Former First Lady Barbara Bush will be remembered for many things. Her dedication to improving literacy. Her quick wit. Her devotion to her family.
But it was her signature strand of faux pearls that made her a fashion icon. She wore her trademark pearls with suits, with dresses, to outings with her grandkids and to state dinners. She wore them when she met dignitaries as well as when she was playing with her dog.
The pearls became synonymous with Bush’s public image, but they also captured her understated, down-to-earth style. As First Lady, she wasn’t as glamorous as some, and she displayed her frugality proudly. A perfect example is the ensemble she wore to her husband’s inaugural ball in 1989. Along with a royal blue Arnold Scaasi designer gown, she wore a pair of $29 shoes. And as always, her faux pearls topped the outfit beautifully.
According to the New York Times, those pearls were designed by New York costume jeweler Kenneth Jay Lane. The pearls were such a hit that the he renamed the necklace the “Barbara Bush pearls,” acknowledging her unintentional role as a fashion influencer. Those pearls are now part of the historical record. Bush donated the strands to the Smithsonian’s collection in 1990.
Her pearls did much more than serve as an adornment. They connected Bush with the American people. She came across as everyone’s grandmother, with her white corona of hair and compassionate attitude combined with her no-nonsense personality. She projected an air of calm confidence and relatability that resonated across generations.
She didn’t wear the pearls to set a trend; she wore them simply because she liked them. Her faux pearls proved that you don’t have to spent a million bucks to leave a lasting fashion legacy. Like the former First Lady, you just have to wear your look proudly and with confidence.