It would be almost impossible not to have watched any of the recent inauguration of President Donald Trump, not seen his uber stylish wife (and former model) Melania and NOT hearken back, in the smallest of ways, to Jackie Kennedy as First Lady, the role she defind and refined more than five decades ago.
Ah Jackie….such a special life, mired in such tragedy. When we first met her, she was young, from a wealthy family, but she eventually married into an even wealthier family, which in its early days, seemed earmarked for-political greatness.
I don’t know all that much about fashion, but I’ve tried to learn how to recognize style and Jackie was silly with it. Now, I was only three when a John Kennedy was elected president. I remember bits of his presidency, but I distinctly remember the day it ended.
Odd, but that doesn’t include much about Jackie. I first heard her speak during an old interview rehashed for the 25th anniversary of the assassination. I remember her voice was deeper than I imagined it to be. It was breathy, very slow and controlled and in that upper East Coast accent, which was alien to my native South Texas ears. It didn’t seem to fit my last major memory of her–standing in that bloodstained, size six raspberry tweed suit and the matching pillbox hat she wore in Dallas, on that day.
Jackie received a lot of praise. She was widowed so young and so publicly. She was left with the responsibility of raising two kids, both under age seven. Of course, her situation was very different than most young widows….still.
But to talk about Jackie with full appreciation of her life is go back further in time, before that November day in 1963, during a time in our history when she repeatedly blew the country away with her elan.
By all accounts, she was a breath of fresh air in DC. Perhaps, any woman could have moved into the White House after First Lady, Mamie Eisenhower moved out of it and they too might be considered a fashion icon by comparison. Maybe it was because Mamie wouldn’t….or couldn’t enter that ‘dare to be great’ fashion scenario. Too old? Too stodgy? Too aligned in 50’s era Conservatism? I don’t know, but the contrast in style between these two women was amazing.
Melania has been frequently compared to Jackie fashion-wise, based mostly on the stunning Ralph Lauren monochromatic blue dress, coat, opera gloves and pumps which she wore to the swearing in ceremony. Apparently, Jackie had also worn a blue dress at some point during the JFK administration, though despite the fact that it was also in the blue spectrum, I really couldn’t see any other similarities. There has been almost 54 years of style revolution since Jackie’s blue Cassini made its debut. But the women who wore these two suits, share a limited, but very real commonality. Both were Catholic girls, both came from families of means, each was educated, spoke/speak several languages, each became First Lady and each loved fashion and are/ were savvy enough to be able to pick couture that complimented their bodies, mindsets and solidified their global position as ‘First Ladies’ which made fashion mavens out of the least likely people …..OR…..they were smart enough to listen to people far wiser and give up style control. Either way, it worked.
Especially for Melania.
I found Jackie to be stylish, but never really drop dead gorgeous. A few photographs snapped at certain angles made for stunning photos, but by and large, most pics captured her relaxed poise and fashion sense.
Melania isn’t gorgeous…well, not to me she isn’t. Rather, I find her to be a nice looking woman who’s had the best plastic surgery known to man. But, mein Gott, the way she can wear her can clothes, and the grace with which she walks in them may even exceed Jackie’s ability to wow a camera. She is poised beyond measure, she moves with a certain elegance. She’s obviously comfortable in her own skin, despite the number of tucks and pulls it might have had. Equally important, she’s comfy in her femininity. And why not?? In the beginning, she was a model in Paris where I’m sure she graced a few catwalks with a hundred other similar looking waif-like girls from all over the globe. Her biggest claim to fame obviously, was becoming Mrs. Donald Trump.
Let’s start at the start. After marrying Trump and giving birth to their son, Barren, I found Melania’s style a bit manic. It was often brassy, wayward and heavy on the cleavage, showing more flesh. Comme ça:
But we can get away with showing skin in our 20’s and 30’s. On older women, it might be a daring fashion choice, but I think it’s a wrong choice.
Back to Melania. If her choices weren’t always a smidge questionable in taste at times, we have proof that ‘trendy and tacky’ did enter her closet,sadly.
But all of these examples were from when she was a semi-private citizen. At the time, these less than stellar fashion choices might have gotten a snicker on TMZ , from People Magaxine or from any of the NYC ladies who lunch, but nothing more.
Then, The Donald decides to run for president…and as a Republican no less. Melania had to change with the times. Her style rapidly evolved into a consistent state of ‘wow’, in my opinion. Plus, she stayed in the background–her call, but that made all her fashion choices echo a famous quote from le gran dame of style, Coco Chanel :
“Dress shabbily and they remember the dress; dress impeccably and they remember the woman.”
Yeah, yeah we all saw Working Girl.
That relaxed, chic draping of her coat on her shoulders made us take notice. But I never thought that style choice was anything but extremely well-planned and on Melania, well-played.
First Ladies have the right to play the roles as they choose, suited for their personalities, family involvement, comfort level in front of the camera, etc. I never look at them as having “co-president” roles, or power or influence. I’m no longer essily “inspired” by anyone, so just because a First Lady encourages me to eat more radishes, won’t mean I’ll eat more radishes. Now, if other people choose to, that’s fine. I’ll get my broker to corner the radish market. Otherwise, I find First Ladies (as I would deem the inevitable ” First Gentleman”) to be background noise, some more attractive than the others, some more ambitious than those who came before her. This usually makes them either loud and annoying or subtle and quiet; considered proud contributors or embarssing aspects of the Presidential backstory.
So whether our First Lady is an icon or an eyesore, government still functions…..in the presence of style and grace and yes, even in its absence.