of endless criticism (it is too long; he uses tape to hold it together), giving himself an anti-elitist gloss even as his promotes his Master of the Universe credibility.
It’s a sartorial contortion matched only by that of his daughter Ivanka. Her role in his administration has forced her to wrestle with the peculiarly modern existential question of whether it is possible to extricate herself from a company that bears her name and was founded on her image, not just officially (that can be done) but philosophically (that’s another issue). Or if every time she Instagrams a picture of herself looking like a perfectly polished version of what Wendi Murdoch (in her piece on Ms. Trump for Time magazine’s “Most Influential” issue) called a “modern working mom,” it acts as a sales stimulus, whether intended or not, and hence a call to arms.
Case in point: her presence, along with other officials, at a dinner her father hosted at Mar-a-Lago for President Xi Jinping of China — on the same day the Chinese authorities approved her company’s trademark applications. Everyone denied the two events were related, but the problem was obvious for all to see.
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“See” is, in many ways, the operative word — not just for that particular moment, but in this particularly visual age, for them all.
Continue reading the main storySource: New York Times – Politics