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Style superstar or pop culture villain? The meaning of Melania Trump’s cape



It was another day and another cape for Melania Trump, who arrived at Buckingham Palace for a reception hosted by the Queen, ahead of the Nato summit. Trump outshone her husband, the president, choosing a yellow Valentino cape coat for the occasion in what was obviously a shrewd sartorial move. No? Let me explain.

Like most of us, the first lady has made fashion missteps: last year, her video tour of the White House’s Christmas decorations saw her wear a black coat (not Christmassy enough) to wander through a dystopian display of blood-red cone trees (terrifying). This year is better: big green trees next to tiny gold ones, accented with dashes of red, and being tinkered with by Melania, dressed all in white. One thing remains, however: the shoulder-robing of her coat, giving it a cape-like quality.

“The coat is a distraction,” wrote the Washington Post’s fashion critic Robin Givhan after @flotus tweeted the video. “It’s a discomforting affectation taken to a ludicrous extreme. In a video that is intended to celebrate the warmth and welcoming spirit of the holiday season, that simple flourish exudes cold, dismissive aloofness.”

The first lady is no stranger to outlandish outerwear, and her cape could draw similar criticism. When the president removed his overcoat for a photocall with Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, at a Clarence House tea held the same day, Melania’s stayed put. Poking out of the yellow, her arms were shrouded in a bright pink dress from Hervé Pierre, matching the pink Christian Louboutin stilettos on her feet. This was not a look imbued with subtlety.

Add to that the fact that yellow, especially in this canary tone, is incongruous with the British winter. From November onwards, UK fashion leans toward a colour pallette of misery: blacks, blues and greys. It is bleak, and that is how we like it. It is not, however, very “spirit of America”, so bright yellow – a sign of someone who does not anticipate wading through the UK’s winter sludge – is a fitting alternative. A ray of sunshine amid our silly Brexit chaos.

This is not the first time Melania has opted to wear yellow on a visit to the UK. Last year, the lemon-coloured J Mendel gown (with cape detailing no less) that she wore to a black-tie dinner at Blenheim Palace earned her numerous comparisons to Beauty and the Beast’s Disney incarnation of Belle, thus implying that Trump was … you guessed it.

According to Dr Aurore Bardey, a lecturer at the London College of Fashion: “A cape will make her style more elegant and more royal.” It’s a simple explanation for Melania’s decision to wear one to the palace. They are also on trend: Balmain, Celine and Chanel all featured several capes within their autumn/winter collections last year. But if that is too sympathetic a reading of her repeat caping then it is worth remembering that capes are also the uniform of many a pop-culture villain, from Marvel’s Swarm to Sleeping Beauty’s Maleficent. Elsewhere, in bullfighting, capes are also used to provoke, and to taunt.


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