40 Strict Rules Every First Lady Must Follow

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The First Lady wears many hats, and we’re not just talking fashion. The First Lady rules her domain in the White House, but not without some rules being placed on her.

Her role as First Lady requires her to be a hostess, party planner, decorator, humanitarian, fashion icon, and more. Along with her duties are a strict set of rules she must abide by while sacrificing her own privacy and personal freedom. Keep reading to find out why there’s so much more to the First Lady behind the façade of glitz and glamour.

First Lady can't open windows

She Can’t Open Any Windows in the White House

The First Lady must comply with the rule that windows are not to be opened in the White House by any member of the first family. During the Obama presidency, First Lady Michelle Obama found this rule to be quite difficult to abide by. During an interview with Ellen DeGeneres she said, “I just want some wind in my face.” She has also recounted a time when daughter Sasha Obama opened a window shortly after the first family moved into the White House and that “there were calls,” claiming the incident never happened again.

First Lady of the united states

Rolling Down Car Windows isn’t Allowed, Either

The window rule applies to vehicles, too. The First Lady is not allowed to enjoy the simple freedom of rolling down a car window on a breezy day. Open windows pose a serious security risk that the First Lady and her family can’t afford to take. The Secret Service monitors the First Lady’s travels wherever she goes and she is under their constant supervision.

She Can Only Decorate Certain Areas of the White House

First Ladies are permitted to decorate only the areas of the White House that they use as their personal living quarters. Mainly, the second and third floors. They have access to a confidential warehouse that houses all the furniture of past administrations and can choose selections from this warehouse for redecorating purposes. The Lincoln Room and other historic rooms are off limits to any redecorating plans the First Lady has in mind and must be preserved as-is.

First Lady of the United States

She is Responsible for the Upkeep of Public Rooms in the White House

On that note, the First Lady is responsible for the upkeep of public rooms in the White House, and must request approval from the Committee for the Preservation of the White House for any refurbishments needed. The White House is often referred to as “the museum,” given the historical furniture, artwork, and home décor housed in its various rooms that will be preserved for years to come.

White House rules

She is Required to Hire an Interior Decorator

Once her husband has taken office and the First Family has moved into the White House, the First Lady is required to hire an interior decorator to help redecorate the rooms under her authority. This is one of many instances in her duty as First Lady where the President’s wife is encouraged to tap into her creative juices and personal tastes. Most recently, First Lady Melania Trump hired interior decorator Tham Kannalikham to give the private quarters of the White House a makeover and place to call home for the First Family.

This is one of the wilder First Lady rules we know of.

She Must Bring all Her Belongings to the White House

Not only is the First Lady required to bring all her belongings to the White House, she’s also required to pay for the transportation of them. The First Family is responsible for hiring a moving company to transport their belongings to the White House on Inauguration Day. Once arrived, 100 White House staff members then unload the moving company vehicles and help the First Family move into the White House.

First Lady rules

She is not Allowed to Keep Gifts from Foreign Governments

The First Lady is not to keep any gifts given by foreign governments. Any gifts from foreign governments belong to the United States, according to the Congressional Research Service. These gifts are kept with the National Archives and Records Administration and later go to a Presidential Library. Gifts from foreign governments can be purchased by the First Lady if she would like to keep them.

rules of the first lady

But She can Keep Domestic Gifts

The First Lady is allowed to keep domestic gifts, according to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, but they must pass extensive security screenings before being received.

She is in Charge of Picking a Theme for the Annual Christmas Tree

A tradition started by First Lady Jackie Kennedy during the Kennedy administration, the First Lady is responsible for picking a theme for the Christmas tree that graces the Blue Room in the White House every Christmas season. First Lady Jackie Kennedy opted for a Nutcracker theme in 1961 to get the ball rolling, a theme Barbara Bush repeated in 1990. More recently, First Lady Melania Trump chose “The Spirit of America” as the theme for 2019, featuring two pink and gold trees as a tribute to past First Ladies.

