From wardrobe malfunctions to fashion faux pas, first couples have had many fashion mishaps.
Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama have all made comical and informal outfit choices.
First ladies have worn looks that were considered controversial or culturally insensitive.
Rosalynn Carter committed what was considered a fashion faux pas at the time when she repeated a gown for her husband’s inauguration.
While the last few first ladies have reworn outfits to different official events, the practice used to be unacceptable. Rosalynn Carter committed this then-fashion sin when she wore an off-the-rack blue chiffon and gold-embroidered dress and matching coat to her husband President Jimmy Carter’s inaugural ball in 1977.
What sent the media into a tizzy was that the first lady had worn that same dress twice before, including when her husband was elected governor of Georgia in 1971, according to Time.
“Rosalynn set fashion back on its ear,” Edith Mayo, then-curator of the first ladies exhibit at the Smithsonian, told The Washington Post in 1997. “The industry really wanted her to wear a fashionable gown.”
One of the Smithsonian’s current curators, Lisa Kathleen Graddy, backed the first lady’s decision, though, saying, “It enhanced the incoming Carter presidency’s notions of modesty and frugality,” according to Time in 2013.
Bill Clinton’s extremely short shorts have raised some eyebrows.
Whether running (for pleasure or for office) in Little Rock, Arkansas, with Boston Marathon winners during the early days of his presidency, or down a beach while vacationing with his wife, Bill Clinton always wore micro gym shorts in the ’90s.
The style was more in keeping with the ’70s, but the president still opted to bare his legs in public.
One particular collection of photos of Clinton and his then-running mate Al Gore jogging in their short shorts in 1992 resurfaced on HuffPost in 2011 and started a media frenzy all over again.
“Sorry, gents, but we’re REALLY glad those teensy shorts have hightailed it out of style,” HuffPost wrote at the time.
Hillary Clinton stunned people in Japan when she visited and only wore black outfits, which gave a negative impression.
In an April 1996 trip to Japan, Clinton’s wardrobe “baffled the Japanese,” according to an archived Washington Post story. Was she too immodest? Too flamboyant? No. She wore all black.
During the short visit, the first lady wore black on Air Force One, to a dinner with the prime minister, a state dinner at the Imperial Palace, and on a car dealership tour. Many felt this was out of character or symbolic, but her spokesman Neel Lattimore denied this to The Post.
Although black is a staple in women’s wardrobe in the US, that is not the case for Japan. “Culturally, black, especially when worn alone or with white, represents mourning and misfortune (funeral attire…ring any bells?),” wrote the Washington Post in 2015.
President George W. Bush wore a tie with a tiny print that created a fiery illusion on TV screens.
Ties are one of the few accessories that presidents can spruce up their “uniforms” with. But rules still apply.
For a televised news conference in April 2004, President George W. Bush donned a crisp navy suit and a blue tie with white polka dots. In person, this may have been harmless, but across television sets, the tie’s pattern caused a moiré effect. This is when the grid pattern on screens clashes with small dot or line patterns and causes a shimmering image.
“Oh my God, it looks like his tie is on fire,” Nancy Mathis, the head of First Take Communications, a media training firm for politicians, recalled a friend saying while watching Bush on TV, she told the Houston Chronicle.
Bush’s fashion mishap was one that could have been easily avoided. Mathis told the Chronicle, “If it’s something that distracts the viewer, it detracts from the message. The bottom line is, if you want to look solid, wear a solid.”
Bush decided Crocs and socks were the most appropriate combo for a president to wear to go biking.
Beyond then-President Bush’s ultra informal style here, including a Scottish Terrier hat, he decided to pair socks with Crocs. The presidential seal print on the socks juxtaposed the $29.99 rubber clog-like slides. It’s widely considered the first and only time a US president was seen wearing Crocs.
“Bush’s decision to wear black socks with his Crocs was ill-considered. The combination makes one think of an old man on his way to the beach,” The Washington Post wrote in 2007.
Laura Bush wore an off-the-rack gown that three other women also wore to the 2006 Kennedy Center Honors.
The first lady chose an $8,500 Oscar de La Renta off-the-rack gown on December 3, 2006.
