Melania Trump's Stunning Style Transformation

As wives of the world's most powerful men, style and presentation are integral to a first lady's persona. Whether it be the pastel Chanel power suits of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis or the understated elegance of Michelle Obama, first ladies have made an undeniable impact on the fashion world. Despite her polarizing presence, Melania Trump's ever evolving wardrobe continues to fascinate and intrigue fashionistas. From the outset of her tenure in the White House, Trump settled into first lady fashion like a natural. But the model-turned-FLOTUS wasn't always so impeccably chic. Like the best of us, she has had some fashion faux pas throughout the years.

While there remains much discourse over the reasons why Melania and Donald Trump stay together in spite of the latter's myriad abuses of power and outright racist remarks, it looks like this problematic power couple won't be calling it quits any time soon. And as Donald's 2024 presidential campaign picks up steam, the public will likely once again be seeing much more of Melania and her idiosyncratic fits. From her carefree '90s cover girl era to her unforgettable reign as first lady, let's take a look at Melania Trump's stunning style transformation.

A fresh-faced Melania Trump rocked the '90s supermodel aesthetic

Born into poverty in Slovenia, Melania Trump's early years were totally different to her life today. But the erstwhile Ms Knauss was determined to escape the penury of her homeland. After being told by a street photographer that she had what it took to become a model, she moved to New York in 1996 in pursuit of the runway — and the American dream. "Of course, I always loved fashion—and I was always the tallest one and the skinniest one, so that helped," she told Harper's Bazaar in 2016. 

Two years later, she met Donald Trump at a Fashion Week party. Don was instantly smitten with the Slovenian beauty and pursued her despite having a date with him at the time. Though she rejected his advances at first, Melania eventually gave the real estate magnate a call and they went on their first date, partying at the popular '90s nightclub Moomba.

During the early days of the pair's courtship, Melania looked vastly different to the image that has come to embody her. The then 28-year-old sported dark chestnut locks and quintessentially '90s pencil brows. But it's her style that is particularly startling: far less polished and refined than her FLOTUS wardrobe, the model paired her slinky, satin babydoll dress with a simple lace clutch and sandals.

Melania Trump was queen of the LBD

As her relationship with Donald Trump blossomed, there was a marked shift in Melania Trump's wardrobe. In 1999, the model began appearing more put together and polished, donning chic LBDs (albeit still in her beloved babydoll style) at glitzy events. Her hair, which was already enviable in all its luster, also appeared more controlled, with Melania showcasing sleek ironed locks. It was the '90s, after all.

That year, she sat down with ABC News for one of her first high-profile interviews. The fresh-faced girl-about-town waxed lyrical about her billionaire beau, declaring that she could totally see him being a great president and would stand by him no matter what. "He's very smart," she stated. "He knows how to do a business. He would be a great leader." Asked about her aspirations to become a first lady, Melania's response was eerily prophetic. "I would be very traditional, like Jackie Kennedy and Betty Ford," she mused.

Her style changed after she briefly split from Donald Trump

Though she had dreams of being a Jackie O-style first lady, Melania Trump split from Donald Trump during his presidential bid in January 2000. However, they appeared to be in the midst of reconciling weeks later. During this time, Melania's style shifted once again, appearing less monochromatic and more playful. Appearing at the VH1 Vogue Fashion Awards, she sported messy beach waves and a vibrant maxi dress with a pattern resembling mermaid scales, making her look like a siren come to life. Though in vogue for the early 2000s, it's near impossible to imagine Melania wearing a get-up like this in her White House era.

Chatting to DuJour, Melania opened up about her brief break from Donald, acknowledging that the campaign trail drew a wedge between them. "That was part of it. We were apart for a few months, not long. We got back together," she said. "He was always thinking about it. But he loved what he did, he had his business. He was not saying 'Now is the time.'"

The model transitioned seamlessly into Y2k fashion

Having obtained her green card in 2001, Melania Trump was settling into life in the U.S. by the early aughts, attending fashion shows and glitzy soirees. Her modeling work was also flourishing; in 2002, she appeared on the cover of New York Magazine, recreating the iconic "V-J Day in Times Square" snap in a homage to the firefighters who risked their lives in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. In addition to embracing North American culture, Melania was also adopting the styles of the era.

Fur made a major comeback at the start of the decade, and Melania was game for seizing this popular, albeit controversial, trend. Appearing at a Victoria's Secret fashion show in 2002, the Donald Trump's future wife looked like she'd stepped off the set of a Scorsese film, giving mob wife in an extremely oversized fur coat layered over a slinky black slip dress. Testament to her flair for fashion, her transition from '90s model to Y2k girlie was seamless. Then again, it's difficult to fathom present-day Melania endorsing a boujee fit like this.

Newly married Melania Trump glowed in the mid aughts

In January 2005, Melania and Donald Trump tied the knot in a swanky Palm Beach ceremony attended by everyone from Shaquille O'Neal to Don's future arch-nemesis, Hillary Clinton. The bride wore a stunning $187,000 Dior dress that took 1,000 hours to assemble, and appeared on the cover of Vogue in a majestic bridal spread. Chatting to Tatler, Donald said that he was in awe of his new wife's physical appearance. "In Palm Beach, I told her she could be the queen of this town, and the women of society have fallen in love with her," he gushed. "They cannot believe her physical beauty."

