Why Melania Trump’s ‘I Really Don’t Care, Do U?’ Jacket Fit Her Perfectly
When Melania Trump wore the now-infamous ‘I Really Don’t Care, Do U?’ jacket, it finally killed the liberal #FreeMelania fantasy, and set the tone for her tenure as First Lady.
In the days after Melania Trump wore that infamous “I Really Don’t Care, Do U?” jacket while visiting undocumented children detained at the border, journalists everywhere wondered what it could mean. This despite, of course, the fact that there was no special message to uncover, nothing to investigate—Melania had the words printed right on her back.
This was a trend repeated over and over during Melania’s tenure as FLOTUS. She would do something that was often generously described as “tone-deaf,” like wearing that jacket, or renovating the Rose Garden during a pandemic, or doing a photo shoot in the middle of a violent, attempted coup at the Capitol that left five people dead.
Then pundits would wonder why Melania did something. They would search for deeper, psychological answers for her behavior, when the answer was right in front of us all along. She doesn’t care.
Melania’s tenure as first lady ends on Jan. 20. But any hope that she would rise above her husband’s vicious policies ended that July 2018 afternoon at Andrews Air Force Base.
There once was a liberal fantasy that Melania was part of some mythical Trump resistance. It took just one $39 Zara jacket to squash that theory and prove something more sinister than mere complicity. She was entirely apathetic, yawning in the face of the nation’s shame.
Melania responded to the bad press in what would become a hallmark of her media strategy: actually, you’re being mean to me. Stephanie Grisham, Melania’s spokesperson at the time, issued a statement. “It’s a jacket. There was no hidden message. After today’s important visit to Texas, I hope this isn’t what the media is going to choose to focus on.”
Donald Trump weighed in, via Twitter: “I REALLY DON’T CARE, DO U?’ written on the back of Melania’s jacket, refers to the Fake News Media. Melania has learned how dishonest they are, and she truly no longer cares!”
Many, like Whoopi Goldberg on The View, speculated there might be a mole on Melania’s team, prodding her to wear the offensive jacket as an act of sabotage. “She doesn’t have any friends,” who might tell her to take it off, Sunny Hostin offered.
Omarosa Manigault Newman, a former White House aide (and notorious Apprentice alum), wrote in her book Unhinged: An Insider’s Account of the Trump White House, “I believe Melania uses style to punish her husband.” If she’s to be believed, “[Melania] wore that jacket to hurt Trump, setting off a controversy that he would have to fix, prolonging the conversation about the administration’s insensitivity, ruining the trip itself, and trying to make sure that no one asked her to do something like that again.”
These theories did not take into account that Melania is perfectly capable of dressing herself, and has for most of the past four years. Sure, the French designer Hervé Pierre, who designed Melania’s silk crepe inauguration ball gown, sometimes shopped anonymously for her at New York designer flagships and department stores, he told The New York Times. But Pierre told WWD he “hadn’t ever seen the jacket.”
While promoting her memoir last year, Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, a former friend and adviser to Melania, told Anderson Cooper, “The jacket was… a publicity stunt, and it was to garner the attention of the press, to make sure that everyone was aware that Melania was going to the border.”
Melania would later offer her own motivation in an interview a few months later with ABC. “It’s obvious that I didn’t wear the jacket for the children. I wore the jacket to go on the plane and off the plane. And it was for the people and the left-wing media who are criticizing me. And I want to show them that I don’t care. You could criticize, whatever you want to say, it will not stop me to do what I feel is right,” she said.
It was an attack straight out of her husband’s warped playbook. Melania deflected, and made herself the victim. So that Resistance Melania meme, the one so many people wanted to come true, was never really there to begin with. If she was upset with her position, it was only because it inconvenienced her. She said as much in interviews, and she blazed it on her back.
During that ABC interview, a pith helmet sat on a table next to her, as the interview took place during her much-discussed trip to Africa. She donned the accessory on a safari of Kenya, endorsing a style irrevocably tied to the colonial era.
“It’s tired and it’s old and it’s inaccurate,” Kim Yi Dionne, a politics professor at the University of California, Riverside, put it to The New York Times. The choice conjured memories of the abuse inflicted on Kenyans by British imperial forces and spoke to the most watered-down image an American might have of Africa.
It echoed Trump’s preferred descriptor for African nations: “shithole.”
Washington Post senior critic-at-large Robin Givhan would write that “nothing else Melania Trump wears will ever matter again.”
“Her credibility as a moderating force, a gracious presence swathed in silk and lace, has been significantly undermined by her own hand,” Givhan added.
That proved true. There were times The Daily Beast covered her outfits since then—notably, the Disney villain meets Dynasty wardrobe she brought to a London trip in 2019. Her outfits looked like costumes, as if she was cosplaying Nancy Reagan in Art of the Deal-era power dressing.
Her clothing, as always, was a visual manifestation of her husband’s brash, hulking personality. Though Melania often refused to play the traditional first lady for the “fake news” press, she was more than happy to dress the part of trophy wife. She would beg Americans to “focus on what I do, not what I wear,” and then do… not much at all. So we were left with her clothes to dissect.
She wore an olive green, militaristic Alexander McQueen suit for her speech at last year’s Republican National Convention. The wartime look was swiftly dubbed “fascion” by the Instagram account @DietPrada, comparing it to uniforms worn by Hitler, Mussolini, and the North Korean military.
With her words, she tried to calm the “many people [who] are anxious,” their lives upended by the pandemic. But her outfit was a rallying cry, a call to action. There was nothing soft about this kind of diplomacy. It was as sharp as her Louboutin stilettos.
When it came time to vote for her husband on Nov. 3, Melania dressed for the job she wants, and will soon have: a Palm Beach housewife. She did not wear a mask (of course), but a $4,500 Gucci chain-link dress. There were, again, jokes about her in handcuffs—another secret meaning, perhaps, that she feels constricted by her life.
Or not. The frock projected a leisurely indifference, so out of touch with most Americans on that day. She looked like she wanted the whole thing to be over with, and quick. Once again, Melania was saying: I really don’t care.