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Melania Trump hasn’t always bothered to go American when it comes to her clothes. As a European-born model with international fashion industry roots, the incoming first lady dabbled in Balmain, Dolce & Gabbana, and Gucci (with the infamous pussy bow blouse), among others, during her husband’s presidential campaign.
But for the inauguration, Trump is taking a different tack. For the first event on Thursday, at Arlington National Cemetery, Trump chose a black coat and dress by Norisol Ferrari, a lesser-known New York designer whose father is a wounded veteran. For a black tie dinner later that night, she chose a glittering light gold gown by Reem Acra, also a New York-based designer.
For the piece de resistance, on Friday morning, she went with a crisp light blue coat-and-dress ensemble by Ralph Lauren.
“With the historic swearing-in of her husband, Donald J. Trump, as the 45th President of the United States, the First Lady-elect will become America’s new First Lady wearing an American designer who transformed American fashion, Ralph Lauren,” her spokeswoman said in a statement to WWD on Friday morning.
For Ralph Lauren, the move — which was predicted earlier this week — is strikingly bipartisan. The designer also has a long history with Hillary Clinton, who wore a purple Ralph Lauren suit for her concession speech in November and a white Ralph Lauren suit for the third presidential debate in October. That same month, Vanessa Friedman of the New York Times asked “Is Ralph Lauren Going to Be Hillary Clinton's Dresser in Chief?”
Trump herself has been a Ralph Lauren fan for years, wearing a black jumpsuit at the third presidential debate and a white one on election night. She’s also worn Acra in the past, including to the 2011 Met Gala, and she was connected to Ferrari through inauguration adviser Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, herself a Ferrari customer.
And yet, as we know from the women who’ve come before Trump, first lady outfit choices are rarely an accident. As Michelle Obama herself has said, she likes her stylist to “think not only about fashion but also the moment and the message.” Trump has evidently put thought into her outfits already; WWD reported that she “was clear about wanting a ‘commanding, military-esque coat’” for the wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery.
There is also the fact that for the Trump family, buying American is inevitably political. Donald Trump made American manufacturing a key part of his campaign and now agenda as president, emphasizing the need to support industry at home.
Yet that campaign trail message has been in glaring conflict with the reality of his family businesses. From his suits made in Mexico to his ties that come from a Chinese factory town to Ivanka’s shoe line also made in China, the Trump family has seemingly put their bottom lines above American manufacturing at every turn. For Melania Trump, choosing Ralph Lauren can be seen as an easy antidote to that tension.
Wearing American to the inauguration is, of course, in line with tradition: Laura Bush’s inaugural dresses were by Texan designer Michael Faircloth and Oscar de la Renta, one of the foremost American designers; Hillary Clinton also wore de la Renta, along with New York-based designer Sarah Phillips. And Michelle Obama famously boosted the career of Jason Wu, a young New York-based designer, with her gowns in 2009 and 2013, as well as Cuban-American designer Isabel Toledo with her daytime inaugural outfit in 2009.
Given Trump’s tendency over the past year to shun the spotlight and stay quiet on any issues of substance, her stylish yet inoffensive American-made wardrobe may be the path of least resistance (and controversy) as she enters first lady territory.