In the “wrong side” of the upstate New York suburb where I lived in the 1990s, there were only two options for buying clothes: Kmart and similar discount chains, or the late department-store chain Kauffman’s.
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In both cases, most of the blouses and dresses were high-collared and square. The halls of my high school were filled, winter and summer, with hundreds of girls who appeared to have been locked inside a fabric box.
Ivanka Trump’s latest collection brought me back to those days, and not in a good way. If I had to guess the words on her vision board for the collection, I’d have to go with “fear,” “conservatism,” “boredom” and “Everything Daddy likes.” The board probably included stills from “Golden Girls” next to the women of Fox News.
In other words, the collection is authentic, contemporary Americana: less skyscrapers, ranchers, gas stations and Cadillacs, more the homogenous masses that go to Chipotle every day at 6 P.M for a super-sized meal.
What stands out most about the collection is its near-total lack of color: Three coral items in a sea of blue, black, gray and white.
The Lord & Taylor website, for example, has rows of such square and floral tops, like boxes of scented soaps. Or, for just $95 (reduced from $159), you can hide inside a gray tweed refrigerator box.
Beyond the Lord & Taylor site, which probably targets the most conservative dresses, one can find somewhat more body-conscious styles. There’s a not-so-small black dress which hugs the curves but ends far below the knee. There are two styles of black tights that, while flattering, are nothing special. After all, they’re tights.
Trump’s fashions send a clear message to women: Don’t shine, don’t stand out, be careful. Put yourself in a drab, shapeless box. Don’t even think about emanating sexuality. Ironically, these clothes serve, albeit much more moderately, the same purpose as a burka, that item that would terrify Ivanka’s father to the bone.
Direct attack on the president
There is no lack of companies making conservative clothes for conservative women. Land’s End, for example, has done so successfully since the 1960s. L.L. Bean, too, has let women and their daughters look like clones of Republican senators. But these brands don’t have a well-oiled PR machine that includes White House propaganda.
In light of this, it is hard to have an opinion about Ivanka Trump’s clothes without relating to the current events context in which they are sold. One front was opened earlier this month, when a number of department store chains announced they would drop or curtail Ivanka Trump’s line, after a consumer boycott caused a sharp drop in their sales. President Donald Trump didn’t let his day job get in the way of attacking the chains, including the venerable Nordstrom.
If Trump refuses to see the problem in his behavior, the media are ready to explain it to him. The New York Times, for example, called his behavior in this regard as “once again raising ethical questions about the relationship between his presidency and his family’s sprawling business interests.”
Britain’s The Guardian added an imaginary comparison, using the husband of Prime Minister Theresa May to bring home the absurdity of the situation. “It’s rather as if Philip May decided to launch a range of novelty ties, and Theresa May called a press conference to berate Marks and Spencer for not stocking them,” it wrote.
The Guardian also noted that Ivanka has exploited her new position as First Daughter to leverage her businesses more than once. After addressing the Republican national convention “in a pink dress from her own collection” in July, the Guardian reported, “she promptly tweeted details for anyone keen to ‘shop Ivanka’s look!’” Her official biography on the White House website included, until recently, details on where to buy her jewelry line. They were removed only after public pressure.
As if that weren’t enough, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said on Friday that an attack on Ivanka Trump’s brand was a “direct attack” on the president, added that Donald Trump “has every right to stand up for his family” and “applaud their business activity.”
Around the same time, senior Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway seemed to blatantly violate federal ethics rules when she used an interview on Fox to call on viewers to go buy Ivanka Trump products. Despite various reports indicating that Conway was “counseled” for her behavior, it does not seem like there is a trend of greater awareness. On the contrary, according to most of the information, the family that moved into the White House is determined more than ever to drag down America with it.
Actually, during my last visit to my old town, when I was walking, of course, in the mall, I was shocked to see that the department stores — the broadest common denominator of the domestic consumer — had broadened their inventories. New stores targeting younger shoppers also offered a much greater variety of clothing than what was once the norm. They weren’t even that much different than what I could find in New York City, six hours away. If a few thousand residents of the conservative suburb that I knew could handle progress, why do Ivanka Trump and her family insist on going backward?