All the world is on pins and needles as President Trump’s domestic and foreign policies unfold. The Russians! Affordable Health Care replacement! Early morning Tweets accusing his predecessor of illegal wiretapping! Who can begin to imagine what might come next?
Weighty matters aside, every new presidency brings with it change in all aspects of the White House. The areas traditionally focused on the First Lady are closely watched as well. While our new First Lady, Melania Trump, has been nowhere nearly as vocal or unpredictable as her husband, she is leaving observers guessing about what she will do and how she will do it.
Her predecessor, Michelle Obama, was noted for her fashion choices. She wore young American designers and jump-started a few careers that are now booming. She made a point on important state occasions of wearing clothing designed by someone from the country being honored. She also made a point of wearing clothes available to the rest of us — sweaters from J. Crew and sundresses from Target, and she saw to it that her daughters did as well.
Our new First Lady is a former model — usually with clothes on, but sometimes without, so it is understandable that fashionistas around the world are curious as to her White House style. Fashion enthusiasts may remember her Vogue cover posing in her $100,000 wedding gown, but thus far in her husband’s presidency, she has favored monochromatic ensembles with high heels and long, flowing tresses. White and red seem to be favorite colors, though she did choose a Carolina blue suit for her husband’s inauguration. Another question is who will design Mrs. Trump’s First Lady wardrobe. American designers and fashion industry titans generally supported Hillary Clinton in 2016, and several even fundraised for her. That leaves open the questions of whether Mrs. Trump might hold a grudge and whether some in the industry will decline to work with her.
My guess and my hope is that everyone will do some metaphorical kissing and making up. America’s First Ladies, particularly Jacqueline Kennedy, Nancy Reagan and Michelle Obama, have been big boosters of the American fashion industry. As a beauty and a former model, Melania Trump is an ideal person for this particular responsibility. She is, after all, married to one of our nation’s most famous business tycoons, and she was entrepreneurial herself earlier in their marriage. As Liza Minnelli and Joel Grey sang so memorably in Cabaret, “money makes the world go round.”
Then there is food.
Former President Bill Clinton was famous for his fast food tastes, but he reformed and is now a vegan. President Trump has had no such epiphany. The New York Times reports our new president’s favorite foods include Kentucky Fried chicken, McDonald’s, Diet Coke and meatloaf. He drinks no coffee, tea or alcohol.
So what about White House entertaining, from casual and private to the ultimate in formality, a state dinner? President Trump has joked about doing away with them in favor of working lunches in order to make “better deals.” Will there be no wine in the White House, a la former President Jimmy Carter?
The truth is no one really knows, because such planning is traditionally part of the unpaid First Lady’s job, and she is still in New York while their young son completes the school year. Michelle Obama was known for her White House vegetable garden with heirloom tomatoes both to serve at the White House and to promote her campaign for healthy eating. The New York Times reported last week that Mrs. Trump is keeping the garden, but she has not said much else about things in the kitchen. So, for the time being at least, the White House is operating much as it has for the last eight years, although it is known that Mrs. Trump supports eating lots of fruit and drinking lots of water.
She has lots of history to borrow from if she chooses, ranging from Eleanor Roosevelt’s abandonment of things domestic to the point that guests ate before going to dinner at the White House because the food was so bad to Jacqueline Kennedy’s keenness for French wine and cuisine. In between, Mamie Eisenhower demanded thrifty use of leftovers, and later Ronald Reagan and George Bush the First introduced the nation to Jelly Bellies and pork rinds.
Melania Trump is keeping the home fires burning in Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue, but there is no shortage of interest in what she will do once she takes up her volunteer responsibilities as First Lady. My guess is she is going to do exactly what her husband is doing.
She will be a first lady on her own terms, whatever they may be.