If a face mask has become the defining symbol of the pandemic, has the color white become a shortcut for Ivanka Trump?
It all started in June with a white MaxMara handbag for $ 1,500 (£ 1,200). And it continued on Monday with an unfolded white shirt worn to distribute boxes of food in Washington. She was there too last week in a puffy white blouse when she used Instagram to promote Goya Beans after its CEO Robert Unanue said the United States was “blessed to have [Donald Trump] like our leader ”. And it has been there on his many, many Air Force One flights.
If it seems far-fetched to think of wearing white as a strategy, consider this: Ivanka has worn white in every public appearance since the start of June, around the time the lockdown was relaxed and the Trumps have seriously returned to their political functions. Labor Day dress codes aside, she conjured up an image of silver power, country club and mighty power. It represents the kind of privilege that has allowed people like her to rise through the ranks – without qualifications, without getting dirty and, of course, without catching the virus.
Take the white mock neck dress she wore to a meeting for a new White House-backed advertising campaign that aims to encourage people “unemployed” or “unhappy” in their jobs to “find something new” . Or the untouchable white Emilia Wickstead skirt and blouse, paired with a white quilted Chanel handbag (and matching white quilted mask) she wore after the campaign backlash. Or even the two white sleeveless shift dresses she wore for internal flights on Air Force One (which begs the question, who flies white when there’s Big Tom and turbulence? Someone whose private plane has enough space for a complete costume change, it is WHO).
This is also in the details. The denouement of the white shirt on Monday says “I’m with you.” Goya-gate’s folded up white blouse says “I’m not, that’s why I have the power to promote these beans.” At this now famous photocall in the church in June, as she walked through a barely cleared park of peaceful protesters using violent means, a lone figure (masked) among costumes, the incredibly large white purse Ivanka took on several new meanings.
Did she bring a large bag to carry Trump’s Bible? Or did she already have the bag with her? Did she know that Nancy Pelosi’s now famous red coat worn at a 2018 Oval Office TV reunion with Trump was also by MaxMara, and that it turned out to be so popular the brand reissued it as he had 10 seasons? Or was she just hoping to use the bag as a distraction, to literally whitewash the rubber bullets that presumably lined the path on the way to church?
White’s stock has grown significantly under the Trump administration, on both sides of the aisle. We all remember future leader Hillary Clinton in one white suit and Nancy Pelosi trying to impeach the president in another. As the colors fade, it is often used to advance a diplomatic point, especially if you are female. A memorable 2019 State of the Union photocall saw Democratic women in the 116th Congress dressed in white to mark the record number of women winning House seats and protesting Trump’s policies. White paid homage to the suffragists, who themselves wore white robes to encourage media coverage in the newspapers (which then, of course, used black and white for photographs). As a self-proclaimed representative of working women, Ivanka has often used white to align with her gender struggle.
And then there is the pandemic. Color can have some prosaic associations – peace and chastity, that sort of thing – but right now it says one thing: “I’m clean.” And deployed as part of the administration’s mismanagement of everything, it is a very effective soft power tool. It is certainly more difficult to castigate her when she has visibly avoided any typically political wardrobe trap.
Visuals count – and Ivanka says less about her politics and more about using an adjacent political platform to sell herself – Ivanka the philanthropist, Ivanka the provocative, Ivanka the icon. But then she probably understands better than anyone.