Dissertations could be written about the life cycle of the infamous “I Really Don’t Care, Do U?” coat Melania Trump wore to visit undocumented children at the border in 2018. There was the initial, very warranted outrage and her team’s denial of any “hidden message” in the outfit. Then Donald Trump spoke of it being a shot at the “Fake News Media.” Later Melania would say it was directed at her “critics.”
Jill Biden wrote a new chapter in the unending saga of Melania’s $39 coat this week. While her husband met with Prime Minister Boris Johnson in Cornwall, England, Mrs. Biden spoke to reporters. She put on a black Zadig & Voltaire blazer for the occasion.
In a way that was reminiscent of Melania Trump’s jacket, it initially didn’t look like much at first. But then Jill Biden turned around.
The word “LOVE” was stamped on its back. It was a little cloying, and reminiscent of the type of upper-middle-class woman who, like Jill Biden, might carry around a purse with her dog’s face on it. It was also fairly hypocritical, given Vice President Kamala Harris’ words to potential migrants this week: “Do not come.” Not a lot of “LOVE” there.
But the coat did, at the very least, not tell the world to go fuck itself. So that’s good.
Comparisons to Melania’s outfit were inevitable. Jill Biden did not address any potential contrast explicitly, but she did speak about it when asked by reporters.
According to The New York Times, she said: “I think that we’re bringing love from America. This is a global conference, and we are trying to bring unity across the globe. And I think it’s needed right now, that people feel a sense of unity from all the countries and feel a sense of hope after this year of the pandemic.”
The jacket was not new; Jill wore the style on the campaign trail. The First Lady was quite fond of platitudinal fashion last year. She wore a $695 pair of Stuart Weitzman boots that simply said “VOTE.”
Those shoes, like the jacket, offer a syrupy-sweet and bipartisan sentiment. No one agrees on anything these days, but “LOVE” and “VOTE” are safe-enough bets.
“I just feel sooo grateful that our FLOTUS is spreading a message of unity, rather than division and apathy,” read one widely shared tweet.
“I must admit, she just owned Melania,” said another.
Fashion commentators were broadly complimentary. Véronique Hyland, Fashion Features Director of Elle, told The Daily Beast:“Since she became First Lady, Dr. Biden has been using what she wears to subtly support her beliefs and priorities.” The jacket, said Hyland, “felt appropriate for a goodwill mission, and based on her remarks to C-SPAN, it sounds like it was less a tossed-off outfit choice and more of an intentional message of unity in challenging times.”
Erik Maza, Town & Country’s Style Features Director, said: “It’s a beautiful thing to see a First Lady again harnessing the power of fashion to telegraph America’s goodwill to the world... For their important first overseas trip, the clothes on her back carried a simple message to world leaders from the get go: We come with open arms.”
CNN commentator Ana Navarro-Cárdenas put photos of Jill and Melania’s jackets side-by-side and wrote, “No caption necessary.”
The dual visuals are certainly striking. Nothing Jill Biden wears will solve every (or any) problem, but this look and the brouhaha surrounding it feels especially weak. The coat exemplifies smoke-and-mirrors fashion: it looks pretty. It is a major step up from the last time a First Lady’s jacket went viral. But its promise rings hollow.
Americans might appreciate Jill’s sentiment, but they’d certainly prefer universal health care or student loan forgiveness. It must be tough for LGBTQ Americans to feel LOVE right now, given the numerous ways Republicans and Boris Johnson’s government are attacking trans rights this Pride Month.
Yes, Jill’s message was nice, and certainly nicer than the one Melania wore. The bar has been set very low, and Jill easily surpasses it. But after a crippling pandemic which revealed the brokenness of both political parties, I really don’t care about optics. Do you?