Melania and Ivanka Trump are two women with fashion experience who have been thrust into the political spotlight thanks to President Donald Trump.
However, the two members of the first family have used their fashion choices to send very different messages to the American people.
When Ivanka Trump took on an unpaid position in the Trump administration, she formally stepped down as CEO of her fashion line. However, the first daughter has continued to wear items from the brand, as well as outfits from other modestly priced brands such as fast-fashion company Zara.
Meanwhile, first lady Melania Trump’s outfits tend to be from pricier fashion designers like Dolce & Gabbana, Ralph Lauren, and Balmain. Melania has scaled back somewhat after her clothing choices sparked criticism (you won’t spot her in another $51,000 coat), but the first lady’s wardrobe is still notably more expensive than what the first daughter wears during most public appearances.
So, why does it matter? For strategic reasons: both women’s clothing represents the constituents they’re trying to appeal to.
Ivanka has long served as President Trump’s surrogate to appeal to more progressive voters.
On Monday, Ivanka spoke at a town hall on tax reform in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, to promote the plan — backed by the GOP and the president — as an “overdue” measure that would assist families. She argued that the tax reform plan would simplify taxes for the middle class and help allow for the expansion of child tax credits, one of her focuses since President Trump’s election.
“Every parent has to manage the competing demands of raising a family and their passions, whether it be professional or otherwise, and I, too, had to manage that, but I’m far more fortunate than most and I had help,” Ivanka said, according to CNBC.
In keeping with her self-representation as a supporter of women and the middle class, the first daughter wore an outfit that was stylish but somewhat reasonably priced. Her top, by the American designer Staud, is priced at $195. Her skirt is even more reasonable — $49.99 from Zara.
The entire event is a pretty effective summary of Ivanka’s strategy when it comes to both politics and fashion.
As a founder of a mid-priced fashion line herself, she knows how to balance being both aspirational and relatable. In many ways, the first daughter follows in Michelle Obama’s fashion footsteps, though she favors trends to a greater degree, wearing more clothing from fast-fashion icon Zara than the more traditional J.Crew beloved by Obama.
Meanwhile, Melania Trump isn’t working too hard to try and appear relatable. She and President Trump have long embodied a more gold-plated, luxe version of the American dream than the Obamas or even Ivanka.
Trump’s supporters don’t want the first lady to wear clothes from Target; they want her to be more stylish and glamorous than the average American. Wearing more accessible clothing isn’t about actually living like most of the US. Instead, it is a means of avoiding an over-the-top backlash that paints Trump as completely out of touch.
On a very basic level, Melania and Ivanka have different goals in their fashion. Ivanka aims for readability; Melania strives to be aspirational. And, if Ivanka is going to continue in her role as the White House’s advocate for the middle class, their styles and strategies will likely continue to diverge.