A lot has happened for Melania Trump since she was last seen in public at the first debate of the presidential election, namely a Covid-19 diagnosis which she has described as ‘a rollercoaster of symptoms’. She was forced to cancel an appearence earlier this week but emerged sleeker than ever for the second debate in Nashville on Thursday evening.
And it seems that her brush with the illness which has rocked the world this year might have prompted a tweak to the First Lady’s sartorial strategy because she brought the mask matching trend - fashion’s stab at making pandemic necessities palatable - to the debate, joining her husband on stage wearing a black silk mask which coordinated with her tailored tuxedo dress, believed to be by Christian Dior.
That Melania has chosen to wear black for both of this election’s debates can be no mistake. Whereas she often experiments with bold colours and clashing patterns, black is at once sophisticated and sombre (many on social media noted the funereal feel of her outfit) reflecting America’s current state of crisis but also, perhaps, a contrast to President Trump’s defiant optimism.
Certainly seeing the current First Lady beside Joe Biden’s wife makes the fashion message even more stark. In direct contrast to Melania’s black, Dr Jill Biden wore a bright floral shift dress, also with a mask in matching fabric. With its pretty, overblown rose pattern and delicate pale blue background, Dr Biden’s outfit struck a light, bright note on stage - you couldn’t help but see it as an upbeat antidote to Mrs Trump’s black.
The two prospective future First Ladies’ style choices were emblematic of their roles in their husband’s campaigns. While Melania Trump has made only a handful of appearances in support of the President, Jill Biden has been a constant at the Democrat nominee’s side.
Melania Trump has kept her fashion statements to a minimum too, her most noteworthy look being the military-style Alexander McQueen suit which she wore to support her husband’s second nomination earlier this summer.
Meanwhile, Jill Biden has crafted a signature style of her own which downplays fashion in favour of conscious consumerism - she chose to re-wear an old Gabriela Hearst dress for the first debate and has been seen several times in boots and masks bearing the slogan, ‘Vote’.
Biden’s style certainly has a more approachable and relatable tone than Melania Trump’s, who is credited with creating a Republican Chic look which has influenced one per cent style in recent years; think sharp stiletto heels, immaculate blow dries and precisely tailored designer dresses, often sourced from French and Italian design houses (Gucci, Valentino and Dolce and Gabbana are favourites) rather than US names.
The Trump vs Biden divide played out in their wider families, too. Ivanka Trump also opted for a muted navy sleeveless dress with a surgical blue mask while the rest of her siblings and their partners were also in neutral shades. Ashley Biden was more maximalist, choosing a pale pink pleated design with flashes of red detail - Jill Biden posted a shot of herself walking hand-in-hand with her daughter to the debate on Instagram.
A post shared by Dr. Jill Biden (@drbiden) on Oct 22, 2020 at 8:28pm PDT
The darkness of the Trumps versus the sunny optimism of the Bidens is a tempting narrative to draw from the visual spectacle of the debate but it’s more nuanced than that. While the Trumps have used fashion as a powerful tool in the past, they are now deploying it simply to show gravitas and solemnity. The Bidens’ approach is more traditional in modern political dressing, ensuring every look is as memorable and eye-catching as possible. The strategy which will resonate most with voters remains to be seen.