Following her nuptials, Melania was enjoying A-list status and appeared at the Met Gala that spring. Donald's heavily bronzed betrothed, who had hitherto exhibited a much fairer complexion, was glowing on the red carpet in a black satin Alexander McQueen gown that hugged her figure. The dress' sumptuous white train gave Melania a swan-like elegance, as did her updo. Years later, this retro updo would  become a defining staple of her first lady looks.

Melania Trump had some style slip-ups at the end of the decade

Melania Trump has had her fair share of fashion faux pas throughout the years. In 2008, the model appeared at the premiere of the "Sex and the City" movie in a white smock dress that missed the mark. The unflattering number was paired with an oversized beaded necklace, which, as Abe Simpson would say, was the style at the time. The clunky styling and inexplicable addition of zebra print heels made this outfit a rare dud in Melania's typically stunning sartorial oeuvre.

But perhaps she had things on her mind other than fashion. Two years earlier, she gave birth to her first child (and Donald Trump's fifth), Barron Trump. In a 2008 Vanity Fair profile, the outlet noted that Melania was highly attentive of her toddler. When asked if she was planning to have any more children, the model wryly quipped, "I already have two."

By the early 2010s, Melania Trump's wardrobe was foreshadowing her stint as first lady

By 2010, Melania Trump's wardrobe had shifted to the graceful aesthetic that has since become her signature style. Attending the ACE Awards, one would be forgiven for thinking that she was already the first lady. Melania rocked a sparkly, figure-hugging black gown and vintage updo, accessorizing the outfit with diamond jewelry.

Her clothing was, however, the only indicator that she may be a future Republican first lady. That year, she sat down with New York magazine to discuss her favorite Big Apple pastimes and to declare that her hubby was the "sexiest man in the world!!!" Interestingly, Melania also told the outlet that she and Donald Trump had recently seen Green Day's "American Idiot" musical on Broadway, and thoroughly enjoyed it. The musical — and the titular album on which it is based — was written as a protest against former president George W. Bush, and was later tweaked to reflect the Trump administration (frontman Billie Joe Armstrong changed the lyric "I'm not a part of a redneck agenda" to "I'm not part of the MAGA agenda" following Trump's election). It was an unusual admission from the future first lady, considering that Donald had changed his political allegiance from the Democratic Party to the Republicans the previous year.

The former model's style became more demure during her husband's presidential campaign

By 2016, Donald Trump's presidential campaign was underway and Melania Trump was gaining significant media attention for her clothing. Throughout her husband's presidential bid, Melania was decked out in timelessly elegant attire, signifying a marked shift in her personal style from snazzy New Yorker-about-town to demure politician's wife. Joining her husband at the Republican National Convention, she donned a sophisticated white shift dress with extravagant puff sleeves, and soon found herself the talk of the town. As the Los Angeles Times noted, the ensemble, which Melania put together without the help of a stylist, was made by Serbian designer Roksanda Ilincic, a sartorial choice that seemed at odds with Donald's "Make America Great Again" mantra.

Speaking to Elle that year, fashion professor Dincuff Charleston argued that the change in Melania's wardrobe was palpable. "Her style has matured," Charleston said. "I think it's gotten a little more in line with what we think of as first lady style. I don't think we'll ever see her in those babydoll dresses she used to wear."

However, Melania denied that she had altered her fashion sense to suit first lady sensibilities. "My style has stayed pretty consistent over the years," she told Elle. "I always wear what I like and what is appropriate for the occasion."

Her inauguration outfit echoed Jackie O

In 2017, Donald Trump was sworn into the White House. While the president's speech received widespread negative feedback, with many critics criticizing his reliance on divisive language, Melania Trump was praised highly for her stunning outfit, its pastel softness deemed a welcome contrast to the abrasiveness of Don's blood red MAGA hats.

Staying true to her aforementioned promise to bring a Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis-inspired aesthetic to her role as first lady, Melania channeled the former Mrs. Kennedy in a duck egg blue suit with matching gloves and a perfectly styled updo. Whereas she had previously raised eyebrows for wearing Roksanda, Melania showcased one of the most iconic names in American fashion for her inauguration look: Ralph Lauren. But unlike Jackie O, who was a devoted career girl, Melania appeared very much the dutiful wife to Donald — even when he seemingly didn't treat her with the utmost respect. Indeed, there was a particularly toe-curling moment during the ceremony in which Donald appeared to callously leave his wife in the car, walking on ahead to greet the Obamas without her.

Melania later turned heads in her inaugural gown, a cream, off-the-shoulder number by Hervé Pierre. "She didn't want a big ball gown, she wanted something sleek, ivory, vanilla," Pierre told The New York Times. "It had to be really, really right because it was going to be part of history."

