On the night of her father’s election to the presidency, Ivanka wore a very short pinafore dress with a raised waistline and a paper-bag waist. Like so many dresses that she wears, the high-necked, very tightly fitted bodice exposed her arms. As usual, she wore very high heels. There is an eleven-year age difference between these two women, the step-mother and step-daughter.
The silhouette and the color choice are unusual but not in a fashion-forward way. Instead, Ivanka’s choice is nostalgic, both on a personal level and a national level. The nostalgia here is for a childish appearance, with a skirt cut high upon the thighs, box pleats stemming from the “paper bag waist” where the folding of the pleats, usually turned inward and hidden within the garment, is turned out and made apparent to onlookers. Her clasped hands are notable, especially given the poised detachment of her step-mother’s posture. Ivanka tried here to appear as the good little girl — and very specifically, a pre-adolescent girl. It is not that she is “too old” for the dress — who cares about that? It is that the dress is a deliberate, strategic choice and the dress is a young, young girl’s dress from a time long past in the United States.
In the sewing pattern from Advance from the early 1960s we see the prurient feminization of little girls’ bodies that characterized mid-twentieth century American style. Millions of young girls were dressed like this, at least on more-formal occasions: a tight-fitting top, a billowing skirt (often pushed away from the body with a combination of tulle petticoats and deep gathers or pleats), the long expanse of bared leg, and the prim ending of short white socks and flat shoes.
Even in her “normal” dress Ivanka lacks a street-smart or even fashion-forward edge. Her clothing choices call back to a pre-feminist era of the twentieth century. The matching pale lavender satin high heels and tightly-fitted pencil skirt (noticeably and incredibly uncreased by sitting), the “casual” stretch t-shirt — this is a vision of fashion popular from the 1960s to today, but is neither practical nor interesting. What she has here is the skeletal framework of the most basic lines of fashion: tight-fitting bodice, streamlined skirt, matching shoes.
Ivanka’s clothing line has a specific vision of a working woman as someone who does not need to walk (taxis and limos make it possible to wear very high heels in New York City; relying on public transportation and walking means one must concede at least a bit on the height and narrowness of a heel). Tight skirts make walking difficult, especially paired with high heels – the resulting mincing step denotes extreme albeit highly traditional femininity. Ivanka chooses a more flowing and longer skirt when walking with her two children, and thus resembles Kate Middleton (another figure of royalty wedded to a much older vision of womanhood than commonly lived today). On a stroll with her husband she chooses a shorter but more fully-skirted black dress and finally! a pair of pointy-toed, (yes, those toes are going to pinch as her feet slide forward) and patent leather (okay, no give at all to the foot) but at least her calves and feet can relax a bit in flat slingbacks.
Ivanka wore a dress from her eponymous line for her speech at the RNC convention. If one’s idea of power dressing precludes movement, then the dress does impart a sense of vertical mass, and thus, a kind of statement of power. The dress is suggestive of female power tied to sexualization of the body. Likewise, the self-discipline required to fit into such a dress (especially weeks after giving birth) codes as a statement of modern, neo-liberal power over one’s self, very popular among wealthy younger women in the 2010s. This style of dress, commonly seen on Fox News women, tends to be high-necked and high-hemmed, with an athletic armhole style last popular in the 1960s tunic dresses for working women. And once again, the shade of nude-pink (nude only for white women), almost a pastel, connotes non-threatening femininity even while Ivanka herself might claim attention against the backdrop of her darkly-suited father and brothers.
The front image of the website for Ivanka’s branded clothing line suggests a more expansive view of femininity and women than Ivanka’s clothing choices for herself do. Perched in a trophy room pretending to be an “office”, ideal for a trophy working-woman, the model wears a more forgiving style dress, still with the athletic-inspired bodice but a slightly bell-shaped skirt form, hitting below the knee, and paired yet again with a high heel shoe especially demanding to wear, with a retro pointed toe and ankle strap. Walking in this shoe would require slow, careful steps, as the foot sits atop a slick decline of leather, with only the ankle strap and covered toe holding the shoe to the foot. But at least the dress allows for freedom of movement in a way Ivanka’s sheath outfits do not.
Ivanka’s closet lacks clothing that places women on par to the men in their lives. Jeans, tennis shoes, skirts and dresses that allow for free movement, low-heeled shoes to move quickly — not in her wardrobe! Occasionally photographed in darker colors, even as she hits her mid-thirties she remains fond of pale, washed out shades that demand much upkeep in New York City and everywhere in the nation. Her self-discipline towards beauty standards is made evident to onlookers through the streamlined, tight lines of her clothing; her willingness to present herself in an older, nearly-outdated mode of femininity likewise requires much discipline in an era of street fashion, a mix of casual and dress, and mid-range lines such as rag&bone, Vince, Vera Wang and others.