Her Attendance is Required at the Annual Hanukkah Celebration

The First Lady’s attendance is required at the annual celebration of Hanukkah at the White House. The tradition includes the lighting of the Menorah to celebrate the festival of lights.

Adding a Four-Legged Family Member is Highly Encouraged

In an effort to “normalize” the First Family and make them appear more relatable to the American people, the First Lady is encouraged to add pets to the family during her husband’s administration in the White House. White House pets become something of a celebrity-you may remember Socks the cat from the Clinton administration, for example.

Plagiarism in Any Form is a Big No-No

Plagiarism is an unacceptable practice that is frowned upon in any scenario, and can tarnish the First Lady’s reputation. First Lady Melania Trump received harsh criticism for her speech at the National Republican Convention in 2016, which borrowed snippets taken from a speech given in 2008 by First Lady Michelle Obama. Melania’s speechwriter took responsibility for the incident, but at the hands of the first lady’s reputation.

This seems like one of the more obvious First Lady rules.

Her Presence is Requested by the Queen

Alongside her husband, the First Lady is invited to meet with the Queen, who has met with every U.S. president and First Lady since her reign began, with the exception of President Trump.

Her Children Must Attend Private School

In the last century, the only First Lady to send her child to a public school was Rosalynn Carter, who sent daughter Amy Carter to a public school in D.C. during the Carter administration. As the children of the sitting president, life is anything but normal, and public schooling is not recommended.

This is one of the wilder First Lady rules we know of.

The First Lady is in Charge of Hosting a State Dinner

When a foreign government visits the White House, they usually come bearing gifts for the First Lady. As a show of appreciation, she hosts a State Dinner for the visiting foreign government friends. Working alongside the staff, she oversees the planning of the big event, including the guest list, invitations, dinner menus, flowers, seating arrangements, and entertainment for the evening. First Lady Michelle Obama started a Kids’ State Dinner in 2012, following the same procedures, except this time children from every state were chosen to attend and showcase recipes they created. The winning dishes were then served for the dinner.

first lady easter egg hunt

She Hosts the Annual Easter Egg Hunt

The First Lady is responsible for planning the Easter Egg Roll-the annual easter egg hunt event for kids at the White House. Similar to the themed Christmas tree, the Easter Egg Roll allows the First Lady to tap into her creative juices and personal interests. First Lady Lou Hoover incorporated folk dancing into the event while First Lady Pat Nixon started the tradition of egg roll races.

first lady white house correspondents dinner

She is Expected to Attend the White House Correspondents’ Dinners

The First Lady is expected to attend the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, an event held for celebrities and journalists. A comedian usually hosts, and the President chimes in with some jokes of his own. The purpose of the event is to “salute the First Amendment” and honor award-winning journalism. The first Correspondents’ Dinner was held in 1921. First Lady Melania Trump broke this unspoken rule, as her and President Trump did not attend this event during the Trump administration.

First Ladies of the united states

The Incoming First Lady is Required to Meet the Outgoing First Lady

In the weeks leading up to the presidential inauguration, the First Lady-to-be meets the current First Lady, who takes her on a tour of the White House. This can be an uncomfortable and tense exchange for some First Ladies, while other First Ladies build a strong rapport and leave a lasting impact on one another. Most notably, First Lady Barbara Bush showed then-First Lady-to-be Hillary Clinton a window in the White House overlooking the rose garden and the Oval Office. Hillary Clinton subsequently introduced this same view to First Lady-to-be Laura Bush, who continued the tradition with First Lady-to-be Michelle Obama.

The First Lady Must Choose A Cause to Champion

The First Lady is known for championing for social causes that are important to her. First Lady Dolley Madison started this tradition back in the 1800s, championing charities that helped orphans, setting the tone for future First Ladies, who often choose causes that help children. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt took this duty a step further by hiring her own staff, holding press conferences, and traveling often with the sole purpose of fighting for equality. In recent years, First Lady Michelle Obama founded the “Let’s Move!” Initiative to encourage kids to live a physically active lifestyle, while First Lady Melania Trump started the “Be Best” initiative to educate children to use social media responsibly and encourage them to live a healthy lifestyle.

first lady footing the bill

She Must Foot the Bill for Her Own Personal Expenses

Every month, the First Lady receives an itemized bill for personal expenses incurred. The First Family must pay for personal items including clothing, toiletries, and food. Staff members are in charge of picking up personal items for the First Family and are paid back at a later date. First Lady Hillary Clinton admitted the Clintons actually left the White House in debt, citing legal fees and other expenses that put them in the red.

