So the Trump NATO-Brexit-Putin tour has come to an end, leaving disruption and debate in its wake. Or rather, in President Trump’s wake. As for the first lady, she has made barely a wave.
After the brouhaha caused by her recent public appearance in Texas in that now famous “I really don’t care, do u?” jacket, her clothes, which have in many cases become her voice, while she herself has remained so resolutely silent, have been, apparently, muzzled. By her own choice.
Most of the outfits effectively faded into the background. The exception was a minor stir about the pale yellow J. Mendel gown Mrs. Trump wore to the state dinner at Blenheim Palace, with its long flowing sleeves and pleated bodice, which briefly spurred comparisons to Belle from “Beauty and the Beast” (the Disney version) and gave rise to a few lackluster suggestions that perhaps Mrs. Trump was using her clothes to send a veiled message to her husband (after all, if she is Beauty …).
Mostly, though, her outfits’ overriding impact was polite and appropriate, They were tailored, but not too much. Buttoned up, but also feminine. Below the knee. Even the colors — pale pink, pale yellow, white, navy and beige (beige!) — were low-key. The clothes were elegant, but bland. They were notable largely for what they were not.
There were no statement hats, for example — not even in Britain, where, presumably, a hat might have made sense. Also no scrawled messages. No attempt at mixing in the accessibly priced item or two.
There was a vague notion, early on, that Mrs. Trump may have decided to engage with the art of dressing diplomacy this time around, the way she did during her brief trip to France for Bastille Day last year, and the way she did during the French state dinner, when she opted for Chanel couture. She did wear a Burberry trench to deplane in Brussels, ahead of her trip to London, and a Calvin Klein dress by Raf Simons, a Belgian designer, to her NATO meeting.
She did arrive in England in Roland Mouret, a French designer working in London who is a favorite of the new Duchess of Sussex, and she chose a striped Victoria Beckham dress for an appearance the following day. (Ms. Beckham was one of the few designers who said publicly after the election that she would be happy to dress Mrs. Trump when everyone else was crying, “not me.”)
She did support some American names: Calvin Klein and J. Mendel, as stated; and Isoude, a new American label (founded and designed by a woman, Kate Brierley), which created the baby blue driving coat ($3,995) Mrs. Trump wore to land in Finland, along with a pair of Ralph Lauren brown leather leggings.
But even that proved more gestural than strategic, as Mrs. Trump donned a Dior suit to meet the queen, an Elie Saab white summer frock for the NATO dinner and a daffodil Gucci coat for her sit-down with the first lady of Finland. They were choices that, while perfectly elegant, had no apparent relationship with the countries or people involved, and did not really speak to anything beyond themselves.
It is as if Mrs. Trump has symbol fatigue already. The yellow J. Mendel dress was chosen for the British state dinner in part because the queen likes yellow — except the queen wasn’t at the state dinner. Oh, well.
The irony is, during the whole “I don’t really care” hubbub, Mrs. Trump’s spokeswoman, Stephanie Grisham, gave it the hashtag #Itsjustajacket. It wasn’t, of course, and there was a fair amount of eye rolling that accompanied the attempt to spin it as such. But this time around, that hashtag would actually have rung true: #itsjustadress; #itsjustasuit; #itsjustatrench.
Clearly, Mrs. Trump understands what it means to choose clothes that are so discreet, they are practically silent, which makes the earlier decision look even more deliberate.
After all, the time when everyone is looking to a first lady’s wardrobe as a guide to the value system of the East Wing is during official foreign visits, when she is representing the country as well as the administration, not just in meetings with foreign dignitaries but also in requisite, and highly publicized, photo ops.
That is when dressing the part, as she defines it, is part of the job. Those are the times when, historically, her predecessors have leveraged the opportunity to make a soft tactical point.
By contrast, last-minute trips to crisis-stricken areas that are meant as a form of quiet outreach generally are not exploited in quite the same way.
Yet it was for the Texas trip that Mrs. Trump chose a garment that didn’t just speak louder than words, but involved actual words, and in Europe that she has reduced her wardrobe to an almost imperceptible whisper. It’s a head-scratching inversion, and yet more evidence that while her husband may treat his job like a reality TV series, Mrs. Trump has made hers into a mystery. This is just the latest episode.