In Washington, Olena Zelenska Dressed for Ukraine

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On Wednesday, on the third leg of an unofficial three-day journey to Washington, D.C., Olena Zelenska, the spouse of President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine, grew to become the uncommon first girl to handle Congress.

However although she had, on the preliminary two days of her journey, engaged in what may have been referred to as typical first girl issues — posing primly with Secretary of State Antony Blinken in his workplace; warmly greeting President Biden and the primary girl, Jill Biden, who met her with a bouquet of flowers; carrying an array of clothes and fits by Ukrainian designers, with nods to the colours of the Ukrainian flag — she was not, as she said in her speech, there to speak about typical first girl issues.

“Normally the wives of presidents are solely engaged in peaceable affairs,” she stated as she stood within the Capitol in a black swimsuit gown by the Ukrainian label AMG, a slice of white cloth bisecting one aspect of the jacket. “Training, human rights, equality, accessibility.”

As a substitute of all that, she stated, she was there to ask for weapons, “weapons that won’t be used to wage a battle on someone else’s land however to guard one’s dwelling and the fitting to make up a life in that dwelling.”

It was an emotional, unapologetic enchantment, framed by images of the devastation in Ukraine, of kids who had been killed, or maimed, and given additional energy by the distinction between the acquainted, soft-focus optics of the girl standing in entrance of the legislators and the tough phrases she was talking. The picture was a reminder in black and white (actually) of simply how a lot her job had modified due to battle. That the “normalcy” of on a regular basis life, as she stated in her speech, was gone from Ukraine.

It was a reminder, too, that, simply as in peaceable instances, the position of the primary girl is to behave because the symbolic mom (and hostess) of the nation, she remains to be, in instances of violence, its human face; the bridge between the acquainted and the unfathomable.

In such a context, each alternative a primary girl makes, each gesture, turns into ammunition to be deployed on battlefield of public opinion, together with what she wears. Particularly, maybe, what she wears, since for a primary girl in her place, most viewers is not going to be occasion to her conversations with energy brokers, however they will see the photographs.

They’ll acknowledge, for instance, the “shared values” (as Ms. Zelenska termed them) between themselves and a civilian within the camouflage of a gently tailor-made skirt swimsuit, in a means they won’t join with a soldier in precise camouflage.

It was apparent from the primary day of Ms. Zelenska’s go to that she understood the mission, all the way down to the smallest element. Although it has turn into an unwritten a part of the job that first girls help native designers, to advertise their enterprise and profile on the world stage, her wardrobe technique (as a result of that’s what it’s) went past merely boosterism.

Her olive green dress — robust shoulders, with an integral scarf on the neck — mirrored her husband’s signature uniform of olive inexperienced T-shirt, spoke to traditions of navy clothes, and symbolized a refugee story, all on the identical time. The designer, Lilia Litkovskaya (whose garments Ms. Zelenska has typically worn), had fled Kyiv together with her husband and small baby and is now in Paris the place she has been selling and supporting Ukrainian vogue from afar.

Ms. Zelenska wore a pin on the gown that mirrored conventional Ukrainian flower embroidery. It was from the Ukrainian jewellery line ​​Guzema, a part of a set referred to as Nezalezhna, or “Unbiased”; her earrings have been a pair she had worn for her husband’s inauguration in 2019.

She wore the brooch once more the subsequent day, when she met with the Bidens, this time on a light-weight lemon yellow skirt swimsuit by Ms. Litkovskaya, which she paired with mild blue footwear, in a nod to her nation’s colours.

(For anybody doubting that this was a little bit of first girl pageantry, contemplate that for the photograph op Dr. Biden selected a deep blue gown sprinkled in daisies, matched with vibrant yellow footwear. And that in a speech earlier this yr on the Metropolitan Museum of Artwork, she stated that for the State of the Union she had sunflowers, the Ukrainian nationwide bloom, sewn on the sleeves of her blue gown as a result of “I used to be sending a message with out saying a phrase: that Ukraine was in our hearts — and that we stood with them.”)

After which there was Ms. Zelenska’s swimsuit, for the speech to Congress. In opposition to the soberness of the black jacket, the slash of white, coated in conventional Ukrainian embroidery, was unattainable to overlook. It was a pointed reminder beneath her phrases — “whereas Russia kills, America saves” — that, relying on what occurs subsequent, out of the darkness can come the sunshine. A map of hope, worn on the physique for all to see.

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