This is one of the wilder First Lady rules we know of.

The First Lady is in Charge of Preserving History

First Lady Jackie Kennedy created a program for the First Lady to preserve the White House’s history, since many of the rooms are essentially museums, housing furniture and artwork. She founded the White House Historical Association, which publishes information on White House history, as well as the Fine Arts Committee to advise on art purchases for the White House. In recent years, First Lady Michelle Obama restored the Old Family Dining Room, and First Lady Melania Trump refurbished the Bellange suite, which contains a collection of furniture made for the White House in 1817.

first lady not allowed to drive

Driving a Vehicle is an Absolute No-No

Not only is the First Lady prohibited from driving during the course of her husband’s presidency, many First Ladies refrain from driving after their tenure at the White House is over. First Lady Hillary Clinton told the National Automobile Dealers Association in 2014 that she hasn’t driven a car since 1996, while First Lady Michelle Obama has yet to get behind the wheel of a car, either, due to “still living in a bubble.” A major sacrifice indeed that extends well beyond the tenure of the First Lady’s husband’s presidency due to her permanently-heightened social profile.

She is Required to Choose the White House China

A task started by First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln in 1861, the First Lady is required to pick out the White House china pattern to be used during her husband’s administration. As the First Family is frequently entertaining politicians, celebrities, and other important figures in society, fancy china for formal dining occasions is a must. First Lady Mamie Eisenhower even saw to the completion of a room that houses and celebrates the china patterns picked out and used by every administration in the White House, preserving them as a part of history.

This is one of the wilder First Lady rules we know of.

She is Expected to be a Fashion Icon

“The first lady is seen as a fashion icon, but it is a pricey role to play,” said First Lady Laura Bush, as written in her memoir. First Ladies are required to uphold the image of a fashion icon, but they have to pay out of pocket to keep their designer gowns, unless they choose to donate them after one wear. First Lady Michelle Obama was often given clothes by designers as a donation to wear for government events, but following the event in which they were worn they were given to the National Archives to keep. Controversy erupted when First Lady Nancy Reagan kept designer gowns without paying for them. Some were eventually donated to museums, but she still continued to accept them for the length of the Reagan administration.

She Must Dress Appropriately at All Times

The First Lady must be dressed appropriately for all appearances in the public eye. Questionable fashion choices leave her susceptible to harsh criticism, as her every fashion choice is meticulously scrutinized. Being overdressed or underdressed for an occasion can be met with disapproval from the public. In recent years, First Lady Michelle Obama received backlash for wearing shorts while visiting the Grand Canyon in 2009, while First Lady Melania Trump was criticized for wearing an olive-green jacket with the message “I really don’t care, do u?” on the back side of the jacket.

This is one of the First Lady rules that just makes sense.

The First Lady Relinquishes Her Privacy for Life

The First Lady’s exit from the White House does not mean all her personal freedoms are restored. The Secret Service keeps tabs on former First Families for the rest of their lives. Former Secret Service agent Jonathan Wackrow said in a 2016 interview with NBC News, “We’re there 24 hours a day, 365 days a year” and that the job is “the most intrusive thing anyone could ever experience.”

She Must Wait Until January 20 to Move into the White House

The First Family is not permitted to move into the White House until noon on January 20, the day of the inauguration, and is given 12 hours to complete the move. They must pay for their own moving company and transportation. Once the moving company arrives with their belongings, staff members help move the First Family into the White House within the allotted 12-hour period.

