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The comments under the Instagram photo were unmistakable:
“Such Elegance and Beauty!”
“Pure class! Prayers go out to you and your family tomorrow.”
“Now that's [a] photo of an amazing Mom and Business Woman!”
“You are perfection Ivanka!”
The arrival of Ivanka Trump’s family to Washington, DC for the inauguration of their patriarch looked about as casual and authentic as a Vogue cover shoot. An heiress who’s built a brand on telling working moms they can have it all, Ivanka disembarked the plane wearing an emerald green coordinating coat and slim-cut sheath dress by Oscar de la Renta — a longstanding go-to for America’s first ladies.
Paired with oversized black sunglasses, stilettos, and just the right amount of wind to flutter her flawless blowout, she topped off her look with the ultimate accessory: a toddler on her hip. The resulting image could be an ad for 21st-century motherhood — or at least, the kind of working motherhood countless women aspire to.
It’s that ineffable combination of glamour, aspiration, and relatability that defines the Ivanka brand (she hopes); and while she’ll cut herself off from selling actual products over the next four years, she’s still selling herself, starting with her fashion choices for the inauguration.
The green Oscar de la Renta is both glamorous and professional. Her Oscar de la Renta gown for Thursday night’s black tie gala was dramatically fashionable, complete with an oversized black bow, yet demure. And though her outfit this morning began with a classy dark coat, she then showed up for the ceremony in a form-fitting long-sleeved white coat over pants, paired with stilettos and a pin.
Such irreproachable outfits earn praise from her 2.2 million Instagram followers: elegant and feminine, yet also business-like and achievable for “real women,” including mothers. When accessorized with a toddler — or with a business-like briefcase or both, as is often the case on her Instagram — Trump’s clothing communicates the essence of her brand: “American wife, mother & entrepreneur.”
Now she is bringing that brand to Washington, where it contrasts starkly with the actual first lady’s style. Unlike Ivanka (not to mention the outgoing first lady), Melania Trump’s aesthetic doesn’t even offer a hint of accessibility. The former fashion model is at ease in luxury European labels and trendier outfits, as seen by her love of jumpsuits and her jacket-over-the-shoulder move. She favors an almost ‘80s-like airbrushed perfection in place of Michelle Obama’s famously accessible J.Crew cardigans, ASOS dresses, and comfortable sneakers.
Melania’s exaggerated luxury is the other Trump brand — Donald’s. He might have run a populist campaign that claimed to speak for the “everyman,” but he never made any effort to disavow his gilded lifestyle or dress down in jeans as another wealthy former candidate, Mitt Romney, did. The Trump appeal is, for some, that untouchable glitz; it’s the walking, talking proof of the American dream fulfilled.
Ivanka strikes a more nuanced note. She too has the blown-out hair and flawless makeup, but her outfit choices align more with her Instagram persona: a woman who works. As evidenced by her inauguration outfit, she favors less obviously trendy items, instead opting for sleek pants, delicate jackets, or her beloved fitted sheath dresses — the ultimate working woman fashion statement.
It’s the same stuff peddled by her clothing line, which, as Vanessa Friedman at the New York Times noted, is “selling the promise that women who wear her clothes can get a piece of her gold dust.”
That kind of relatable aspiration is crucial, considering how valuable the millions of “Ivanka voters” were to Donald Trump’s win. As one female Trump voter told BuzzFeed, “If Trump produced someone that classy, that’s a testament to something.”
So far, it’s testament to her impossibly popular appeal — the kind that befits, unsurprisingly, a first lady.