Melania Trump wraps up her first solo overseas trip this weekend, although no one seems to really be able to explain the point of the tour — or why she chose Africa for her first international trip without the president.
The first lady departed on Monday for a four-nation swing through the continent, with stops in Malawi, Egypt, Ghana, and Kenya. The visit offered a bit of visibility to the work of U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the federal agency tasked with overseeing overseas aid.
Never mind that the Trump administration has sought to slash funding for the agency by 30 percent in each of its first two budgets.
The trip was an overseas expansion of her amorphous #BeBest initiative that focuses on anti-bullying and overall well-being among American children. As one might have predicted, Melania Trump’s week-long sojourn was filled with the usual tropes of such visits: events like dancing with school children, going on a safari, and feeding baby elephants.
She donated some books to Malawi at an event held at a school building and observed at teachers taught at a primary school there. It was all more or less what one might have expected.
But controversy erupted Friday, she visited a safari park in Nairobi, Kenya. For some unfathomable reason, the first lady opted to weari a pith helmet — the head gear favored by Africa’s brutal European colonizers, with all the negative associations that go with it. The choice of headgear became an instant cause of mockery on the internet.
Melania Trump wearing a pith helmet on her trip to "Africa" is more than a silly sartorial choice. It's a reflection of her outdated understanding of Africa. (Also, she was photographed in safari attire multiple times on this trip.) #FLOTUSinAfricaBingo https://t.co/aCnkOnPBF8
— kim yi dionne (@dadakim) October 5, 2018
Pressed by reporters in Egypt on Saturday about the controversy over the pith helmet, Trump appeared exasperated, telling them testily “I wish people would focus on what I do, not what I wear.”
Lynn Sweet, a veteran White House reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times, likened Trump’s get-up to “playing dress-up.”
“Can she have it both ways? She sometimes wants people to interpret something out to what she is wearing, and now she is saying don’t focus on it,” Sweet said.
“I have been by the pyramids… You don’t have to dress up like you’re a character out of Indiana Jones, OK?” Sweet told CNN. “I have been to Kenya … No one put on pith helmets and a costume.”
A former fashion model, Melania Trump seems to frequently find herself in a spot of bother when it comes to her wardrobe. She was mocked for donning stiletto heels to survey damage last year from Hurricane Harvey in Texas, and wore similarly impractical footwear while pretending to plant a tree at the White House.
But there was real outrage in June when the first lady wore a jacket with the words, “I Don’t Really Care. Do U?” emblazoned on the back, during a visit at a facility housing some of the thousands of migrant children separated from their parents because of her husband’s heartless immigration policies.
Just before her tone deaf visit to the residential center in Texas, President Donald Trump had signed an executive order halting his own family separation policy but keeping the original zero-tolerance immigration policy his administration implemented a couple of months earlier in effect.
To this day, as ThinkProgress reported earlier this month, there are still dozens of children who remain apart from their relatives because of the administration’s cruel policy.
Sometimes with Melania Trump, missteps in her clothing choices are so much worse than a mere fashion faux pas.