30 Guidelines Every First Lady Has to Observe

author photo or placeholder By: Solly Wise | Published: Sep 15, 2023

Whenever a new First Lady is about to take on the role, there’s a lot to learn. From hosting state dinners to abiding by strict rules, she has a lot to take in and look forward to. 

Source: Pool/Getty Images

From the restrictions of opening windows in the White House to not being allowed to drive her car, here’s a glimpse of what they experience post-Inauguration Day.

Preserving History: Exploring the Off-Limits Rooms of the White House 

The White House is much more than a home for the U.S. President and their family. While they are allowed to customize their living quarters, certain rooms in the grand building are off-limits to everyone but the American people.

Advertisement

Source: Ed Clark/Getty Images

As author Kate Andersen Brower explains, these areas “essentially belong to the American people,” preserving the history of the White House for generations to come. Journey through the preserved history of the White House and explore the off-limits rooms that belong to the American people.

Revamping the White House: Consulting the Committee for the Preservation of the White House 

If the First Family want to give the White House a makeover, they must get approval from the Committee for the Preservation of the White House. 

Advertisement

Source: The Washington Post/Getty Images

This committee has the responsibility to safeguard the historic guest suites, like the Lincoln Bedroom, or any public spaces on the ground and first floor. Only with their approval can the First Lady and her family make the changes they desire to give the iconic White House a revamp.

Designers Who Decorated the White House 

Are you curious to know who decorated the White House during various presidencies? From the Trumps to the Obamas and the Reagans, the first ladies of the White House have always sought the help of renowned interior designers to bring their vision of the White House to life. 

Advertisement

Source: Bettman/Getty Images

Tham Kannalikham was the designer of choice for the Trumps, Michael S. Smith for the Obamas, and Nancy Reagan worked with Ted Graber. Discover the impressive designers behind the White House’s unique interior design!

Quick Turnaround at the White House 

After the clock strikes noon on Inauguration Day, the White House undergoes a quick transformation. To ensure the new first family can swiftly move in, officers from the General Services Administration take over, painting, recarpeting, and moving people out and in. 

Advertisement

Source: Pool/Getty Images

According to Bradley Blakeman, former President George W. Bush’s deputy assistant, it takes only 12 hours to finish the entire process. With such an efficient turnaround, the White House is ready to welcome the new first family in no time!

Celebrating Christmas with Themes at The White House 

The White House has long been a beacon of joy and festivity during the holiday season. This tradition began in 1961 when Jacqueline Kennedy introduced the concept of a theme for Christmas decorations there. 

Advertisement

Source: Bettman/Getty Images

She chose “Nutcracker Suite” for the White House tree that year. In recent years, Melania Trump continued this tradition with themes like “America the Beautiful” in 2020 and “The Spirit of America” in 2019. Let’s continue to celebrate Christmas at The White House with festive themes!

Advertisement

No Gifts Allowed: How Foreign Governments Cannot Gift the President and First Lady

The President and First Lady of the United States are strictly prohibited from accepting gifts from foreign governments. This is because any presents given to the two are considered gifts to the nation rather than to them as individuals. 

Advertisement

Source: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Rare exceptions (such as gifts with low monetary values) can be accepted. But usually, these gifts are taken care of by the National Archives and Records Administration. By following these guidelines, the President and First Lady can maintain strong diplomatic ties with foreign governments without any complications.

Advertisement

Gifts for the First Family – Accepted, But With Limitations 

The First Lady can accept domestic gifts, but with a few exceptions. According to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, food and drink gifts, combustible items, and any item applied to the skin (like cologne or lotion) must be destroyed for safety reasons. 

Advertisement

Source: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Additionally, the gifts must be declared in an annual disclosure report, and taxes may be due on the appraised value of the gifts they keep. So, if you’re looking to give the First Family a present, make sure you know the rules beforehand!

Advertisement

Michelle Obama Uncovers Little Known Secret About the White House!

We’ve all heard of the White House, but did you know you can’t open a window there? This incredible fact was revealed in an interview with Oprah Winfrey by former First Lady Michelle Obama. 

Advertisement

Source: Scott Olson/Getty Images

She recounted when her daughter, Sasha, opened a window, only to be met with calls to “shut the window!” Since then, no windows were opened. Can you imagine living in a house without any fresh air? We can thank Michelle Obama for sharing this secret about the White House!

Advertisement

An Unforgettable Experience: Hosting State Dinners at the White House 

The White House is the utmost symbol of power and prestige, and hosting a state dinner is a privilege that few have the honor of experiencing. According to the White House Historical Association, these events are some of the grandest and most glamorous affairs you can imagine. 

Advertisement

Source: Zach Gibson/Getty Images

From the seating arrangements to the entertainment to the flowers, the first lady oversees every detail to ensure these events are as memorable as possible. Hosting a state dinner at the White House is an unforgettable experience.

Advertisement

Fun & Festive: The White House's Annual Easter Egg Roll 

The White House’s annual Easter Egg Roll is an iconic event that dates back to 1878 and is filled with fun and festivities. Historically, President Abraham Lincoln and First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln are believed to have started the egg roll festivities that we all know and love today. 

