Ralph Lauren: First Designer

The man who outfitted Hillary Clinton was called upon to dress Melania Trump. He just might be the best—if not only—option.

There was somewhat of a back-and-forth among fashion outlets today in regards to the robin’s egg blue Ralph Lauren ensemble Melania Trump wore to her husband’s inauguration. Some praised it, drawing comparisons to Jacqueline Kennedy. Others avoided it, opting to discuss Hillary Clinton’s white Ralph Lauren pantsuit instead, drawing comparisons to suffragettes. Others still speculated what could possibly have been in that Tiffany’s box that no one seemed to know what to do with. For most, however, the fact that Trump donned Lauren at all seemed surprising, given his prominent (and lauded) partnership with Clinton, creating several pantsuit looks for various public appearances and debates (at the time, many took Lauren’s work as his endorsement of Democratic nominee). Upon some reflection, Trump didn’t have a lot of options when it came to pulling off a fine balancing act.

For starters, the act of dressing the incumbent First Lady was a deeply political one for many fashion designers, with some outright refusing to do so. There were few who were vocally enthusiastic, with the some of the biggest names willing to work with Trump actually being Italian. However, wearing Italian-made designs (or clothes designed by anyone other than an American brand) would have posed an issue in that her husband’s political platform was all about supporting American-made products and industry. Additionally, her predecessor, Michelle Obama, has been widely regarded as a champion of the American fashion industry, and an incredibly stylish one at that. Not wearing an American designer would not only have been considered hypocritical, but also a patriotic faux pas.

A designer checklist begins to form: must be American, must be willing to dress the First Lady, must be able to create an appropriate outfit (nothing avant-garde), must be chic, and should preferably be a “name” brand. The field narrows. Of the American designers Trump had to choose from, two stand out for defining their brand as classically American: Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger.

Although Lauren partnered with Clinton during the campaign, he notably stayed mum on politics, especially post-election night. Hilfiger, on the other hand, was among the first to vocally support dressing the First Lady.

Of the two, Lauren was likely the better inauguration option. As Robin Givhan of The Washington Post pointed out, Lauren is not only bipartisan in terms of whom he dresses, but is also a patriot, donating funds to preserve historical relics such as the flag that inspired The Star Spangled Banner. Additionally, Lauren was arguably the “up-market” choice, at a slightly higher price-point than Hilfiger, projecting a more adult elitism (that of polo players and Nantucket) to Hilfiger’s youthful Ivy-league prepster. 

Lauren might have been the best-possible choice. He also might have been the only choice, given the sartorial waters that needed to be navigated. What remains to be seen is whether or not other American designers will be willing to dress her as well.

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