Personal Smartphones are Forbidden

Due to security reasons, the First Lady and her family are forbidden from using personal smartphones. Any phones used by the administration are heavily guarded and monitored by security. Government-issued smartphones are the only approved smartphones for use by the First Family during the length of the administration.

She is Given a Budget for Decorating

The First Lady and family are allotted a budget of $100,000 for decorating. Expenses incurred exceeding this amount must be paid out of pocket.

You Won’t See Her in a Convertible

As one can imagine, for security reasons the First Family is not allowed to travel in convertibles or any type of vehicle other than the designated vehicles required for the First Family’s transportation.

This seems like one of the more obvious First Lady rules.

First Lady of the United States

Calls Must be Made on Secure Lines

Any outgoing calls the First Lady makes from the White House must be made on secure lines, regardless of the nature of the call. As obvious targets of foreign intelligence services, calls are heavily monitored by security.

Spontaneous and Impromptu Plans are Forbidden

You won’t catch the First Lady out to a spontaneous, casual brunch with a friend. Any and all events must be planned in conjunction with the Secret Service in advance, from formal dinners to casual events.

This is one of the wilder First Lady rules we know of.

She Can’t Generate Extra Income

The First Lady is not allowed to work at a job or generate extra income while her husband’s administration is in office. Any job titles held prior to the administration must be put on freeze or taken over by other handlers during the course of the administration.

Social Media Usage is Minimal at Best

The First Lady’s social media accounts are typically run by her staff and content is restricted to showcasing her appearances at events and promoting her social cause. Any social media usage is heavily monitored by the Secret Service and is not for personal use. Private social media accounts established prior to her husband’s presidential administration are deleted or deactivated.

She’s Billed for all Meals

One might think living in the White House is a luxury, but one would be mistaken in that assumption. All meals eaten in the White House or otherwise are out-of-pocket expenses for the First Lady. First Lady Michelle Obama spoke of the financial woes of footing the bill for expensive food served in the White House on Jimmy Kimmel Live in 2018.

This is one of the wilder First Lady rules we know of.

The First Lady and First Family Must Stay in Blair House Prior to the Inauguration

Until the President-elect is officially inaugurated, the First Lady and family must stay at the President’s guest house, Blair House, a residence owned by the federal government since 1942. But don’t feel too sorry for her. Blair House boasts 100 rooms and has upscale amenities, including a gym and nail salon.

This is one of the wilder First Lady rules we know of.

She Must Not Overstep Her Boundaries

One common criticism of First Ladies is they are either “too involved” or not involved enough in their husband’s presidency. The First Lady is expected to stick to the duties of her role as First Lady: humanitarian efforts, overseeing the decorating, and planning parties and events. Showing too much interest or not enough interest in political affairs can hurt the First Lady’s standing with the public. First Lady Hillary Clinton was known for overstepping her boundaries and getting involved with her husband’s presidency at a political level, which she received flack for doing. This caused her to step back and focus on her duties as First Lady, instead of trying to act as co-President.

She Can’t Change Her Title

First Ladies cannot elect to change their title to something other than “First Lady.” The title was first used on Dolley Madison and by the late 20th century became renowned as the official title of the President’s wife.

This is one of the wilder First Lady rules we know of.

She has to Forfeit Her Opinion

While more of an unspoken rule than a formal one, the First Lady is expected to go along with the status quo and stay out of politics. Citing a controversial opinion on current events can tarnish her image, as she is meant to be a role model of homemaking, family, and womanhood.

This is one of the wilder First Lady rules we know of.

She is Required to Give Up Many Personal Freedoms

At a glance, appearances suggest the First Lady lives a life of elegance and luxury. She wears designer gowns, hosts fancy dinner parties, and travels around the world to help those in need. But in actuality, her role as First Lady requires sacrifice and relinquishing many personal freedoms. Simple pleasures such as opening a window, driving a car, and using a personal smartphone are just a few normalities she’s had to give up while her husband is in office. For many First Ladies, they must relinquish these personal freedoms for the rest of their life.

This is one of the wilder First Lady rules we know of.