Politics in Fashion: Mrs Trump V. Mrs May

President Donald J. Trump and First Lady Melania greet service members at the Salute to Our Armed Services Ball at the National Building Museum, Washington, D.C., Jan. 20, 2017. The event, one of three official balls held in celebration of the 58th Presidential Inauguration, paid tribute to members of all branches of the armed forces of the United States, as well as first responders and emergency personnel. (DoD photo by U.S. Army Sgt. Kalie Jones)

When we think of politics, fashion isn’t necessarily the first thing that springs to mind. But like it or not, the fashion industry has always had the capacity for firm political grounding. PM Theresa May and FLOTUS Melania Trump are, arguably, the two of the most watched women in global politics right now, both politically and fashionably. Women in politics have always had a rocky relationship with fashion’s double standards. Looking bad is just as worse as looking good. But how do the two compare?

Theresa May

Theresa May will appear on the cover of American Vogue in April. The news coincided perfectly with her visit to the United States. However, it also coincides with increased questions regarding the relationship May is forming with President Donald Trump, making the announcement a double-edged sword teetering on the edge of self-stabbing.

Being the first UK Prime Minster to appear on the cover of one of the biggest fashion magazines is cause for excitement. But the taste of the move has been questioned. Whilst Britain flounders in the aftermath of Brexit and concerns grow, the PM’s move to take a stab at the high life by appearing on the cover of Vogue may be seen as vain and distant from both the public and the conservative party. Despite being planned long before the results of the US election, it’s timing may be taken by some to reflect the narcissism of the new President and adds further fuel to questions surrounding whether May is compromising values and pandering to the new President and his policies.

“She drags the image of female politicians out from the dowery and into the 21st century”

Perhaps this is too rash? Politics aside, May has been no stranger to the fashion industry. Appearing in British Vogue twice, and constantly standing apart from the dry and dull image of conservative politics, she drags the image of female politicians out from the dowery and into the 21st century. Perhaps her cover debut is not a feat of narcissism, but incredibly well suited to her personality. Whilst May’s attempts to ease in the post-Brexit era is questionable and easily criticised, her attempt to usher in a new look for the female politician cannot be met with the same criticism.

Melania Trump

Like May, Melania Trump is also no stranger to the fashion industry. A successful career as a model lead her from her home country of Slovenia to the United States, and eventually up to the position of First Lady. However, the FLOTUS has received a mixed reaction from the fashion world, with high profile designers such as Tom Ford and Marc Jacobs refusing to dress her, an opportunity which would have been fought over in the past.

“Is it the Trump name that has become a curse for brand reputation?”

Perhaps the key to this is guilt by association. A key example is New Balance who, in the early days of Trump’s election, supported the then president-elect. This resulted in the shoes being boycotted and burnt. Whilst Melania is not her husband, is it the Trump name that has become a curse for brand reputation?  It feels as if the world, and the industry which she buried roots in long ago, have not fully gotten to know Melania Trump as a stand alone figure, opting instead to see her as an extension of her husband.

Unlike May, we are yet to hear about Trump’s appearance on the cover of Vogue. But instead of flicking back to a 2005 issue of Vogue focusing on the Trump family wedding, the more recent cover of Mexico’s Vanity Fair has filled this gap. It was both poorly timed and poorly constructed. Amidst collapsing relationship between the United States and Mexico sits the First Lady, smiling and consuming strings of diamonds like the average person consumes strings of spaghetti. It comes as Trump announcement to increase border enforcement and make his ‘build a wall’ slogan a reality.  Her smiling face acts as the poster of the ‘American dream’ that is now slipping through the fingers of many immigrants hoping for a better life.

“She still holds influence on the fashion world and remains a key client”

Nevertheless, Melania is a woman holding a very public office so she still holds influence on the fashion world and remains a key client. It will be interesting to see, as Donald Trump’s four-year Presidency progresses, whether the fashion industry will start to look over the back that has currently been turned to Melania.

There is a lot that can be said about how the politics and fashion of these two women are heavily interwoven, but perhaps we should end on this. Whilst May’s appearance on the cover of US Vogue has been in the works for a long time, perhaps there is something that can be said about the appearance of the PM’s face all over shelves in an America. In an alternative world, the US cover would have appeared alongside Hillary Clinton, an image of women taking over the world. But in reality, it appears alongside both a heavily divided America in their opinions and a Britain that is worried about its future

Ellis Harris

Image Credit: U.S. Department of Defense Current Photos via Flickr.

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