The First Lady’s Fashion: What Does It Mean at Home and Abroad?

In America and other countries like it, we may not think much about what prominent figures are wearing. With no real restrictions on clothing, it doesn’t make much sense to. However, when the first lady of America goes to an extremely conservative country like Saudi Arabia, what she wears can make a statement. Does she conform to their ideas of women and what they should wear? Does she completely disregard those ideas, or does she fall somewhere in the middle?

The American media called a lot of attention to what Melania wore in her trips abroad. Mainly, people were debating whether or not her clothing choices were a silent protest to the traditional standards for females in countries like Saudi Arabia.

What She Wore

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Image: Marek Prygiel at

She arrived in a black jumpsuit with a gold belt, which a fashion expert called an “ode to the abaya,” or the robe-like garment many Middle Eastern women wear. It was modest and covered her body, but she didn’t wear the traditional headscarf that’s custom for the country.

She also wore a white pantsuit to the Arab Islamic Summit. Under Islamic law, males are required to dress conservatively when they attend this and females are encouraged to wear ankle-length skirts. The fact that Melania wore a pantsuit instead could speak volumes.

Her last notable outfit was the safari-like dress she wore to an all-women service center.

What Does It Mean?

While it may seem trivial, even sexist, to some to focus on clothing, it can say a lot in these matters. A high-profile Western woman is entering a country that’s known for its restrictions on women. They aren’t allowed to drive or go out without a male family member or husband in many instances. They’re covered from head to toe with their garments.

The white pantsuit she wore to the Arab Islamic Summit is perhaps one of the most interesting choices. Instead of wearing the skirt as suggested, she wore pants. Could this be a statement saying that she belongs there just as much as the men do? That she doesn’t have to wear a skirt to signify her womanhood?

Why It Matters

In the grand scheme of things, women are still newcomers in the political sphere. For so long, we were given no voice or place in politics or the shaping of the world. Even now, in the role of first lady, Melania is mainly seen and not heard. First ladies have their causes while they’re in the White House, but unfortunately many still see their work as hobbies compared to the work the President is doing.

This is why every little thing a woman does in this spotlight is important. Melania’s clothes are small protests or, at the very least, a way of making her voice heard. You’ll certainly see her and take notice, but she isn’t dressed like the quintessential first lady. She’s dressed to make a statement, albeit one that still makes an attempt to be respectful to the culture she’s in the midst of.

Men don’t have to have these kinds of fights. Their clothes don’t need to make a statement, because their voices are already heard on the main political stage. Melania’s clothing choices in Saudi Arabia show that women can still be modest and stylish at the same time. This could be seen as a big deal in a country where women are required to stay covered.

Though we’ve come so far in achieving equal rights as women, America and many other countries still have a long ways to go. Melania making a statement is important. However, you would never see a man having to make a statement through his clothing. Hopefully, in the future, we’ll be talking a bit less about the clothing, and more about the women in the spotlight who are making statements with their voices.


kate-harvestonKate Harveston is a political writer and activist. She enjoys writing about issues related to social justice and policy reform, but she also writes about a variety of other cultural topics. If you like her work, you can follow her on Twitter for updates or subscribe to her blog, Only Slightly Biased.