Beyond their service to the nation, first ladies are known for having impeccable style and flawless ensembles. But how do they stay fashion icons without being branded as outfit repeaters?

As it turns out, there is a strategic method put in place that helps keep first ladies’ looks in check.

Former first lady Laura Bush’s chief of staff Anita McBride, who served from 2005 to 2009, revealed exactly how presidential wives steer clear of repeating styles.

“During the Bush White House — and I believe other first ladies’ aides have done this — every outfit that they’ve worn does have a tag on it tracked with where they’ve worn it and when, and you keep a record of it,” McBride recently explained to Insider.

While the ladies are able to wear their normal, everyday clothes more than once, repeating gowns for larger, more public appearances are a big fashion faux pas. So, McBride said dresses that have been worn are given to the National Archives alongside presidential papers, gifts and other items for museum exhibits.

Laura Bush
Former first lady Laura Bush’s chief of staff Anita McBride divulged the secrets of dressing first ladies.
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“It’s harder to repeat wearing the gowns because those are so much more noticeable than regular dresses or outfits or pantsuits,” McBride continued. “And they get a lot more scrutiny, of course, because they’re usually related to major White House social events or Kennedy Center Honors or things like that. But they are tracked, so it helps to not repeat wearing a very visible item in another very visible way.”

The former White House staffer also dished about one “fashion emergency” when Bush, now 75, made an appearance on Fox News. When an employee realized that the first lady was wearing the exact same shirt as a prior interview subject, Bush had to switch blouses with her press secretary.

“With those kinds of regular day-to-day kind of events, you’re not really tracking something as simple as a blouse and a pair of slacks quite as closely,” McBride said. “That’s a kind of little fashion emergency that can happen. You just quickly pivot.”

She also disclosed to Insider why first ladies don’t wear clothes off the rack, especially for large events. Rather, the women work with designers to create couture gowns for their soirées. The reason? So the ladies don’t wind up rocking the same dress as a guest.

Laura Bush
During the 2006 Kennedy Center Honors gala, Bush was forced to quickly change out of a gown to avoid wearing the same dress as other guests.

McBride recalled the White House reception before the 2006 Kennedy Center Honors gala, for which Bush was initially wearing an Oscar de la Renta dress that was pulled from the rack.

“It was a beautiful, red, elegant gown that she was intending to wear for the Kennedy Center Honors,” McBride said. “[Former President George W. Bush and his wife were] doing the receiving line, and at least two, maybe three other women came through the line in the same dress that Oscar had sold that year.”

To avert the crisis, the Texas native rushed to her room to change into a black lace dress. “She was more concerned for these other women that had come through the line and didn’t want them to be embarrassed in a public way,” McBride said.