When first lady Melania Trump arrived Tuesday in Corpus Christi, Texas, to survey the Hurricane Harvey disaster zone while wearing white sneakers, black pants and a white button-up shirt, New York Times fashion critic Vanessa Friedman saw a calculated decision.
In a column published that evening, Friedman described the outfit as a "costume" for the occasion.
"Women in the capital are generally more associated with sensible pumps than teetering patent leather numbers," she wrote. "This Mrs. Trump understands, which is why she changed into a more suitable costume (I use that word deliberately) for her arrival in Corpus Christi, Tex. The problem is that, as first lady, in an environment as fraught as the current one, there is no such thing as offstage."
Friedman's column dovetailed off a minor social media storm centered on Trump's initial footwear, stilettos she wore when boarding Air Force One but changed midflight, and which many saw as impractical and inappropriate for the situation.
Reached by the Washington Examiner on Wednesday, Friedman said she used the word "costume" as a general term for clothing choices and the way that anyone might use them to convey a message.
"My essential position is clothing is the costume we all wear in everyday life," she said. "It's the costume we don or choose to convey a message to anyone who sees us about how we want to be perceived at that moment."
Friedman has written at length about the intersection of fashion and politics. In May, she described the Obamas as "masters of the sartorial statement" and said that in the current White House, "it is Melania whose clothes may be the most telling."