Melania Trump – first lady of the meme

Kate Bussmann
Statement: That Zara jacket has created another Melania frenzy - AFP/REUTERS

Is it because she so rarely speaks? Or that her face is so monumentally inscrutable? Whatever the reason, the crescendo of speculation around everything that Melania Trump does, wears and says has now reached peak meme with one very vocal Zara jacket. Here, we chart the moments that led to this...

July 2016: Did she plagiarise Michelle Obama? Judge for yourself

When Melania Trump gave a speech to the Republican National Convention in July 2016, she talked of having been raised with "the values that you work hard for what you want in live, that your word is your bond, that you do what you say and keep your promise, that you treat people with respect… because we want our children to know that the only limits to your achievements is the strength of your dreams and your willingness to work for them". Spookily enough, Michelle Obama was raised with exactly the same values, as she told the Democratic convention in 2008… in exactly the same words.

Jan 2017: Inauguration Day

Trump’s Inauguration was a meme-maker’s dream - and we’re not just talking about the size of his crowds. There was the moment when Barack and Michelle greeted their successors on the White House steps, and Melania have Michelle Obama a giant Tiffany box (oddly, the same proportions as the kind you’d get a dozen Krispy Kremes), and the outgoing First Lady turns to hand it off to an aide, failing to hide her total and utter disgust.

Then there was the moment during the ceremony itself, when Trump turned back to talk to his wife, who smiled and nodded… only to drop her smile like a dirty sock as soon as he turned away. (Initially thought to have been a work of mischief, this was rumoured to have been a bit of footage run backwards; the full video of the event proves otherwise.)

And then, during the Women's March on the following day, there was the poster held high by one of the many protesters telling her, ‘Melania: Blink twice if you want us to save you’. And lo, the #FreeMelania hashtag was born.

April 2017: The official portrait

It was many months before the First Lady’s official portrait was unveiled, but when it did, it was worth the wait.

May 2017: I want to hold your hand

In case her decision to stay in New York with her son, Barron, while he finished his school year didn’t stoke enough rumours that she wanted as much distance as possible between her and her husband, there was this: watch closely, and at around 20 seconds, you’ll see her appear to swat his hand away when he reaches for hers.

August 2017: Fashion faux pas, no. 1

What do you wear to a hurricane, when dozens died and tens of thousands were displaced? Stilettos, of course.

October 2017: Fake Melania?

Footage of her glowering behind Trump in a trench coat, oversized sunglasses and face-shading blowdry as he insisted that "we’ve done a great job in Puerto Rico", prompted questions of whether or not the woman we could see may in fact be a body double.

Christmas 2017: Have yourself a terrifying Christmas

Traditionally, one of the First Lady’s duties is to choose the White House’s Christmas decorations. The theme last year? Somewhere between Voldemort and Game of Thrones.

February 2018: Look no hands

Melania again appears to reject holding Trump’s hand, this time evolving her technique by shoulder-robing her coat and thus making his attempts even more futile.

April 2018: #Awkward

This time, there was no question: Melania could not, would not hold her husband’s hand.

May and June 2018: Where's Melania?

For three intriguing weeks between May 10 and June 6, Melania dropped out of view. A surprise announcement that she’d undergone a medical procedure to treat a kidney condition led to spiralling speculation. Even her denial that anything was up was met with scepticism (‘Please show us a photo of yourself holding up today's newspaper with the date visible, we want to know you are ok’, wrote one Twitter wag.)

June 2018: That jacket...

The inscrutability of Melania reaches its zenith with the moment in which she departs for her visit to a centre for refugee children wearing the now-infamous Zara jacket, bearing the words, ‘I really don’t care. Do u?’ Is the message directed at the children? At her husband? Or at the ‘fake news’ media, as he insists? We may never know.