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Saturday, May 25, 2024

Melania Trump Reappears, in Black

USMelania Trump Reappears, in Black

On Saturday, the day after the jury was impaneled for former President Donald J. Trump’s hush-money trial in New York, Melania Trump finally returned to the presidential campaign trail. The occasion: the Log Cabin Republicans’ fund-raiser at Mar-a-Lago, at which Mrs. Trump was the guest of honor and addressed the room.

Yes, she’s officially back. And as ambiguously as ever.

While Mrs. Trump’s words on unity and equality may have been directed to the audience in the ballroom, the outfit she chose for the occasion — a covered up black Michael Kors pantsuit with a leather belt wrapped tightly twice around her waist — seemed to be speaking to a different forum entirely. One scrolling past the images she and the event’s organizers posted to their social media feeds and focused on what was going on in a courtroom farther north, where she conspicuously has yet to appear but where her ghostly presence hovers over the proceedings.

After all, in the psychographic geography of dress, black (the color of seriousness, of doom, of downtown, of ninjas, of mourning) is not exactly what one might expect at a Palm Beach party. At a New York event, on the other hand …

It’s not even what Mrs. Trump herself has been wearing at her recent unofficial forays into the public eye: the floral pink she wore to accompany her husband to an earlier fund-raiser, for example, or the variations on white she wore to cast her primary vote and for Easter. It’s not the polka dots she wore back in 2022, when Mr. Trump announced his third bid for president.

Black, one Palm Beach denizen said, is almost “never seen” locally. Mrs. Trump didn’t even wear black to the memorial for Rosalynn Carter, the only former first lady in attendance to eschew the color, opting instead for gray tweed Dior.

Yet there she was, in her much ballyhooed 2024 debut for her husband’s campaign, one that she and her team knew would be keenly watched — in black. The import was either funereal or fighting ready, depending on your perspective. Either way, it wasn’t neutral.

All of which suggests that once again, Mrs. Trump is preparing to use the semiology of dress to tweak and tease the watching world. Just as she did when Mr. Trump was in the White House and what she wore became a sort of Rorschach test for what she thought and the state of her relationship. Remember the Hillary Clinton-esque white suit she wore to Mr. Trump’s first State of the Union, after the Stormy Daniels news broke? Not to mention the notorious “I really don’t care, do u?” jacket? Her policy has always seemed to be: Speak rarely and wear an evocative outfit.

So it was over the weekend.

Beyond the color, the suit, strictly tailored, structured, was not the more relaxed shirt-dressing or jumpsuits Mrs. Trump has often favored since she has been in Florida. Rather, it harked back to her wardrobe during her time in Washington, when she seemed to sheathe herself in the protective casing of clothes. Back then, she was almost always buttoned up, quasi-military, like a luxury shield against the expectations and eyeballs that came with the job of political, and presidential, spouse.

Even before the Log Cabin Republicans event, she had donned an Army-inspired coatdress complete with epaulets and gold buttons for an interview with Fox News Digital. It called to mind the Army-green Alexander McQueen skirt suit Mrs. Trump had worn to soldier through her speech at the 2020 Republican Convention.

Now, once again, she looks as if she’s getting ready to fight. The question is: Against whom?

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