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Ralph Lauren, whose designs were such a favorite of 2016’s Democratic candidate that the New York Times published an article in October titled "Is Ralph Lauren Going to Be Hillary Clinton’s Dresser in Chief?" may find a prominent place with the incoming administration after all. WWD reported on Tuesday morning that Lauren is rumored to be preparing both a gown and an Inauguration Day outfit for Melania Trump.
A rep for Ralph Lauren didn’t respond immediately to Racked’s request for comment.
When it comes to high-profile events, the look is never locked down until it’s out of the car and in front of the cameras, and Trump certainly has options. Tommy Hilfiger and Thom Browne are among the designers who have said they would be happy to dress the incoming first lady (others, like Marc Jacobs and Sophie Theallet, have said quite the opposite).
Still, Ralph Lauren would be a fitting choice, in part because few designers telegraph Americana quite as clearly or universally as this one, and in part because Trump has worn the brand before, a black jumpsuit at the third presidential debate and a flowing white jumpsuit on election night. (Both of which she bought off the rack; designers often custom-make clothing for such events.)
Though her taste skews heavily toward European designers (Dolce & Gabbana on New Year’s Eve, the London-based Roksanda Ilincic at the Republican National Convention, Gucci for the second presidential debate), the inauguration is one occasion at which it’s unequivocally advisable to show support for the US garment industry, especially if your husband’s campaigned on American jobs.
Michelle Obama, for instance, wore a buttery ensemble by the Cuban-born, New York-based designer Isabel Toledo to the inauguration in 2009 and selected a navy coat from Thom Browne, also a New York mainstay, in 2013. Both years, Obama selected Inaugural Ball gowns created by Jason Wu, whose career lifted off as he was named a finalist for the Council of Fashion Designers of America/Vogue Fashion Fund in 2008.
At her husband’s inauguration, Laura Bush wore designs by the Dominican-American Oscar de la Renta in 2005 and Michael Faircloth of Dallas, Texas in 2001. Hillary Clinton, during her time as first lady, chose pieces by de la Renta and Sarah Phillips, a New York-based designer. Nancy Reagan opted for dresses created by the Philadelphia-born James Galanos.
Michelle Obama’s habit of wearing the work of young or relatively unknown designers paired well with President Obama’s forward-looking, hopeful messaging; she used her position to promote the next generation in American fashion. The image of Melania Trump in the work of an establishment fashion designer who took his company public 20 years ago seems, by contrast, seems like a hearkening back to an earlier vision of the American dream. A call, maybe, to "make America great again."
It’s entirely possible that Hillary Clinton would be wearing a Ralph Lauren pantsuit this Friday had she come out ahead in the Electoral College. In that case, the choice of designer would probably cast a much different impression. But that just speaks to the fact that the political messaging behind clothing is often a lot less about who someone’s wearing, and a lot more about who’s wearing it.
Update: According to a new report from WWD, Melania Trump may also be wearing a design by Karl Lagerfeld for the week’s inauguration activities — a very high-end, very un-American choice, if it turns out to be true. While wearing Ralph Lauren signals a certain brand of patriotism, selecting a look made by the German creative director of Chanel, who sits at the top of the fashion industry’s food chain, speaks clearly to another aspect of the Trump family image: luxury, exclusivity, and wealth.