A lot has been said of Melania Trump and her wardrobe, and what it may (or may not) mean. Is her penchant for wearing white a subliminal alignment with the suffragette movement? Was her Dior suit she wore to greet French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife, Brigitte, on the second day of their state visit, an homage to the New Look era, a time when fashion helped women move beyond pre-established gender roles? Perhaps. But while so many project a feminist narrative onto FLOTUS, she has, Internet speculation aside, given the public no reason to assume she’s a pioneer for women — especially as she's chosen to stand next to her husband, the President, while he's made inflammatory remarks about women, immigrants, Blacks, the news media, and more. And she’s done it all in fancy clothing. Basically, her outfits change nothing.
On Tuesday, alongside Donald J. Trump, Melania greeted French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife Brigitte at the White House wearing a white Michael Kors skirt suit and custom Hervé Pierre wide-brim hat. Beyond the flood of Twitter posts examining Trump's refusal to hold her husband’s hand during the event, others chose, once again, to inject meaning into her look. Some compared the outfit to Michelle Pfeiffer in Scarface, some likened it to Celine Dion at Paris Fashion Week, and some suggested the hat was a nod to the black version Beyoncé wore two years ago in the music video for “Formation.”
But to compare Melania Trump to Beyoncé Knowles-Carter is dangerous. Trump is propped up by White Supremacy, and to assume she is somehow supporting women through her clothing is a reach. “Formation” is an empowerment anthem for Black women, specifically, a mantra to reinforce for them the fact that their lives — right down to their “negro noses and Jackson Five nostrils” — matter.
Beyoncé released her song in 2016 during Black History Month, further affirming her culture and self-love. It’s a rallying call from Queen Bey to the masses, reminding us that Black is beautiful. The New York Times’ Jenna Wortham summed it up, writing: “‘Formation’ isn’t just about police brutality — it’s about the entirety of the Black experience in America in 2016, which includes standards of beauty, (dis)empowerment, culture and the shared parts of our history.” She continued, “One could also read this as an existential call to action to her listeners and viewers: ‘Black women, join me and make your own formation, a power structure that doesn’t rely on traditional institutions.’”
Trump’s messaging, however, couldn’t be further from that, and to compare her to Beyoncé simply because the two have worn similar accessories is alarmingly bad. She is not a feminist icon because she stood still while wearing an eye-catching hat. She does not deserve our sympathy.
Truthfully, the First Lady could take notes from Beyoncé. Beyoncé is constantly uplifting Black women and her community. She uses her enormous global platform to celebrate her experience, validating others in the process. She gives Black women the permission to be vulnerable without feeling ashamed. So if Trump wants to build a platform based on online bullying, she should start by addressing her husband and his Twitter usage. If she wants to be a suffragette, then she needs to actually fight for the rights (including reproductive rights) of all women. Hailing from Slovenia, she could speak up for other immigrants.
According to Beyoncé's mother, Tina Lawson, the superstar recently said before her historic Coachella sets, ‘I have worked very hard to get to the point where I have a true voice and at this point in my life and my career I have a responsibility to do what’s best for the world and not what is most popular.’”
We just can’t say that same for Melania Trump. To even suggest that her wearing a hat similar to Beyoncé’s, puts her on the same level of the icon is cognitive dissonance at best. At the very least, the accessory was simply Trump trying to impress the French First Lady with a fashion-forward outfit. But she most certainly isn't in formation.