What will Melania Trump wear to the inauguration?

Dressing the first lady has long been considered an honor for fashion designers. This year, however, the choice has become more political than ever.

Patrick Semansky/AP/File
Melania Trump, wife of then-Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, speaks in Berwyn, Pa., on Nov. 3, 2016. Speculation around Mrs. Trump's Inauguration outfit has surpassed the typical level of curiosity, as numerous designers have expressed reservations about working with the Trump family. the question is interlaced with politics, as designers have publicly grappled with the question of whether they would dress Melania Trump.

What first ladies choose to wear has never just been a fashion statement, but the soon-to-be first lady Melania Trump’s decisions for Inauguration Day and Night might have larger political implications this year.

If she doesn’t simply buy off the rack, the first lady will most likely wear a custom-made, high-end piece. But finding a designer to craft her unique look has proven difficult, as many designers have publicly refused to work with the Trump family for political reasons.

Such refusals are a marked departure from the norm. Traditionally, designing a dress for the first lady has been considered a great honor and high-profile business opportunity for designers.

"The impact of the first lady is really, really powerful," Naeem Khan, an Indian-born American designer who has dressed Michelle Obama close to 20 times, told the Associated Press. "It turned us into a global business."

Yet, despite the appeal to increased fame for designers, the Slovenian-born former model has fewer options than usual this year.

In an industry that favored Hillary Clinton, several designers have indicated their strong opposition to working with the Trump family during the upcoming four years.

“As one who celebrates and strives for diversity, individual freedom, and respect for all lifestyles, I will not participate in dressing or associating in any way with the next First Lady,” Sophie Theallet, a designer who dressed Mrs. Obama, wrote in an open letter in November, as reported by The New York Times. “The rhetoric of racism, sexism, and xenophobia unleashed by her husband’s presidential campaign are incompatible with the shared values we live by.”

Though few designers have made such public declarations, when asked, some other American influential figures, including Marc Jacobs and Tom Ford, have said they too would not design for the first lady.

For Ms. Khan, the issue is simply a matter of professional choice.

"Every designer has a point of view," Khan, who declined to design an inauguration gown for Trump, said. "A designer is an artist, and should have the choice of who they want to dress or not."

Historian Carl Sferrazza Anthony of the National First Ladies' Library points to this debate as an example of the way that politics have entered aspects of life in an unprecedented way.

“This is the first time that this moment is being used by professionals and people in the fashion industry as an opportunity to put their political views out there in public," he told the Associated Press.

Among speculations as to who will design Trump's dress, Ralph Lauren has emerged as the front-runner. Despite wearing a sleeveless Dolce & Gabbana dress for New Year’s Eve, which many think was purchased off the rack, Trump often wore Mr. Lauren’s designs along the campaign trail.

Although an unabashed Clinton supporter, Mr. Lauren is reportedly working on a gown for Trump, according to fashion site Women’s Wear Daily. The brand’s aesthetic has been seen as a perfect choice for the Trumps, representing “a highly sophisticated, idealized version of the American dream,” according to The Guardian.

Other contenders include Karl Lagerfeld and Tommy Hilfiger, who has publicly complimented the first lady.

“I think Melania is a very beautiful woman and I think any designer should be proud to dress her,” Mr. Hilfiger said told Women's Wear Daily in November. “I don’t think people should become political about it. Everyone was very happy to dress Michelle [Obama] as well. I think they look great in the clothes. You’re not gonna get much more beautiful than Ivanka or Melania.”

This story includes materials from the Associated Press and Reuters. 

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