“My top three style tips for women at work are context, modesty, and femininity,” Ivanka Trump said in a 2010 Forbes interview. “Understand what is appropriate for your industry and in terms of how much skin is being shown.” Ivanka was a fashion model and a fashion designer before she was the United States’ First Daughter. But when her father began involving himself in politics, the context surrounding Ivanka’s clothes shifted and made way for several fashion faux pas.
Once Donald Trump entered the White House, the Ivanka Trump brand fell into the crosshairs of a storm of controversies, including ethical concerns and conflict-of-interest accusations. Within weeks of the 45th president’s inauguration, Nordstrom announced it would pull Ivanka Trump clothes, shoes, and accessories from its shelves, citing poor performance. Discount stores like T.J. Maxx soon followed suit. Fashion has continued to be a contentious subject in the conversation surrounding the First Daughter, particularly when she has worn outfits that have been deemed inappropriate or insensitive to political events that have directly involved the Trump administration.
Women of the White House are often scrutinized for what they wear, and some of this scrutiny has, in turn, been scrutinized for its sexism. But when the sartorial gaffes in question relate to purposeful trolling, political insensitivity, or even sheer ignorance — Melania Trump’s “I Really Don’t Care, Do U?” jacket falls into at least one of these categories — they become part of a larger political discussion. So, let’s discuss.
She’s been involved in some shameless self-promotion
After Donald Trump was confirmed as the Republican nominee in 2016, Ivanka Trump seized her Republican National Convention appearance as an opportunity to publicize her own business interests while touching on American labor laws and women in the workforce.
Capitalizing on her own work, Ivanka wore the baby pink “Ivanka Trump Sleeveless Studded Sheath Dress” from her fashion line. The following day, a tweet was posted on her verified Twitter account that said, “Shop Ivanka’s look from her #RNC speech,” followed by a link to the dress on the Macy’s website. It was an affiliate link, which indicated Ivanka could have earned additional commission from any purchases made. The $138 dress promptly sold out at both Macy’s and Nordstrom.
Some saw the outfit choice and the subsequent tweet as shameless self-promotion. And despite Ivanka’s mention of American labor, the Macy’s site listed her dress as “imported” (via NBC News).
Ivanka Trump flashed her finery on 60 Minutes
In November 2016, four months after the RNC controversy, Ivanka Trump wore the $10,800 “Metropolis Diamond Bangle” from her jewelry line in an appearance on 60 Minutes alongside her family. When host Lesley Stahl asked whether Donald Trump’s polarizing campaign had negatively impacted the Trump brand, Ivanka responded, “I don’t think it matters. This is so much more important. And more serious … That’s the focus” (via NBC News).
Ivanka’s decision to wear the bracelet was not particularly controversial in itself, but the marketing tactics that followed were. After the interview aired, Monica Marder, former vice president of sales for Ivanka Trump Fine Jewelry, sent out a “style alert” press release to journalists that stated Ivanka’s “favorite bangle” was available to buy (per PopSugar). “Please share this with your clients,” Marder added.
“White House as QVC. It has started,” New York Times reporter Eric Lipton tweeted in response. The next day, Abigail Klem, the former president of the Ivanka Trump brand, told NBC News that the “style alert” email “was sent by a well-intentioned marketing employee … who, like many of us, is still making adjustments post-election.”
Her silver dress sparked controversy twice
In January 2017, Ivanka Trump posted a photo on Twitter of herself wearing an iridescent silver gown two days after Donald Trump had announced his “Muslim ban” executive order. Ivanka’s dress, which was designed by Carolina Herrera and cost $5,000, drew criticism because it highlighted Ivanka’s lavish lifestyle at a time when racism and human rights were central to the cultural conversation, per Glamour.
When the Trump administration came under fire for the separation of children from their parents at the Mexican border in 2018, photos circulated of immigrant kids using sheets of silver foil as blankets. The photo of Ivanka’s silver dress resurfaced (via Yahoo!), again as a reflection of the real disparity between those in power and those affected by their policies. Multiple Twitter users, including comedian and writer Orli Matlow, posted split-screen photos of Ivanka’s dress and the detained immigrant children. “Who wore it better: Children detained in McAllen, Texas or Ivanka Trump,” Matlow wrote.
Ivanka Trump does not always ‘buy American’
In February 2017, Donald Trump gave his first address to Congress. The speech pushed the slogan “Buy American, Hire American” and focused on encouraging Americans to buy American products. Ivanka Trump did not appear to have known the contents of the speech in advance, because she wore a fuschia cocktail dress by French designer Roland Mouret to the event. A representative for the designer told The Independent that the dress cost $1,868 and was made in the United Kingdom.
Many onlookers pointed out the irony and hypocrisy of Ivanka’s dress, given her father’s message. Members of the public also questioned why the First Daughter was not treated the same as former First Lady Michelle Obama, noting the off-the-shoulder cut of Ivanka’s dress. “Remember all that crap about Michelle Obama showing her arms and if it was appropriate? Well, behold Ivanka and her shoulders,” one Twitter user wrote (via The Independent).