In March, I had the pleasure of meeting former first lady Laura Bush at the George W. Bush Presidential Center, where she gave me a tour of the exhibit First Ladies: Style of Influence, running through October 1.
She showed me the Bill Blass gown she wore to a state dinner. She showed me a reproduction of the dress Dolley Madison had made from the White House’s velvet drapes, which Madison saved before the British set fire to the capital. She showed me camo-trimmed aprons that military wives gave Michelle Obama. And she showed me the modest pantsuit she wore to visit with women in Afghanistan in 2008. The outfit included a scarf tied around the neck, so she could pull it up and cover her hair if she felt it was necessary.
Walking around the exhibit, I found that for first ladies—who, by joining their husbands in the White House, accepted the roles of hostess, diplomat, activist, and advocate—a dress is never just a dress, a gift is never just a gift, and something as small as a scarf can make all the difference when it comes to diplomacy and respect. With the eyes of the world on first ladies, what they wear is never meaningless.
It’s an exhibit the current first lady could learn a thing or two from.