Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 26 May 2019

Much of Melania Trump's Africa tour wardrobe was derivative or just plain offensive

A few of her looks veered into costume territory, drawing from 80s pop culture as well as questionable moments in history

"I wish people would focus on what I do, not what I wear."

This was Melania Trump's response when she was asked about her decision to wear a pith helmet while on safari in Kenya on Friday.

This would normally be an appropriate response for a woman being asked about fashion when on a state trip - in that what women wear is commented on far more than men. But the thing is, in this instance Melania chose to wear an item of clothing that even a cursory Wikipedia search would have told her is "considered a symbol of colonial oppression".

US First Lady Melania Trump chose a particularly controversial outfiit in Nairobi. AFP/Saul Loeb
US First Lady Melania Trump goes on a safari with Nelly Palmeris (R), Park Manager, at the Nairobi National Park in Nairobi, October 5, 2018, during the third leg of her solo tour of Africa. AFP

George Orwell, back in 1944, identified the pith as a symbol of imperialism: "When I was in Burma I was assured that the Indian sun, even at its coolest, had a peculiar deadliness which could only be warded off by wearing a helmet of cork or pith. ‘Natives’, their skulls being thicker, had no need of these helmets, but for a European even a double felt hat was not a reliable protection. There were quite a number of ways in which Europeans in India used to believe, without any evidence, that Asiatic bodies differed from their own. Even quite considerable anatomical differences were supposed to exist. But this nonsense about Europeans being subject to sunstroke and Orientals not, was the most cherished superstition of all. The thin skull was the mark of racial superiority, and the pith topi was a sort of emblem of imperialism." (You can read his full essay on the matter here).

Perhaps she had just watched Meryl Streep in 1985's Out of Africa and thought, 'perfect for my trip', but as Matt Carotenuto, professor of African history at St. Lawrence University pointed out on Twitter, Melania wearing the colonial-era style helmet while in Kenya in 2018 - with all we know now - is like if she had turned "up on an Alabama cotton farm in a confederate uniform".

When Melania first stepped out in front of the press in Nairobi she was wearing simply khaki pants, boots and a white shirt.

But then, when she stepped onto the shaded Land Cruiser to go on a safari she had the hat on. Neither the secret service agents nor the driver of the car had any headgear on, so the move seemed to be purely an aesthetic one. And a misguided one at that.

What she wore in Cairo

On Saturday, Melania was in Cairo, and her suit and hat look for Egypt drew comparisons of the 80s pop culture variety, but still with questionable historical undertones:

U.S. first lady Melania Trump visits the Pyramids in Cairo, Egypt, October 6, 2018. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
U.S. first lady Melania Trump visits the Pyramids in Cairo. Photo / Reuters

Many saw an immediate similarity between her and the also-Cairo-based Rene Belloq, the arch-nemesis of Indiana Jones in 1981's Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Rene Belloq was Indiana Jones' arch nemesis in Raiders of the Lost Ark, and, like Melania, he sashayed around Cairo in a cream suit - but in 1981. 
Rene Belloq was Indiana Jones' arch nemesis in Raiders of the Lost Ark, and, like Melania, he sashayed around Cairo in a cream suit - but in 1981. 

While all some people could see was a 1987 Michael Jackson:


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Updated: October 7, 2018 02:32 PM