“She was intending to wear [it] for the Kennedy Center Honors, for the reception at the White House, and then over to the performance,” Laura Bush’s chief of staff Anita McBride told Insider’s Talia Lakritz in 2021.
But during the receiving line at the White House, Bush greeted three other women in the same exact dress. This is the precise reason first ladies rarely wear clothes off the rack and require customized looks. Before heading to the Honors, she changed into a different dress.
“In the book, that red dress had looked perfect. It vaguely crossed my mind that someone else might see the dress and think exactly the same thing. But what were the odds of that woman wearing it to a White House party?” Bush wrote in her 2010 memoir, “Spoken From the Heart,” the Journal News reported.
The faux pas even made headlines, such as “Laura Bush Among Four Ladies in Red” on CBS.
Then-President Barack Obama defended his choice of baggy “mom jeans.”
In 2009, Obama threw the first pitch at the Major League Baseball All-Star Game in St. Louis, Missouri. But eyes weren’t just on how well he could throw; they were on his “mom jeans.”
Paired with a zip-up jacket and Asics sneakers, the president wore a pair of medium-wash baggy jeans that he has admitted earned him some flack.
In 2014, he told Ryan Seacrest in a radio interview, “There was one episode like four years ago in which I was wearing some loose jeans, mainly because I was out on the pitcher’s mound and I didn’t want to feel, you know, confined, while I was pitching. And I think I’ve paid my penance for that. I got whacked pretty good.”
In 2019, he defended the choice in an interview with “Today,” saying, “For those of you who want your president to look great in his tight jeans, I’m sorry — I’m not the guy. It just doesn’t fit me. I’m not 20,” according to Entertainment Weekly.
Politicians, press, and people online took issue with Obama’s tan suit for a press conference.
Remembered as “Tan Suit Gate,” Obama’s choice to wear a tan suit for a news conference about Syria and Russia on August 28, 2014, was a sore subject then and still is today. The Washington Post went into great detail on the controversy and critiques the suit stirred up.
This included Republican Peter T. King saying the suit reflected Obama’s “lack of seriousness,” Time writing that it was “tantamount to seeing a performer out of costume,” and the New York Times’ fashion critic Vanessa Friedman
saying it was a “wishy-washy color” for a “wishy-washy military policy.”
While many took issue with Obama’s choice for the occasion, others didn’t see fault.
“The president stands squarely behind the decision that he made yesterday to wear his summer suit,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest commented lightheartedly. “It’s the Thursday before Labor Day. He feels pretty good about it.”
“You don’t go to Buckingham Palace in a sweater,” said designer Oscar de la Renta about Michelle Obama’s choice of attire to meet the Queen.
While Michelle Obama was known for wearing American designers, approachable fashion brands, and up-and-coming design talent during her time in the White House, she was criticized over her outfit to meet Queen Elizabeth II in 2009.
Designer Oscar de la Renta took issue with Obama wearing European designers for the visit, including a cardigan by Azzedine Alaïa. “Our industry right now is having a very difficult time. I think it would be great if the First Lady dressed in American styles,” de la Renta told The Cut.
But beyond the first lady’s designer choices, he took issue with a fashion faux pas during the visit: being too informal to meet royalty.
“You don’t go to Buckingham Palace in a sweater,” he told WWD, as per The Cut.
De la Renta later changed his tune about her fashion, calling her “a great example to American women today,” NPR noted.
In some wardrobe-malfunction near-misses, Michelle Obama had to battle the wind quite a few times to keep from flashing paparazzi.
Obama had her fair share of fashion mishaps while battling the weather, usually when departing or boarding Air Force One, with winds whipping through her billowing skirts and dresses.
In an interview on the Two Dope Queens podcast on November 15, 2018, Obama recalled one instance when she accidentally flashed her Secret Service agent in North Carolina and he had to cover her from other people seeing, as per Hollywood Life.
“That was another outfit learning moment. If it’s windy, don’t wear flouncy things. Wear a pencil skirt, or wear some pants,” Obama said.
President Donald Trump was known for wearing too-long ties that messed with the proportions of his suits.
