- Barbara Bush

Barbara Bush: First Grandmother

The First Ladies at the Smithsonian

Pre-inaugural stories often contrasted Barbara Bush, with her trademark costume pearl necklace and non-designer wardrobe, and the elegant Nancy Reagan. Profiles mentioned Mrs. Bush’s years of experience as the wife of a diplomat and vice president, but concentrated on the image of the down-to-earth grandmother with the sharp sense of humor, more interested in her family than fashion. Friends predicted that the Bush White House would be less formal and “jollier” than in the previous administration. Mrs. Bush, a long-time advocate of literacy programs, announced that she would continue with this work. She would not, however, comment on political issues, reserving her opinions for the president—“I don’t fool around in his office and he doesn’t fool around in mine.”

“There is good reason to expect that Barbara Bush’s down-to-earth style will carry over when the boxes are unpacked at the White House.’” 
Newsweek magazine, January 9, 1989

Gift of Barbara Bush

Barbara Bush’s Inaugural Gown, 1989

Barbara Bush wore this royal-blue gown with velvet bodice and asymmetrically draped silk satin skirt to the 1989 inaugural balls. The dress was designed by Arnold Scaasi, who noted that Mrs. Bush was suddenly, “the most glamorous grandmother in the United States.”

Gift of Barbara Bush

Barbara Bush’s Inaugural Gown, 1989 (back)

Courtesy of George Bush Presidential Library and Museum

Barbara Bush in her inaugural gown, 1989

Gift of Barbara Bush

Barbara Bush's purse

Barbara Bush wore her trademark costume pearls with her inaugural gown and carried a purse designed by Judith Leiber.