We don’t know what Melania Trump thought when she cohosted a state dinner, read to children on the White House lawn, or trailed behind her husband as the first family disembarked Air Force One.
As we near the end of President Trump’s much ballyhooed first 100 days in office Saturday, pundits are dissecting No. 45’s political hits and misses. The consensus: Judging from his vacillating views on, well, so many things, he’s still trying to figure out what kind of leader he will be.
The first lady, on the other hand, has sent a clear and consistent message -- that of beauty, wealth, and detachment. How can she do this when she is mostly seen and not heard (after all, she hasn't moved to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., nor has she said much about her social cause of online bullying)? Through her flawless designer wardrobe.
At 46, the former model has championed tailored, body-skimming pieces in monochromatic hues fashioned from the most sumptuous fabrics.
"I think at this point we know that Melania will never look bad,” said Rachel Lubitz, a senior style writer at the New York website Mic. Every Friday, Lubitz writes a column that recaps the first lady’s fashion choices from the previous week. In fact, she was one of a handful of people I talked to who started by expressing the same sentiment. “She knows what silhouettes look good on her body, exactly, as in she’s always cinched at the waist and everything hits perfectly right below the knee. When I see her, she’s always composed.”
Phenomenal-looking, actually: During the inauguration, I wanted to reach through my laptop and pet her ice-blue, cashmere Ralph Lauren bolero and matching sheath.
Every Valentino has caused heart palpitations. The belted coat she landed in at Mar-a-Lago in early March was jaw-dropping.
A tea-length column sheath she chose for the couple's state dinner with Chinese President Xi Jinping made me smile. And the green look (another custom Hervé Pierre) she wore this month to a D.C. charter school with Jordan’s Queen Rania made me the same envious shade.
But the fawning comes to a hard stop at the fashion.
Trump is a master at looking sensational but staying silent. For example, while wearing that fabulous suit, she made no public comments. She just smiled.
Pristine sartorial perfection with nothing to say says disengagement. That she's almost always wearing stilettos -- even while visiting veterans at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center -- goes beyond aspirational to untouchable. What does she have in common with the everyday American woman? Not much.
And, by the looks of it, she's making that very clear.
“She looks beautiful, but something is missing," said Jade Papa, the curator of the textile and costume collection at Philadelphia University. "She wants to be noticed, but she doesn't want to be in the foreground. The job of first lady can be very influential. It can offer a voice to women and young girls. I'm not hearing a voice here."
Even when America was allegedly great, first ladies such as Eleanor Roosevelt, Bess Truman, and Mamie Eisenhower served as the heartbeat of their husbands' administrations. Oscar de la Renta-clad Nancy Reagan brought a sense of glamour back to the White House while waging her war on drugs. Barbara Bush promoted literacy, and Laura Bush promoted women's health. Michelle Obama focused on childhood nutrition.
Perhaps Trump is a bit of a renegade. She did wear a thigh-high slit in her creme, Hervé Pierre inaugural gown. And the sequined Michael Kors suit she wore during the president's February speech to Congress let us know she doesn't flinch at wearing cocktail attire at the U.S. Capitol.
It was, after all, tasteful.
“I think that people have a tendency to underestimate the first lady,” said Janice Lewis, professor of fashion design at Moore College of Art and Design. “For example, I personally understand and respect her decision to stay in New York and let her son complete his schooling. That’s something a great mom would do, a woman who has her own mind.”
But during these first 100 days, Trump still hasn't gotten behind American designers. Though she's worn Lauren and Kors on some of the country's biggest political stages, the Slovenian-born first lady generally gravitates toward Gucci, Dolce & Gabbana, and Valentino.
“Her husband is always saying, 'America first,' ” Lewis said in a voice that was practically pleading. "Hopefully, someone will explain to her that she has an amazing platform, and that she can help our failing American fashion industry by wearing more American designers.”
Then she paused. Many emerging designers who found themselves at odds with the president's immigration policies have promised they would never dress the first lady.
"I'll guess she’ll have to find an emerging American designer who is willing to dress her, too.”