You might expect that being a first lady of the US is quite a cushy and fancy job, but it's actually not that simple. There are lots of rules the first ladies have to abide by inside and outside the White House, and some of them are seriously strange.
1. Can't Open Windows
For security reasons, the first lady and her family are not allowed to open the bulletproof windows in the White House and the cars they drive around in. Michelle Obama once revealed the agony of having the windows shut at all times, "I really can't open a window. If I press it in the car, everybody's like, 'Oh my god! What was that?'"
2. Driving Isn't Allowed
First ladies are forbidden to drive because driving is considered too dangerous. So when they want to go somewhere, the Secret Service would take them there. But this rule doesn't always go down well. Hillary Clinton told the National Automobile Dealers Association in 2014, "One of the regrets I have about my public life is that I can't drive anymore."
3. Can't Accept Gifts
First ladies receive many gifts from foreign governments, but they can't keep them because these presents are actually given to the country, not to the first family. If the first lady really wants to keep a gift from overseas, she has to buy it.
4. Must Pay For Meals
A first lady isn't getting all that fancy food at the White House or Camp David for free. She has to pay for it, and the food isn't always cheap. Michelle Obama remarked on Jimmy Kimmel Live! in 2018, "You get the bill for a peach, and you're like, 'That was a $500 peach!'"
5. Pay For Designer Clothes
A first lady is supposed to be a fashion icon, but she has to pony up for her wardrobe herself. Laura Bush wrote in her memoir, "I was amazed by the sheer number of designer clothes that I was expected to buy… Our accountant said to George, 'It costs a lot to be president,' and he was referring mainly to my clothes."
6. Wear Designer Outfits Only Once
The designer outfits that the first ladies have paid so much for can only be worn once. After that, the clothes have to be donated. Both Michelle Obama's and Melania Trump's inauguration gowns have been donated to the Smithsonian Institution, which is a tradition dating back to 1912.
7. Can't Get In A Convertible
You can probably guess the reason why first ladies and their families are banned from riding in convertibles. Yes, that's a result of the terrible incident back in 1963 when John F. Kennedy was shot and killed while traveling in an open-roofed car.
8. Have No Privacy
For security reasons once again, first ladies don't have much of a private life, and even their mail is monitored. A former Secret Service agent once told NBC News how intrusive their protection could be. He said, "Just think about you at your home tonight and four strangers just show up… We experience parts of your life, but we're also there in those private times when things aren't good - family arguments, family loss."
9. Can Decline Protection
You can imagine how awkward it must be to have secret agents follow you wherever you go. Luckily, first ladies and their adult children can reject it if they want. But so far, no first ladies have done so, except for one child, namely Ronald Reagan's son Ron.
10. No Casual Shopping Trips
Security arrangements don't allow the White House wives to drop into a store casually. In 2016, Michelle Obama told Oprah at the United State of Women Summit, "I want to go to Target again! I tell my friends they're going to have to give me a re-entry training for like, okay, what do you do at CVS now? How do you check out? It's like I've been living in a cave."
11. Champion A Cause
Since Eleanor Roosevelt established the position of first lady as a philanthropic role, supporting a good cause has been a tradition. For example, Betty Ford fought to raise awareness of breast cancer, while Michelle Obama devoted herself to helping girls get an education.
12. Have Good Security On The Phone
First ladies generally know much of what goes on in the White House, so it's vital that their phones have the highest security to stop any hacking. Besides password protection, security experts take whatever steps are required. Plus, their devices are replaced regularly.
13. Get An Official Portrait Done
Before photography was invented, presidents and their first ladies would have a portrait painted to allow future generations to know what they looked like. This tradition has remained even after photography became the norm.
14. Select A Special China Pattern
Picking out a pattern for the household china in the White House has been a tradition for first ladies since 1814. The White House holds so much impressive china that there is even a china display area, the China Room on the ground floor.
15. Can't Go Outside Alone
A first lady isn't allowed to go outside alone. At the 2016 United State of Women Summit, Michelle Obama revealed how constrained she felt in the White House. She said, "I want to open my front door without discussing it with anyone - and I want to walk out that door and just walk. Just want to walk by myself, or with a semblance of feeling like I'm by myself."
16. Always Attend Other First Ladies' Funerals
Ever since the 60s, attending their counterparts' funerals has been a protocol and tradition first ladies have to follow, even if they didn't know the women in question at all. For example, at Barbara Bush's funeral in 2018, 4 surviving first ladies were present.
17. Hard To Get A Divorce
A first lady divorcing a sitting president would rightfully be a very complicated issue, and the first couples usually have prenuptial agreements involving large sums of money. So even if the White House has witnessed a lot of adultery, no actual divorces have happened so far.
18. Plan For Your Husband's Death
Being president has personal risk, and each president is expected to plan their funerals shortly after they take office. The first ladies, of course, have to make plenty of decisions on those hypothetical funeral arrangements. That was what Jackie Kennedy had to do after her husband was assassinated.
19. Leave The White House If The President Dies
Though this rule sounds pretty cruel, it's downright true. After John F. Kennedy was shot and killed, Jackie and her children had to depart the White House. Out of compassion, some leeway was granted, and the widow was allowed to stay for a bit longer.
20. Don't Ditch The Title
The phrase "First Lady" was first used by Zachary Taylor to refer to Dolley Madison in an 1849 eulogy for her. It became an official title in the latter half of the 20th century. But not all first ladies liked the name, and Jackie Kennedy and Eleanor Roosevelt were two of them. Furthermore, the title will be improper when a gay man or a woman is elected president.