Advertisement

Source: Win McNamee/Getty Images

On the White House’s website, it’s noted that the planning of the egg roll is traditionally left to the First Lady, allowing her to incorporate her own tastes and interests into the event. Don’t miss out on this wonderful and whimsical tradition!

Advertisement

Celebrating Hanukkah at the White House 

Since 2001, the White House has honored the Jewish Festival of Lights with an official celebration. President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush set the precedent of celebrating Hanukkah annually, continuing a long-standing tradition of the U.S. recognizing the importance of this holiday. 

Advertisement

Source: Manny Ceneta/Getty Images

Each year, the White House hosts a special gathering to commemorate the occasion and bring joy to guests from all walks of life. Celebrate Hanukkah and its meaningful traditions at the White House!

Advertisement

A Tour of Tension: The Stressful Greeting for New First Ladies 

Moving into a new home can be a stressful experience, but when that home is the White House, the pressure is even greater. After a presidential election, the outgoing first lady welcomes the incoming first lady with a tour of her new home. 

Advertisement

Source: Charles Ommanney/Getty Images

According to Kate Andersen Brower, author of First Women: The Grace and Power of America’s Modern First Ladies, these meetings can be tense due to the political tensions, generational divides, and the spotlight of the media. This difficult situation can make the transition to the White House even more challenging.

Advertisement

The President's Family Pays Their Own Way! 

This might come as a surprise, but while the President and First Lady of the United States may have a lot of power and prestige, they still have to pay their own way — just like the rest of us! 

Advertisement

Source: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Every month, the White House Usher’s Office compiles an itemized bill of their expenses, including food, clothing, and toiletries. So while the first family may be able to access some of the finest amenities in the world, they still have to pay their way!

Advertisement

Designer Clothes for First Ladies - A One-Time Deal 

Designer clothes make the perfect gift – but only if you’re giving them to the first lady of the United States! While First Ladies can be gifted designer outfits, they can only wear them once and must donate them to the Smithsonian Museum. 

Advertisement

Source: Robyn Beck/Getty Images

This is exactly what Melania Trump and Michelle Obama did with their inauguration gowns. However, if the first lady wants to purchase designer clothes for herself, she pays the same price as all other shoppers.

Advertisement

The First Lady's Fashion Choices Under the Microscope 

Public figures, especially the First Lady, are subjected to intense scrutiny when it comes to their fashion choices. Melania Trump’s much-talked-about, “I really don’t care, do u?” jacket sparked controversy, while Michelle Obama was criticized when spotted wearing a pair of shorts when she descended the steps of Air Force One. 

Advertisement

Source: Mandel Ngan/Getty Images

From the red carpet to the runway, the world is watching and ready to pass judgment. But in the end, the First Lady has the final say over her wardrobe, for better or worse.

Advertisement

Make a Style Statement with Personal Stylists! 

Look like a first lady with the help of a personal stylist! Whether you’re attending a high-profile event or just want to make sure your fashion game is on point, there’s no better way to dress to impress than with the help of a personal stylist. 

Advertisement

Source: Saul Loeb/Getty Images

Melania Trump, Michelle Obama, and Laura Bush have all taken advantage of style experts to ensure they look their best. With the help of a stylist, you can make a fashionable statement, too!

Advertisement

No More Driving for Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama 

Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama have both expressed their longing to drive, but unfortunately, they can no longer do so. 

Advertisement

Source: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

During their time at the White House, they were deprived of driving themselves, and even after leaving, Michelle is still not allowed to get behind the wheel of her car. As Michelle said in an interview with People in 2018, “We still live in a bubble.” It’s a hard reality for these two influential women who used to enjoy the simple freedom of driving.

Advertisement

Lifetime Protection for Former U.S. Presidents and their Families 

Elected officials have a huge responsibility, and the security of the U.S. President and their family is of utmost importance. In 2013, Barack Obama signed a law ensuring former U.S. Presidents and their families are protected by the Secret Service for life. 

Advertisement

Source: Rick Friedman/Getty Images

Not only that, but the law also granted security teams to the children of former presidents until they turn 16 years old. Rest assured, the leaders of our nation and their families will always be safe and protected.

Advertisement

Secret Service Protections: Who Can Decline and Who Can't? 

Did you know that while the President of the United States can’t decline Secret Service protection, the First Lady and adult children of the President are allowed to do so? This is enshrined in federal law. 

Advertisement

Source: John Moore/Getty Images

So what does this mean for the safety and security of the First Family? Are they less protected than the President? These are important questions that need to be addressed. The Secret Service must be allowed to provide the highest level of protection to the President and their family.

Advertisement

End of Security Detail After Remarriage 

Both former Presidents and their First Ladies receive Secret Service protection for life, but there is an exception to this rule. According to federal law, if a former First Lady was to remarry, their security detail ends. 

Advertisement

Source: Bettman/Getty Images

This means they and their new spouse do not receive the same level of protection as the former President or First Lady. While the Secret Service would still be available in times of need, they wouldn’t provide around-the-clock protection.

