Remember that time Melania Trump shocked and enraged the media with her choice of clothing? No, not that time — the other time, when she wore a white pith helmet on safari during her solo visit to Kenya in 2018, which many quickly pointed out is a symbol of European colonial rule over Africa. But the new tell-all book Melania and Me: The Rise and Fall of My Friendship with the First Lady reveals Melania’s reasoning for choosing that particular hat in the First Lady’s own words. And fair warning: this will be a tough pill to swallow if you’ve spent any amount of time analyzing the Slovenian-American’s fashion choices for deeper meaning. As Melania proves here, sometimes the simplest explanation is the best one.
Melania and Me author Stephanie Winston Wolkoff was Melania’s friend for decades, and quickly became her senior advisor in the White House — until an investigation into inauguration funds led to betrayal, damaged reputations, and an end to their long relationship. By 2018, their ties had already begun to fray, and it was in their final phone conversation that Melania brought up the controversy that her pith helmet had caused.
“October took Melania to Kenya, where she wore a pith helmet reminiscent of colonialists from Europe,” Wolkoff recalls. “She said her sartorial choice offended the ‘liberal media.'”
Melania went on to explain how she’d landed on the helmet to begin with: “‘I googled ‘what to wear on safari,’ saw the outfit, and liked it. So I bought it,’ she said. ‘I wasn’t making a comment on colonialism.'”
Like I said, this isn’t the easiest explanation to accept if you’ve invested energy into proving otherwise — nor does it excuse the thoughtlessness of the gesture, even if the intention to offend wasn’t there. But Melania’s version of events certainly has the ring of truth. For the former model, fashion has always been front and center in her interests, often over the statement it might send — like her multiple requests to wear Karl Lagerfeld rather than an American designer at the inauguration.
In the end, it isn’t surprising that she googled “what to wear on safari,” because it’s what any of us might have done if plucked off the street and dropped in the White House to serve as First Lady. Melania has committed herself to a level of unpreparedness for her duties outranked only by her commitment to apathy, and the colonial-style helmet she found on Google is a terrific reminder of both.
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