Melania Trump's green jacket sparked major controversy

In 2018, Melania Trump launched the Be Best campaign to educate children on the state of the world. But soon, her compassion for children was called into question thanks to some suspect styling choices. That year, Donald Trump was facing widespread criticism due to the detainment of child migrants. The controversy deepened when Melania wore a military-style Zara jacket emblazoned with the words "I really don't care, do u?" while visiting children at a detention center in Texas. Her choice of attire was deemed heartless by human rights organizations and opponents of the Trump administration. Donald defended his wife, claiming on X, formerly known as Twitter, that she wore the jacket because she had grown weary of the so-called "fake news media."

In an interview with ABC News, Melania, who claimed she was the most bullied person in the world, confirmed that she donned the offending jacket to send a message, though not the kind some might think. "It's obvious I didn't wear the jacket for the children," she explained. "I wore the jacket to go on the plane and off the plane ... After the visit, I put it back on because I see how [the] media got obsessed about it."

According to Katie Rogers' 2024 book "American Woman: The Transformation of the Modern First Lady, from Hillary Clinton to Jill Biden," Melania actually wore the jacket to send a message to her stepdaughter, Ivanka Trump, with whom she was allegedly locked in a perpetual power struggle.

The first lady's wardrobe remained austere as she supported her husband's re-election bid

As her time as first lady came to an end, Melania Trump's style became increasingly traditionalist. Giving a speech at the Republican National Convention to advocate for Donald Trump's re-election in 2020, she looked unusually austere in a military green suit, harking back to her aforementioned controversial jacket. But in an unusual move — and in stark contrast to her stoic appearance — she spoke about the devastating impact of the pandemic, something her husband had seemingly made a concerted effort to avoid. "I know many people are anxious and some feel helpless," she said, per Sky News. "I want you to know you are not alone."

Stylist Naina Singla told Express that Melania had become noticeably more conservative since entering the White House, and this was reflected in her outfits. "She used to wear more form fitting dresses, baby doll dresses, plunging necklines, and miniskirts. But now we would not see her wearing such styles," Singla explained. "She dropped her hemline since becoming the First Lady and she wears more pants and pant suits. Her look is more polished and professional." One couldn't help but wonder, then, if leaving the Executive Mansion would cause Melania to revert to her more flamboyant aesthetics.

After leaving the White House, Melania Trump kept things low-key

By 2021, Melania Trump was out of the White House and back to civilian life. Though she left her post with the worst popularity rating of any first lady in recent history, with 47% of those polled holding an unfavorable opinion of her, her wardrobe largely evaded criticism (green Zara jacket aside). Having reportedly spent over $1 million on clothing during her tenure, Melania left an indelible legacy of curating enviable first lady looks. Slate, a staunchly anti-Trump outlet, argued that her wardrobe was the best thing about the Trump presidency, while Lisa Armstrong of The Telegraph lamented that she would secretly miss the FLOTUS and her flair for fashion. Such discourse proves that Melania truly is a problematic fave.

That summer, she was snapped on an outing with her son, Barron Trump. The mom-and-son duo had a sweet twinning moment, both wearing jeans and carrying handbags as they headed out of Trump Tower. While not as playful as her aforementioned babydoll ensembles, Melania appeared far less austere in a casual shirt and jeans combo.

She has showcased her flair for street style

In the years that have followed her stint as first lady, Melania Trump has been showcasing her flair for understated street style in the midst of personal turmoil. In 2023, she looked solemn as she headed to Trump Tower following her husband's 37-count indictment pertaining to the storage of classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago resort. According to sources who chatted to Page Six, Melania would be supporting Donald Trump throughout his legal battle.

Despite these setbacks, which would lead even the most committed fashionistas to don their Ben and Jerry's-bedewed sweatpants, Melania eschewed a bad clothes day and wore one of her best looks yet. Styling a black sweater over a tan midiskirt, and accessorized with two-tone ballet flats and a classic Chanel purse, she embodied old-money Manhattanite chic as she breezed through the city. Indeed, this outfit would not have looked out of place on an old-school NYC influencer attending Fashion Week.

Melania Trump's style comeback

Melania Trump has been keeping a notable distance from Donald Trump on the campaign trail, but she made a surprise appearance at a polling station in Palm Beach in 2024. Walking alongside her husband, Melania continued to push the fashion envelope, wearing an Alexander McQueen white shirt dress with a large graphic floral motif. Evidently not content to cut back on the retail therapy in the wake of Donald's multimillion dollar downfall, Melania's dress cost a princely $2,690.

It was a bold and unconventional outfit for the oft conservatively dressed Melania. Subsequently, some social media users claimed that her choice of attire carried a hidden meaning, signifying a transition away from her guarded public persona. Meanwhile, The Telegraph argued that the former first lady was simply keeping up with trends — as she has done throughout her style transformation — and the floral number was her way of embracing the so-called "Florida Flash" aesthetic seen in "Palm Royale." Whatever the significance of her outfit, it remains to be seen whether Melania will grace her problematic husband's increasingly contentious campaign, ritzy regalia in tow.