In Washington, Olena Zelenska dressed for Ukraine – The New York Times | WHs Answers

On Wednesday, on the third leg of an unofficial three-day trip to Washington, DC, Olena Zelenska, wife of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, became the rare first lady to address Congress.

But despite the fact that for the first two days of her trip she’d engaged in what could have been considered typical first lady things – posing with Secretary of State Antony Blinken in his office; warm welcome from President Biden and First Lady, Jill Biden, who received them with a bouquet of flowers; She wore a range of dresses and suits by Ukrainian designers, with references to the colors of the Ukrainian flag – she wasn’t there, as she said in her speech, to talk about typical first lady stuff.

“Usually, the wives of presidents only deal with peaceful matters,” she said, standing in the Capitol in a black suit dress by Ukrainian label AMG, with a piece of white fabric bisecting one side of the jacket. “Education, human rights, equality, accessibility.”

Instead, she was there to ask for weapons, “weapons that are not used to fight a war on someone else’s land, but to protect one’s home and the right to build a life in that home.” .”

It was an emotional, uncompromising appeal, framed by photographs of the devastation in Ukraine, of children killed or maimed, and given added strength by the contrast between the familiar, blurred look of the woman standing in front of the legislature and the harsh words she used spoke. The image, in black and white (literally), reminded her of how much her work had changed as a result of the war. That the “normality” of everyday life, as she said in her speech, has disappeared from Ukraine.

It was also a reminder that the First Lady’s role in times of peace is to serve as the symbolic mother (and hostess) of the nation, but she is also its human face in times of violence; the bridge between the familiar and the unfathomable.

In such a context, every decision a first lady makes, every gesture becomes ammunition used on the battlefield of public opinion, including her dress. Especially perhaps what she’s wearing, because for a first lady in her position, most viewers won’t be participating in her conversations with those in power, but they’ll be able to see the pictures.

For example, they can see the “common values” (as Ms. Zelenska called them) between themselves and a civilian in the camouflage of a lightly tailored skirt suit in a way they might not associate with a soldier in actual camouflage.

It was evident from the first day of Ms. Zelenska’s visit that she understood the mission down to the last detail. Though it’s become an unwritten part of the job that First Ladies support local designers to further their business and profile on the world stage, her wardrobe strategy (because that’s what she is) went beyond mere boosterism.

Her olive drab dress—strong shoulders, with an integrated neckerchief—mirrored her husband’s signature olive T-shirt uniform, evoking traditions of military dress while simultaneously symbolizing a refugee story. Designer Lilia Litkovskaya (whose clothes Mrs. Zelenska has often worn) fled Kyiv with her husband and young child and is now in Paris, promoting and supporting Ukrainian fashion from afar.

Ms. Zelenska wore a pin on the dress, reflecting traditional Ukrainian floral embroidery. It was from the Ukrainian jewelry line Guzema, part of a collection called Nezalezhna, or “Independent”; Her earrings were a pair she wore to her husband’s inauguration in 2019.

The next day, when she met with the Bidens, she wore the earrings from the Independent collection again, this time with a bright lemon yellow skirt suit by Ms. Litkovskaya, which she paired with light blue shoes in a nod to her country’s colors.

(For anyone who doubts there was a bit of first-lady pomposity in this, consider that Dr. Biden chose a deep blue dress with daisies and bright yellow shoes for the photo op. And he did so in a speech earlier this year at the Metropolitan She told the Museum of Art that for the State of the Union she sewed sunflowers, the Ukrainian national flower, onto the sleeves of her blue dress because “I sent a message without saying a word: that Ukraine is in our hearts – and that we stood by them.”)

And then there was Ms. Zelenska’s suit for speaking before Congress. Against the sobriety of the black jacket, the white dash covered with traditional Ukrainian embroidery could not be overlooked. There was a stark reminder beneath her words – “while Russia kills, America saves” – that depending on what happens next, out of the darkness may come the light. A card of hope worn on the body for all to see.

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