She’s Cruising --in Neutrals


The first 100 days of Laura Bush in the role of first lady have been mostly beige.

They have been professional, tidy and stylistically unremarkable. Ever since wearing a purple plaid Michael Faircloth suit in December, before she and President Bush had moved into the White House, she has steered clear of anything distinctive. And while there have been occasional surges of sea green, lilac and even chartreuse, she has shown a particular fondness for flat beige--the color most likely to allow one to fade into a crowd.

Faircloth, who created Bush’s inaugural wardrobe, had noted--or warned--that the first lady has a fondness for neutral tones. She embraced a palette of brights--with Faircloth urging her on--for the duration of the campaign. Now that the victory lap is complete, she is settling back into taupe. She is also wearing a variety of labels, making it clear that Faircloth is not her official designer.

Bush has not experimented with her hair. It has not changed, other than to lose maybe an inch here and there during a regular trim. Her evening gowns typically skim her figure and offer plenty of coverage. She could go straight from a gala to an audience with the pope without so much as the addition of a shawl.


Her office is quick to say that she does not enjoy shopping for clothes, that fashion is not a topic of discussion with her aides. “Mrs. Bush wears what feels comfortable, what she feels good in and what’s appropriate,” says spokeswoman Ashleigh Adams. “She’s not trying to convey anything [with her clothes]. She hopes people will stay focused on her actions.”


Indeed, when Bush made an appearance at a New York fashion and charity gala last month, she wore a gown by Tom and Linda Platt, a low-profile design team with a history of producing modestly priced, widely palatable work. She was utterly appropriate.

“She’s a woman of simple class,” Adams says.


But she missed--or declined--an opportunity to imbue her ensemble with a little significance. She could have selected a dress from one of the evening’s chairs, which included well-known designers Oscar de la Renta and Carolina Herrera. Each is known for a sophisticated and elegant sensibility. And certainly the gesture would have been appreciated by the fashion industry.

Still, Bush has submitted to a round of fashion magazine photographs. She posed for the June issue of Harper’s Bazaar and was photographed by Patrick Demarchelier. She selected from her own wardrobe: a black suit by Faircloth.

The picture is very much in keeping with the way in which Bush has presented herself to the public: tasteful, pretty, reserved.

In the tradition of first ladies since Eleanor Roosevelt, she also submitted to a sitting for Vogue. Photographed by Annie Leibovitz, she will be featured in the June issue of the magazine, with her own style professionally refined.


The fashion-indifferent first lady--after browsing a rack of Vogue picks from American designers--selected De la Renta, who so famously helped Hillary Clinton come to a detente with her fashion critics.

Unlike Sen. Clinton, Bush seems at peace--eerily so--with her hair. After the hairstylist tousled the first lady’s coif and gave it a blast with the blow dryer, author Julia Reed notes: “I don’t know a single woman in the world who wouldn’t have checked the results in the mirror before smiling into a camera after such an onslaught, but Laura Bush didn’t.” That’s just unnatural. Like hearing a gunshot and failing to duck.


In the most striking of the Vogue photographs, Bush wears a shimmering red suit by De la Renta that seems to have all of the elements she requires. It can be worn without a blouse; it’s reserved and slim-fitting. But it also has the elan that a skilled designer brings to even modest silhouettes.


And while Bush may not be interested in having her clothes send any messages, the red suit manages to communicate confidence and sophistication. Who could quibble with that?

So maybe June, the six-month mark in the Bush II administration, will be a turning point for the first lady. She probably won’t develop a love for shopping any time soon. And few women would blame her. But perhaps her public wardrobe will become more sharply defined. Instead of saying nothing at all, perhaps it will begin to mirror the self-assuredness of the woman that so many describe as comfortable in her own skin.