It's the latest Tropical Storm Harvey-related social media scandal. President and First Lady Donald and Melania Trump were photographed leaving the White House for Corpus Christi, Texas, to get a briefing on Tropical Storm Harvey, which so far is responsible for at least 30 deaths and has left tens of thousands homeless. Donald Trump was wearing the windbreaker that seems to be standard issue for disaster-viewing Presidents. Melania Trump was wearing a stylish, shiny bomber-style jacket, slim-legged black trousers, and what appeared to be Manolo Blahnik classic black pumps with five-inch stiletto heels. To make matters worse, the First Lady's short pants--what are commonly referred to as "high-water," a painful term in this context--made the shoes the highlight of the outfit.
Blahnik has said the black pumps are "a good shoe for every occasion," quipped Footwear News. "But how practical are stilettos in flood zones?"
Of course, Twitter had a field day.
"45 & @FLOTUS 'touring' Houston; dressed like they r going to the club; stiletto heels & all. Baffling & insensitive," wrote one Twitter user. "Frankly I think a 12 inch stiletto heel makes perfect sense if you're trying to stay elevated above the water line &also catch a fish or two," wrote another.
And then there was this:
The criticism got so bad that the White House actually issued a statement promising Melania would change her attire between Washington and Corpus Christi, and indeed she deplaned wearing white sneakers and a crisp white blouse with a raised collar.
Meantime, sure enough, there was backlash against the criticism. CNN reporter Kate Bennett tweeted this quote from Melania's communications director: "It's sad that we have an active and ongoing natural disaster in Texas, and people are worried about her shoes." Someone else commented: "Melania wasn't prepared with the correct footwear but no one can claim she doesn't care, she is there right?" Said another, "What with #Houston being underwater and all, who gives a damn about #MelaniaShoes? it's a distraction from what really matters." Even Kathy Griffin, who suffered through her own internet storm after tweeting a photo of herself with a fake model of Donald Trump's lifeless head, chided her followers: "There are many reasons the Trump administration concerns me ... Melania Trump's shoes aren't one of them. Not today kids."
I'm sorry, but, yes, it really does matter that Melania Trump headed out to a disaster zone in five-inch stiletto heels. Even if she is famous for wearing them nearly all the time, and even if she was planning to change on the plane even before her footwear became the latest internet meme. We live in a world of visual communication, and this is especially true of Melania Trump, who has not been very vocal about much of anything during her time as a candidate's wife and now First Lady.
Yes, these are serious times, especially in Texas, and no, no one should be obsessing about what the First Lady has on her feet. That's precisely the point. By taking the time to carefully put together not one but two made-for-paparazzi looks, the first reminiscent of Top Gun, the second of preppies everywhere, Melania Trump pulled the focus of the visit away from where it belonged. Many commenters claimed the shoes were proof that the President and First Lady were merely seeking a photo op and not a chance to be helpful. I don't know if that's true, but her clothing choices sure made it look that way.
I'm about as far away from a smart dresser as you can be. But in my work, it comes up reasonably often that I have to visit people in their workplaces to talk to them about what they do. I dress neutrally, conservatively, and in keeping with any formal or informal dress codes wherever I'm going. That's because I don't want my attire to distract in any way from the business at hand. I want the focus to be on them, not on me, and I want them to be as comfortable with me as possible.
Did Melania Trump want any of that when she headed off to Texas? Unknown. But if she did, she failed miserably, on all three counts.