How first ladies keep track of their clothes, and avoid repeating clothes

  • Anita McBride served as First Lady of Laura Bush’s chief of staff from 2005 to 2009.
  • I explained how first ladies’ clothes are tracked with tags showing where and when they were worn.
  • They can re-wear their everyday clothes but not their gowns for big events in the White House.

From Chanel’s Jacqueline Kennedy suits to Jill Biden’s shirt, first ladies’ clothing has long been a source of public fascination and scrutiny. Their staff works hard to prevent fashion slips and ensure that first ladies are dressed appropriately for every occasion.

Anita McBride, who served as first lady’s chief of staff for Laura Bush from 2005 to 2009, told Insider that there is a system in place to help first ladies avoid inadvertently repeating outfits.

“During Bush’s tenure in the White House – and I think First Ladies aides did – every outfit they wore had a tag that kept track of where and when it was worn, and kept a record of it,” she said.

First ladies usually re-wear their everyday clothes, but not their gowns for the larger White House events facing the public. Once the dress is worn, it is referred to the National Archives along with presidential papers, gifts, and other items that will eventually become exhibits in museums or the Presidential Library.

First Lady Laura Bush looks at an exhibit displaying her inaugural ball gown.

First Lady Laura Bush’s inaugural dress was added to the Smithsonian Museum’s presentation on the history of American first ladies in 2002.

Sandy Schaeffer/May/Getty Images


“Gowns are hard to replicate, because they are more noticeable than regular dresses, dress codes or tuxedos,” McBride said. “And they get a lot of scrutiny, of course, because they’re usually related to major social events at the White House or honors at the Kennedy Center or things like that. But they get tracked, so it pays to not repeat wearing a very visible item in another very obvious way.” .

Occasionally, however, mistakes are made. McBride recalls that Bush once had to quickly exchange shirts with her press secretary prior to a Fox News interview when staff noticed a photo in the green room from her last appearance and realized she was wearing the exact same shirt.

“With these kinds of typical everyday events, you don’t follow something as simple as a blouse and a pair of pants so closely,” she said. “This is kind of a small emergency that can happen. You just spin on its axis quickly.”

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