As we continue to digest the aftermath of election night, an evening that began with impenetrable promise and quickly descended into sheer terror, it’s important to remember that we mustn't normalize Donald Trump's behavior just because he won the presidency via the electoral college.
Sadly, though, some outlets have already begun doing just that—namely, People, who began to publish content the day after the election that celebrated Trump’s victory. “He’s hired!” the magazine tweeted, with an accompanying photo of its newest cover star. It proceeded to run several more articles: “Will it be the gold house? Donald Trump reveals his plans for the most famous home in America,” “22 photos of Ivanka Trump and her family that are way too cute,” and a compilation of Melania Trump’s “best style moments” on the campaign trail.
This is all deeply troubling for a number of reasons, but perhaps the biggest one is how much of a massive disservice this is for one of People's very own writers, Natasha Stoynoff, who in October came forward and claimed Trump “forced his tongue” down her throat back in 2005, when she was assigned to cover his wedding anniversary. After her first-person account was published, the magazine released a letter of support written by its editorial director, Jess Cagle, and provided six witnesses to back her claim, despite Melania’s attempt to sue her.
That “support” seems to have gone to shit now, especially given the internal staff memo sent out by Time Inc.’s chief content officer, Alan Murray, earlier this morning. It stated: “People also made its mark in this election cycle, with its powerful and brave coverage of Natasha Stoynoff’s story. The fact that some self-appointed social media critics then objected to the magazine’s excellent post-election Trump issue only demonstrated that we had done our job: covering important and compelling people and events without fear or favor.” (You can read the full letter, which was obtained by The Cut, here.) The magazine sent out another memo this afternoon, defending its coverage of the Trump family and claiming to “continue to stand steadfastly by Natasha.” Yeah, okay.
Meanwhile, British Vogue yesterday published an article on Melania’s “subtle transformation, sartorially-speaking” on the campaign trail, exploring her transition from “thigh-high split dresses” to “more demure shift dresses,” and asking whether she’ll be able to live up to Michelle Obama’s “stunning smart-casual style.” While we have, no question about it, covered Melania’s style throughout the recent months—we even went so far as to call her “famously style-savvy” after she appeared at the Republican National Convention in a $1,500 Roksanda frock—the bulk of our Melania style coverage has asked whether specific pieces have been subtle nods to her husband’s blatant sexism and the women’s suffrage movement. Fashion Unfiltered, and many other publications, have used Melania's style as a jumping off point to start a larger conversation. Fashion has a very captive audience, and it would be silly not to use our industry's media as a platform to discuss the bigger issues at hand. Additionally, given the fact that websites like Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight and the New York Times were so alarmingly off in their predictions about the outcome of this election, making Trump’s win a collective, nationwide shock, now more than ever, it’s our turn as writers to resist buckling to click-baiting headlines, grabby galleries of Melania, and banal Ivanka-and-family listicles. At its core, journalism is a public service. We mustn’t sell out, and we must say something of substance.
But what can we expect from Melania Trump, both sartorially and otherwise? It’s a valid question, sure, especially given the fact that the majority of big designers have openly supported Hillary Clinton, and Melania has often claimed to have purchased most of her wares herself on Net-a-Porter. (Come to think of it, which stylists and designers—if any—will be brave enough to come forward and dress her?) But like People’s coverage, this kind of content is regularizing. It’s shifting the conversation from “Hey, misogyny, homophobia, and racism are not okay” to “Hey, what kinds of clothes will Melania wear as the First Lady?” in the form of a trite fluff piece. And that’s dangerous. It’s skirting around the issues—and these are big issues. To be fair, this was British Vogue, and this kind of political coverage is a stark contrast to American Vogue’s coverage, which is very clearly anti-Trump. In fact, the magazine just announced that Michelle Obama is its December cover star, which is great.
The problem here isn’t that magazines are zeroing in on fashion in the political sphere. That is, after all, our job as fashion journalists and editors. The problem is that this is an enormously large missed opportunity to not use fashion as a springboard to highlight the obvious problems of a Trump presidency. And it is a real shame for journalism—and fashion journalism, in particular—to produce something as trivial as a style article when our nation is violently divided, frighteningly angry, and quite frankly bleeding. Dear readers, on behalf of journalism, and on behalf of fashion, we are sorry.