Updated Jan. 23

One day after millions of women marched in the name of civil rights and equality, Philadelphia’s paper of record published an article headlined: “Melania Trump: the first sexy first lady?”

The now-deleted tweet Credit: @phillyinquirer

Written by longtime Inquirer fashion writer Elizabeth Wellington, the headline, which was also used in tweets promoting the article, struck many as outwardly sexist and spurred outrage across the internet.

“Is Philly Inquirer the first sexist newspaper? No but it’s certainly the latest,” one person tweeted, mocking the phrasing.

“I’m literally cancelling my subscription over this,” said another.

“Are you serious????” asked Mount Airy-born actor Holly Robinson Peete.

“[B]ad on sooo many levels,” wrote State Rep. Jordan Harris.

Within two hours of sending the offending tweet, the Inquirer apologized and announced it was changing the headline “to better reflect the message” of the article. In a separate tweet, that message was described as “FLOTUS’s fashion sense” and the “elegance + sex appeal” she brings to the White House.

Per a screenshot posted by columnist at the Philadelphia Daily News (owned by the same company as the Inquirer), the new headline was briefly, “Melania Trump is clearly embracing her sexy as first lady,” a phrase drawn from the content of the article.

Minutes later, the headline was changed a second time, to: “Melania Trump brings sultry elegance to the White House.”

It’s unclear if the dozens of people on Twitter who were upset by the original — exhorting the Inky to “Delete your account” and posting other objections — even clicked through to read the story in question, which was a review of the various outfits Mrs. Trump wore during the first couple of days of her husband’s presidency, and was first posted Friday night, at least according to a tweet from Wellington.


Unfortunately, the content is not much better than the headline.

Wellington discusses a “slit that crept up” Trump’s thigh and and describes her as “a beauty queen dancing – albeit awkwardly – with her king.”

A few hours after the tweet appeared, the Inky was in damage control mode, firing off a series of tweets apologizing, defending, explaining a change and then asking for email replies to its audience team — necessary, since comments were not on the story in question.

We reached out to Wellington and the paper’s editors for comment right away, but didn’t receive any. Later on Sunday night, Inquirer Deputy Managing Editor Tom McNamara added a statement atop the article that addressed the outcry, and admitted “[w]e can do better”:

We’ve heard from many readers about this column, the original headline that topped it, our prominent positioning of the story online and its publication during the same weekend as the Women’s March. The column was an assessment of Melania Trump’s clothing choices during the inaugural ceremonies – not her role as first lady — as fashion journalism is the art of describing what people wear, why they wear it, and what message their choices communicate. Ms. Wellington has for the last eight years reported on Michelle Obama’s fashion choices as well. But we understand that many readers feel our handling of this subject missed the mark. We can do better.

Danya Henninger was first editor and then editor/director of Billy Penn at WHYY from 2019 to 2023.