Trump wore disproportionately long ties throughout his career and during his time in the White House — and has been mocked over them.
In 2016, Business Insider compared them to long leashes and spoke to personal stylist Jessica Cadmus, who said, “It’s ludicrous, and no one is pointing it out.”
For reference, the end of a tie should fall between the top and bottom of a belt, but Trump’s fall below his waistline. Another fashion faux pas: He visibly uses tape to affix both ends of the tie together.
In Chris Christie’s 2019 memoir, “Let Me Finish,” the former New Jersey governor claimed that Trump purposely wore long ties because he thought they were “slenderizing” and that he suggested that Christie himself wear them to look thinner in 2005 and during the 2016 presidential race, as per The Guardian.
Many had a field day over Trump and his seemingly “backwards” pants.
One of Trump’s biggest fashion mishaps was at the 2021 North Carolina GOP convention. Video footage of the event and speech was shared online and went viral for one distinct reason: Trump’s pants.
The wrinkled and ill-fitting pants led many to speculate that Trump was wearing them backwards.
On his late-night talk show, Jimmy Fallon joked, “It’s like he’s wearing a fanny pack on the inside of his pants. It looks like he bumped into something and his pants deployed an airbag.”
Fact-checking site Snopes reviewed photos and footage and deemed that Trump didn’t wear his pants backwards because a front zipper was visible.
Melania Trump wore heels on her way to Texas after Hurricane Harvey hit, and many thought it was inappropriate.
The Trumps were on their way to visit Texas after Hurricane Harvey in August 2017 when the first lady’s choice of stiletto heels went viral. The reaction was so immediate that she caused outrage before she even landed in Texas — and before it was shown that she had changed into sensible sneakers when she touched down.
Despite the change, many still felt it was inappropriate. Her aviator sunglasses and bomber jacket suggested, “‘Hello, my name is Tom Cruise and I’m here to give you the business,'” according to Vanity Fair. “The heels scream, ‘Who’s in for brunch?'”
The New York Times said the heels represented “a certain clichéd kind of femininity: decorative, impractical, expensive, elitist,” The List reported.
She wore heels to tour the Hurricane Harvey damage a second time despite the backlash.
The first lady wore a pith helmet, which many pointed out has colonialism ties, on safari in Kenya.
In her first solo international trip during her husband’s presidency, Melania Trump visited Africa. During a safari trip at Nairobi National Park in Kenya, her outfit sparked controversy.
The first lady wore a white button down, khaki riding pants, over-the-knee boots, and a white “pith” helmet, an outfit that looked like a stereotypical costume from an adventure movie.
Pith helmets have colonial ties. In the 19th century, European explorers, imperialists, and military officers wore them in Africa, according to The Guardian. The culturally insensitive symbolism behind the helmet was made apparent across social media.
While in Egypt, Trump responded to the criticism and told reporters, “I wish people would focus on what I do, not what I wear,” as per NPR.
First lady Jill Biden made a “note to self” to never again wear a skirt in a desert.
Many first ladies have had near mishaps with their dresses being caught by the wind, and first lady Jill Biden is no exception. In March 2021, Biden visited a Marine Corps combat center in California.
But as soon as she got out of her helicopter, Biden’s hair and skirt began blowing around furiously. In several photos, she’s seen trying to stay covered up and composed, but her skirt keeps riding up.
Looking out of sorts, Biden made fun of herself before the press or critics could. Addressing the group there, Biden said, “Note to self, next time I come to the desert, no skirt,” the Daily Mail reported.
In 2021, Biden wore tights that some critics felt looked like fishnets and were too informal.
Just a few months into her husband’s presidency, Jill Biden made a fashion choice that drew attention and some outdated opinions: patterned tights.
Her all-black look included a leather skirt, patterned tights, and heeled booties, which InStyle described as “Early aughts emo meets White House matriarch.” While some praised Biden’s edgy diamond-patterned tights, others thought the look was unprofessional.
Biden later spoke to Vogue about her tights, saying she was shocked at what people nitpick.
“They weren’t fishnets. They weren’t lace. They were very pretty stockings,” she clarified.
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