It’s a universally known fact that Donald Trump is hardly overburdened with style. He and the fashion industry have, at best, a strained relationship. Designers, from Marc Jacobs to Tom Ford, have refused even to dress the US First Lady in case they become associated with him. In the wake of last year’s election results, online fashion site Fashionista – which has a monthly readership of more than 2.5 million – issued a statement saying it would not extensively cover the administration’s sartorial choices: “We plan on having no part in normalising the Trump family.”
Certainly, no one wants to look like Donald Trump outside of Halloween. While Barack Obama was often praised by the men’s fashion press for his love of excellent tailoring and quality outerwear, there are few who clamour to don an explicably long, shiny red tie or an oversized, sometimes mismatched suit. And yet, Trump has changed the way we dress.
It is the job of the fashion industry to reflect the world we live in, good or bad. Leading trend forecaster, Lidewij Edelkoort – once named by Time as one of the 25 most influential people in fashion – said in a new study that Trump has influenced the macro trend – ie the overriding bigger picture that results in the micro trends we see in the shops.
Trump’s derogatory remarks about women have inspired the pervasive theme of female empowerment and feminism in fashion. Since the political rise of Donald Trump, we have seen the prominence of power dressing, arguably a reaction against his sexist behaviour and archaic view of women. Take the dominance of trouser suits, whether Balenciaga, Celine or Stella McCartney; these are looks to make a woman look and feel powerful. You might wear them with trainers or heels, but a matching two-piece offers a pulled-together confidence. Hilary Clinton may have lost the election, but on the catwalk, women were more strong and empowered than ever.
“Trump’s behaviour has certainly affected women directly,” said Pamela Church-Gibson, Reader in Cultural and Historical Studies at London College of Fashion, UAL. “So possibly, both his refusal to nominate any female judges and his promotion elsewhere of a certain sort of overly femininised woman – for example, Ivanka Trump, Kelly Ann Conway, Hope Hicks, Sarah Huckabee Saunders – has reinforced the trend for a new form of power dressing.”
Whereas in the 80s power dressing had come to mean a uniform, a bold-shouldered, sexless suit that would make the wearer feel like one of the boys, the latest take on power dressing has evolved to embrace femininity. In a Trump world, women want to assert their identity more than ever. The waist made a return and sleeves became exaggerated and emboldened. At Prada, pencil skirts were trimmed with marabou feathers, while at Celine oversized blazers were styled with fluid midi skirts. Balenciaga laid claim to pinstripe jackets worn with daring spandex thigh-high boots, which – although inappropriate in most office environments – were authoritative, yet daring. It’s not aggressive, but it sure is commanding.
Consider the rise of this season’s key colours – pink became the colour associated with the women’s marches of March this year, held following Trump’s inauguration. For spring/summer 2018, it’s huge – as adopted by Christopher Kane, Erdem and Gucci. Then there’s autumn/winter’s love of red – the shade of anger, courage sexuality repression and also revolution. It’s a loaded hue indeed, which is as much Offred from Handmaid’s Tale as it is Rihanna looking like a regency queen in a scarlet Giambattista Valli gown.
Modesty dressing is another ubiquitous trend to have emerged in the wake of Trump – hemlines are longer – midi or floor length styles are everywhere. Again, this isn’t coincidental. Plunging necklines have taken a sidestep in favour of statement sleeves and polo necks. Silhouettes have a loose, graceful fluidity to them, as seen at Victoria Beckham, Celine and Preen. The idea of layering trousers under dresses is back, worn by stars such as Emma Stone, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley and Emma Watson. Covering up as a form of female empowerment is a divisive issue – some women see liberation in showing off their body, while others find it in modesty dressing. The matter boils down to a woman’s individual choice. It’s also noteworthy that such fluid pieces are the opposite of how his wife dresses, who prefers “wholly impractical, often very sexualised clothes”.
“Trump’s grossly sexual remarks, the allegations of his past misconduct, and his current defence of Judge Roy Moore has surely made the fashion for modest dressing seem very attractive,” said Church-Gibson. “Though why should women have to cover up to avoid unwanted attention from older men in positions of power?”