Advertisement

Attend the White House Correspondents' Dinner: An Unmissable Annual Event for Journalists! 

For journalists who cover the White House and the President, the White House Correspondents’ Dinner is an event that cannot be missed. Held annually, this dinner is traditionally attended by both the President and the First Lady of the United States of America. 

Advertisement

Source: Pool/Getty Images

However, President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump broke a 30-year streak of Presidents attending when they didn’t attend the dinner while he was in office. Nevertheless, this event is still an important feature on the calendar of all journalists!

Advertisement

A Presidential Tradition: Selecting White House China 

Every four years, a new President could take up residence in the White House. But many don’t know that with each new commander-in-chief comes a unique tradition – the selection of a new china pattern! 

Advertisement

Source: Bettman/Getty Images

This tradition was first established by Mary Todd Lincoln and has since become an integral part of White House history. As the years have gone by, many of the former presidents’ china collections have been displayed in the White House’s china room, a living reminder of the legacy each one has left.

Advertisement

Unpaid White House Workers: Leveraging Apolitical Status for Political Gain 

No First Lady is paid for any work they do in the White House. According to Lauren A. Wright, author of On Behalf of the President: Presidential Spouses and White House Communications Strategy Today, the White House makes good use of its unpaid and unofficial status. 

Advertisement

Source: Consolidated News Pictures/Getty Images

By leveraging the First Lady, who appears to be apolitical and not vested in political outcomes, beneficial things can be achieved. While presidential spouses don’t get paid for their work, their role in the White House can be of great political value.

Advertisement

First Ladies' Political Influence 

From Nancy Reagan to Melania Trump, First Ladies have proven to have a surprising amount of political influence with staffing decisions. Despite the public perception of them being apolitical, First Ladies have been known to lobby their husbands to make certain appointments. 

Advertisement

Source: Photoquest/Getty Images

Such was the case when Nancy Reagan requested President Ronald Reagan to dismiss chief of staff Donald Regan in 1987, and when Melania Trump called for the removal of deputy national security adviser Mira Ricardel in 2018. First Ladies have the power to shape the politics of their husband’s office.

Advertisement

First Ladies Who Worked! 

Despite the traditional view of First Ladies staying at home, Sarah Polk, Eleanor Roosevelt, Bess Truman, and Jill Biden all bucked the trend and continued working while their husbands were in office. 

Advertisement

Source: Bettman/Getty Images

Jill Biden even kept her job as a community college teacher after the Bidens took residence in the White House. These inspiring women have shown that being a First Lady doesn’t mean giving up a career – instead, it can be a chance to continue to make an impact on the world.

Advertisement

Unleashing the Political Potential of First Ladies 

First Ladies are often seen as the supportive shadow behind their President-spouse, yet many have shown immense potential to go beyond this. Hillary Clinton is a prime example of this: after her husband’s presidency, she went on to become a successful politician in her own right. 

Advertisement

Source: Cynthia Johnson/Getty Images

Even before this, her work as the chair of the President’s Task Force on National Health Care Reform during her husband’s administration was a testament to her political capabilities. It’s time we started recognizing and unleashing the political potential of First Ladies.

Advertisement

A First Lady for All Occasions

From the President’s wife to presidential relatives and friends, a First Lady can come in many forms. The role of a First Lady is to act as the hostess of the White House, no matter who occupies it. 

Advertisement

Source: Library of Congress/Getty Images

Presidents who were widowers, bachelors, and those without a partner have all seen female relatives and friends step in and serve in the position. A First Lady is always present (regardless of the President’s marital status) to provide a welcoming presence in the White House.

Advertisement

Making a Difference: The Role of the First Lady 

Every President has a partner in office – the First Lady. With the power of the role comes the responsibility to make a difference and promote a social cause. Lady Bird Johnson famously used her influence to champion environmental protection, while many of her predecessors also dedicated their time to charitable work. 

Advertisement

Source: Santi Visalli/Getty Images

This tradition of using the office to benefit society has endured throughout the years, and today the First Lady is expected to choose a social cause to champion. Making a difference has never been so important.

Advertisement

Philanthropy with a Purpose: First Ladies' Social Causes 

First Ladies have often chosen social causes that are relatively uncontroversial, aiming to bring about positive change in the world. From Melania Trump’s cause of cyberbullying awareness to Michelle Obama’s focus on reducing childhood obesity, these causes bring attention to issues that need to be addressed.

Advertisement

Source: Saul Loeb/Getty Images

Additionally, both Laura Bush and Barbara Bush chose to make the topical issue of childhood literacy their philanthropic endeavor. Through their social causes, First Ladies have inspired positive change and brought attention to important issues.

Advertisement

Revisiting Melania Trump's Decision to Stay in New York 

When Donald Trump was inaugurated, Melania Trump made a bold move that surprised many. She and her son Barron chose to remain in New York and delay moving to the White House so Barron could finish his school year. 

Advertisement

Source: Pool/Getty Images

This unique decision highlights the Trumps’ commitment to prioritizing family and putting their son’s needs first. Thanks to Melania’s brave choice, the Trump family was able to enjoy some extra time together before the realities of life in the White House set in.

Advertisement