US First Lady Melania Trump has sparked controversy by wearing a pith helmet, considered a symbol of the European colonial era, on the first stop of her Africa tour.
The president's wife caused a stir after appearing at Nairobi National Park in Kenya, wearing the headgear accompanied white shirt and light brown jodhpurs, an outfit commentators described as reminiscent of white colonial settlers in Africa.
A hashtag #FLOTUSinAfricaBingo quickly garnered popularity, with social media users sarcastically highlighting the stereotypical activities Melania had taken part in on the continent, which reflect an outdated narrative.
After facing backlash for her contentious choice, in a rare move, the first lady broke her silence.
"I wish people would focus on what I do, not what I wear," she exasperatedly told reporters standing in front of the pyramids of Giza on Saturday. "You know what, we just completed an amazing trip, we went to Ghana, we went to Malawi, we went to Kenya, here we are in Egypt. I want to talk about my trip and not what I wear."
However many took to Twitter to express their rejection of her claims.
"@FLOTUS we don't want to talk about your fashion choices either. We'd rather talk about the message you send with your fashion choices," one person tweeted. "The pith helmet in Africa was a terrible look … Colonialism is your thing?"
Many also referenced other occasions that the first lady has caused controversy with her fashion choices. In June, she was snapped wearing a jacket with the words "I really don't care, do you?" emblazoned on the back, as she flew to Texas to visit immigrant children detained at centres on the US border. The move was met with public condemnation, with media headlines questioning the veracity of the physical and political distance Melania had often exhibited from her husband.
On Saturday the president's wife again attempted to highlight such a distance, telling reporters that she did not always agree with her husband's opinions.
"I don't always agree what he tweets, and I tell him that," she said, adding that she sometimes asked the president to put down his phone. "I have my own voice and my opinions and it's very important to me that I express how I feel."
When asked what message she wanted to send on behalf of the US, the first lady said her trip was meant to "show the world that we care".
However, Melania's continental tour comes as the Trump Administration moves to cut funding to the United States Agency for International Development by at least 30 per cent, as well as the elimination of basic education funding for Malawi.
President Trump, for his part, hailed his wife's recent visit as a great success.
"The first lady did a tremendous job representing our country in Africa — like no one has before," he said in a statement yesterday. "She got to know first-hand the people of Africa, and they loved and respected her everywhere she went."