Trump was our first – and, God willing, our last – president to look first. Indeed, he’s a looks-only president who likes to refer to the people appointed as “straight out of the central casting.” He started his presidential campaign with a hat that quickly became a hideous symbol of white supremacy. He surrounded himself with an army of blondes. Female Trump supporters, represented in the right-wing media and in his own administration, borrowed more from the Real Housewives’ game book than the government’s. One of Trump’s closest advisors, Roger Stone, is fanatically obsessed with obscure tailoring rules and styles.
In the meantime, Melania, provocatively quiet and rarely seen, was preoccupied with the world. Was her pussy blouse a pun? Was her graphic jacket a middle finger for the haters? With so little information from the anti-press White House, her clothing became a cipher, pieces of the puzzle that seldom fit together. Meanwhile, Ivanka kept her wardrobe with New York designers who had dressed former political spouses like Oscar de la Renta and Carolina Herrera as if nothing had changed from one administration to the next. There was no uniform for the Trump administration as there was for a long time; Instead, the unifying principle was to dress for the job you wanted, as dressing was often the whole job.
The lack of a uniform among Trump’s supporters initially hinted at a disruption that made the events of last Wednesday easy to ridicule. (I haven’t seen Fred Perry-sporting Proud Boys like we did in protests early in the Trump years.) But the lack of uniformity makes the reality all the more frightening. A t-shirt or hoodie lasts longer than a speech – it’s like a tweet for your body – and has become a way of saying what they can’t or shouldn’t, especially over the past year. After all, you can’t mute a graphic.
What will happen in the next four years? Kamala Harris is reportedly slated to partner with stylist Karla Welch, WWD reported this weekend, and speculation has also been circulating that she might commit to wearing only American designers in order to return to the Obama-era tradition. (Welch works with the wonderful Tracee Ellis Ross, with whom she primarily focused on a roster of black designers.) Jill Biden already has relationships with young and established American designers who are allowing fashion to turn the clock back a little.
But the merch will stay even after Trump is gone and even if he’s charged. In fact, the graphic t-shirts and slogan hoodies are likely to multiply if he is, and one can imagine that his post-presidency efforts will include trying to surpass his first fashion triumph, the MAGA hat . Fashion may be cyclical, but a t-shirt is forever.