Is Fashion Fair Game? A Debate on Melania’s Hurricane Harvey Heels

Many people went batshit last week when Melania Trump wore stilettos on not one, but two separate visits to Hurricane Harvey devastation last week (though, to be clear, she changed into sneaks on the plane rides there). I (Lo) was intrigued by Rhonda Garelick’s think piece “Melania Trump and the Chilling Artifice of Fashion” in The Cut, which argued that the problem here is “that this administration turns every event — no matter how dire — into a kind of anesthetized luxury fashion shoot, which leads us to some disturbing political truths.”

And so I shared it on my personal Facebook page, tagging my husband with the phrase “Fashion Weak” (he falls squarely in the camp of Anne Hathaway in the first half of The Devil Wears Prada). It sparked the following discussion, which the participants have given me permission to post here:

TALAL: I’m surprised that a feminist would post such a sexist article, especially considering one of your main political role models was always critiqued for her pant suits.

And the bs premise that this article is based on, is even worse. First off any woman should be free to wear whatever she wants without being critiqued for it for ANY reason… Because not even women (evidently) should decide what is appropriate attire for another woman.

The second premise of this article is that she isn’t confirming to social norms. Again shouldn’t that be her choice? I’m sure seasoned politicians would have their advisors tell them exactly what to wear, exactly how to act, what baby to kiss, etc… At least her cluelessness is genuine not manufactured by what some career political advisor has based off focus groups and opinion polls.

What i DON’T see feminists doing is supporting Melania who obviously DOESN’T want this position or the responsibility that comes with it but that has been dragged into it by a MAN who happened to become elected to whom she has to be subservient in the public eye because she is now FLOTUS.


LO: Talal, I can see how criticizing her clothes can seem problematic. I really hated that meme with the stodgy pictures of recent first ladies juxtaposed with Melania’s nude photos — it was an effort to denigrate Donald by slut shaming Melania. Unjust and irrelevant. And obviously what someone wears should not invite sexual harassment or assault.

But I don’t think it’s necessarily un-feminist to critique stilettos. In fact, one could easily make a feminist argument against stilettos. After all, their impracticality and health risks (nail damage, bunions, knee & hip pain, osteoarthritis, muscle pain & spasms) literally handicap women, though there are solutions to the pain. Without wanting to slut shame anyone, I can still, as a feminist, have a serious problem with the obligatory sexual objectification of women and the staggering imbalance between male and female nudity in pop culture. And I can certainly make a feminist case against the burqa. Critiquing clothes (or the lack thereof) isn’t necessarily off limits for feminists.

So combine the impracticality of Melania’s hurricane-victim ensemble with its tone-deafness, and I can totally understand the eye rolls — even as a feminist.

But this article is not arguing that the problem is that she wore an unsuitable, blithely out-of-touch outfit. It’s that this administration and its relationship to America’s citizens is “as dissociative as a fashion advertisement, brought to power by manipulating and rechanneling the electorate’s desires for wealth and possessions.” Trump and his brand (which includes his family) are a soulless, meaningless corporate black hole intent on increasing their own wealth by using fear, lies and aspirational carrot-dangling to secure brand loyalty.

IF ONLY some seasoned political advisors could convince Trump and his ilk how to act, speak and dress! Maybe then our standing in the world wouldn’t be going quite so far down the toilet.

As far as feminists not supporting Melania goes, I’ve seen plenty of public sympathy for her as someone who’s the victim of an extreme narcissist, someone who might even suffer from Stockholm syndrome or battered wife syndrome (at least of the emotional abuse variety). I wouldn’t be surprised if Trump has certain rules he enforces about how she looks and what she wears. So when you speak of her “choice” in these matters, I’m not totally convinced she has any.

Btw, why exactly does she have to be subservient to Trump in public because she’s FLOTUS? I don’t think anyone would describe Michelle Obama as “subservient” to Barack during his administration. I’d happily praise Melania for genuineness. Just let it be for standing up to her psycho husband, not for wearing heels to a hurricane.

TALAL: The US’ horrible standing in the world started a little before Trump… And she’s subservient to Trump… Umm because he’s a chauvinistic egomaniac.

KERRY NEVILLE (author of the forthcoming “Remember to Forget Me”): Lo, yes, to all that. Melania may suffer at the hands of a narcissistic husband, but she is also an adult woman, a mother, and she lost my sympathy with her public, independent support of Trump’s birther claims, with her empty anti-bullying online platform. She is also not a woman without resources and could leave that marriage, though I don’t know the details of her prenup. I do know many many women without her resources who left very very abusive marriages to narcs, who left with just the clothes on their backs and kids in hand, but who spoke up and refused to be victims. She has obviously made her deal with the devil and gets something in return that is worth her subservience.

LO: Ha! I knew you’d go there,  Talal. You’ll notice I didn’t say anything like “We were #1!” We can debate whether the US’s reputation was already in the the toilet or just in the bathroom another time. But I’m sure we can agree that Trump has done absolutely nothing to help it.

As for your subservient point, I think I misread it slightly originally. You were saying she’s always had to be subservient but now she has to do it in public, where she never wanted to be, right? I’d disagree — like Kerry suggests above, she’s a grown woman who knew what she was getting into when she married Trump; it obviously wasn’t for love or lust, but for his money and, yes, the media attention that clearly comes along with him (president or not). I have some sympathy for her (my god, she’s married to HIM! The horror, the horror…), but it only goes so far.

LO’s SISTER-IN-LAW: I’m with Trevor Noah on this one. I’m looking forward to a day when what a woman wears is not a news item. And I believe if we liked or approved of Melania or her husband we wouldn’t see her outfit in that way. When you dislike someone so much already, it’s impossible to view anything about them in a positive or even a neutral light. Everything looks sinister or heartless. Mostly I just don’t care what they wear. Except I think it’s shitty they are promoting Trump campaign swag (the hats). That’s different because that’s using these photo shoots to sell merch.

LO’s HUBBY:  If the mayor of Houston showed up to a flood-ravaged neighborhood in slippers it would make the news. The stilettos indicate how out of touch the Trumps are.

What do YOU think:


  1. Nicely done, Lo. Full exposure of a range of sensible opinions, lots of rope for everyone to hang herself with yet tightly focused. Should have a wider exposure.

  2. As fashion expert Robin Givhan said, they (the stilettos) were sexy. They are a symbol commonly culturally agreed upon as being for the purpose of sexual arousal. The First Lady wore sexual apparatus in her public role as First Lady. To an anguished disaster zone. That is not something to just ‘let go’. We need to think about this and what it means. The conversation above seemed oddly tone-deaf to the notion of Melania acting under the obligation of leadership — a public, not a private role.

    1. I guess some might argue that she’s not the president, she might not have wanted to be under THIS strong a microscope, so it’s unfair to hold her to presidential standards or to subject her to such scrutiny. Others might say what she wears has no bearing on whether or not she can be a good role model. I’m still compelled by Garelick’s argument and might extend it thus, based on your comment: the message they seem to be radiating as a couple, perhaps inadvertently (though doubtful), is that the ideal relationship exists between an “alpha” male and a beautiful woman, dressed to impress (i.e. impractically), who’s seen and rarely heard.

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