It’s Melania 2.0, as Mrs. Trump Iterates in Asia


She may also have received less scrutiny because of … Hope Hicks, White House communications czar, and her tuxedo.

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Hope Hicks, the White House communications director, at a state banquet at the Akasaka Palace in Tokyo on Nov. 6.

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Andrew Harnik/Associated Press

Or, to be fair, her tuxedo worn with a floppy, dandified bow tie to the state dinner in Japan, accessorized with a Breck Girl blow out and fuchsia lipstick. The menswear-inspired suit was such an unexpected choice in an administration that constantly sends the message that girls should be girls even if they are in power positions (see Ivanka’s pink flounces, as well as Ms. Hicks’ usual chirpy dresses), that the internet started flapping and it didn’t stop even when Ms. Hicks appeared in what was generally deemed a “baggy” (in the words of the Daily Mail) fuchsia dress and black blazer at the China state dinner — and then another “baggy” shirt on the way to Vietnam.

Though Ms. Hicks’ rise through the ranks has been marked by a clear propensity for remaining in the background, this time she became the story.

Perhaps she was simply gearing up for what will clearly be a moment in public, when she is interviewed on her return to the United States by special counsel Robert Mueller as part of the Russia investigation. Perhaps it was a deliberate statement that she is in charge, after the so brief Anthony Scaramucci moment (remember that?).

Either way, it took the spotlight completely off Sarah Huckabee Sanders and her eye-opening appearance in pearls and a camo jacket on the tarmac in South Korea during President Trump’s aborted attempt to make a “surprise” visit to the DMZ. This combination, inadvertent as it was (apparently Ms. Sanders borrowed the jacket from a helicopter pilot because she was cold), seemed almost the perfect expression of the Trump carrot and stick in sartorial form.

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In a borrowed U.S. Army jacket, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, spoke with reporters outside Seoul, South Korea, on Nov. 8.

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Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

It’s too bad Ms. Hicks and Ms. Sanders got so much of the attention, because there are lessons to be learned about how the first lady is managing her own issues of perception and her approach to her job, from the choices she made while abroad.

The list of designers worn was long, and the price tags were high: Fendi, Alexander McQueen, Gucci, Pucci, Delpozo, Dior, Dolce & Gabbana, Christian Louboutin, J. Mendel, Manolo Blahnik, Valentino, the Row, Alaia (to name most of them). She made a nod, in China, to local aesthetics — at least as interpreted by Western eyes — with her Gucci quasi-cheongsam with its faux-pink-fur finish on the sleeves, mandarin collar and heavy stylized floral embroidery. But it was a rare concession to sartorial symbolism (and not a very good one, though it did perhaps inadvertently reveal the myopic way the administration sees that country). Mostly, she has stuck to speaking with silhouette. She’s not going to be an advocate for the industry in any overt way, but she’s still using clothing to her own ends.

And there the overall imagery added up to something new.

Hemlines were longer, and necklines higher. There were flats. There were a lot of dresses. Though Mrs. Trump wore two tailored black coats (Dolce & Gabbana and McQueen), and a tuxedo coat dress from Hervé Pierre, they were the exception, rather than the rule. The skirts were generally full, rather than straight; sleeves fluted or curved or caped or cap; cuts of the sort often labeled “generous” as opposed to “strict” or “knife-edge.”

The effect was a line no longer harsh and rigorously drawn, but fluid.

Metaphor? Subversion? Maybe. But given the carefully choreographed costume pageantry of such official trips, one year after the election first propelled her out of the gilded security of Trump Tower and onto the public stage, it was probably not a coincidence.

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