Melania Trump's unreflecting clothing choices reveal an at best outdated understanding of Africa, as well as an unflattering portrait of how America sees the world
Flotus in Africa: the worst travel wardrobe of all time?
I'm not the standard-bearer of sartorial elegance on the road, as many a photo will attest, but Melania Trump's outfit in Egypt last week has to be one of the worst travel outfits of all time.
It was extra bad because she has lots of money and advisors and planners, who presumably thought that because it all covered her arms and legs, it was culturally sensitive. But this says it all about a couple who have such a bovine attitude to the rest of the world that they must impose their ignorance even through clothes. Granted, this is a thing with many people when they travel, and the colonial, Out of Africa trope is a particularly easy trap to fall into while on safari.
Yet it seems to be Americans especially who almost to relish the flaunting of starched white socks, bumbags, huge trainers and corpulent bodies in the middle of an Indian slum, or tattoos, crop tops, uncovered hair and denim hotpants at temples in Myanmar. Why make concessions to local culture when you can stand out?
But this was the first lady's foreign ambassadorial debut, as the #FLOTUSinAfrica hashtag confirmed. Flotus' first stop was a slave fort in Ghana, which she graced with a severe-looking, belted, military-style jacket. This was at the point from which slave ships stacked horizontally with chained bodies departed for America.
Next, in Kenya, where unspeakable acts of brutality were carried out by people in very similar colonial jackbooted outfits to the one she was wearing: tan trousers tucked into boots, shirts tucked in and topped with a pith helmet. As one Twitter user pointed out, "Why is she dressed like she's about to exploit the Belgian Congo?" That, or a mean-looking robot on an attention-seeking fashion shoot.
The grand finale, of course, was the horrific ensemble at the Pyramids in Egypt, which may have been supposed to be chic and androgynous but was at best a Charlie Chaplin-meets-Meryl-Streep car crash.
If this was meant to distract from an alleged sex offender being nominated to the Supreme Court, it may have partly worked. Flotus' look was offensive, unflattering, and even violated the number one rule when travelling, which is comfort. A more travel-friendly pair of beige linen trousers with a simple T-shirt or shirt over the top of the trousers, a pair of sunglasses and some chic slip-on trainers would have sufficed. What on earth was with the tie, hat, bell bottoms and blazer?
For an example of how Flotus should have done it, one doesn't need to look further than Princess Diana's foreign wardrobe. Yes, if you throw that amount of money at anybody they can look good, and when abroad you want to retain a sense of style while fitting in and not jarring with your surroundings. That's the point which allowed her to make the right impact abroad, and precisely why Melania's look failed.
In Angola, Diana wore cut-off khaki trousers, neither too tight or too baggy, flat, non-attention-seeking shoes and an at once feminine but workmanlike shirt.
The business was to tell the world about the impact of landmines, and show the people that she cared. This, too, was the purpose of Trump's visit - "we want to show the world we care."
Yet the only message that seemed to be forthcoming was what emblazoned that jacket earlier this year: "I really don't care. Do U?"