The army green jacket was adorned with bold, white letters on the back, reading: “I REALLY DON’T CARE, DO U?”
Ms Trump donned the jacket while boarding a plane bound for McAllen, Texas, where she visited a shelter for immigrant children – some of whom were separated from their parents under the Trump administration’s zero tolerance immigration policy.
That approach involves all adults being prosecuted for illegal border crossings, with children being taken into the care of the government while cases are processed.
Photos of the jacket – which costs $39 from fast fashion retailer Zara – circulated quickly online, stirring outrage over what some felt was an insensitive choice.
Many pointed to the fact Ms Trump normally wears far more expensive, designer clothing, including jackets priced at more than $50,000.
“Hey @FLOTUS we really DO care about children being torn away from their families,” tweeted Lauren Hogg, a gun control activist and survivor of the Parkland school shooting. “This is exceptionally insensitive and appalling even for you.”
The backlash drove Donald Trump to weigh in, claiming the words on the jacket were directed towards the "Fake News Media".
"Melania has learned how dishonest they are, and she truly no longer cares!" Mr Trump tweeted on Thursday night.
The tweet contradicted a statement from Ms Trump’s spokeswoman, Stephanie Grisham, who told reporters there was "no hidden message" in the first lady's wardrobe choice.
“It's a jacket," Ms Grishman said. "...After today’s important visit to Texas, I hope the media isn’t going to choose to focus on her wardrobe".
She later added via Twitter: “Today’s visit w the children in Texas impacted @FLOTUS greatly. If media would spend their time & energy on her actions & efforts to help kids – rather than speculate & focus on her wardrobe – we could get so much accomplished on behalf of children. #SheCares #ItsJustAJacket”
Some speculated the jacket was part of a deliberate attempt to distract attention from the Trump administration's recent actions.
The first lady wore a different pale yellow jacket when she disembarked in Texas on Thursday morning. On her return trip to the White House, however, Ms Trump was pictured wearing the jacket for a second time.
Ms Trump's office issued a statement over the weekend saying the first lady “hates” to see children separated from their families and “believes we need to be a country that follows all laws, but also a country that governs with heart.”
Ms Trump’s border visit came one day after her husband bowed to public pressure and signed an executive order to end family separations at the border. More than 2,300 children were separated from their families between mid-April and early June.
As the first lady was visiting Texas, Mr Trump said at a cabinet meeting that he was directing federal agencies to begin reuniting children and parents separated at the US-Mexico border, a first step to implementing his executive order.
Ms Grisham told reporters that Ms Trump had planned the trip before her husband signed the executive order, saying: “She wanted to see everything for herself.”
“She supports family reunification,” Ms Grisham added. “She thinks that it’s important that children stay with their families.”
Under Mr Trump’s executive order, immigrant families will now be housed together in detention centres while individual family members face charges. Activists have protested this response, saying it will only result in the indeterminate detention of more children.
Ms Trump visited the Upbring New Hope Children’s Shelter on Thursday, which is home to some 55 migrant children placed in the care of US Department of Health and Human Services.
Most of the children came from Guatemala, according to a senior administration official, and were between the ages of 12 and 17. Six of the children were separated from their families upon reaching the border, while the rest arrived unaccompanied.
The first lady spent approximately 75 minutes at the shelter, according to pool reports. She also met with shelter employees and government officials, who she praised for doing “heroic work”.
“I’m here to learn about your facility,” she said. “I also like to ask you how I can help to be sure these children reunite with their families as quickly as possible.”
The Department of Health and Human Services has yet to release any details on how they will reunite the 2,300 children separated from their families.
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