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10 Presidential Fashion Flubs

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Some things about being the President of the United States haven't changed at all since Washington's tenure. While it's no longer common for the POTUS to ride a horse to his inauguration or occasionally participate in duels (as Andrew Jackson did), the scrutiny that comes with the position has been the same since the beginning... and that includes his fashion. Although the Obamas have been noted for injecting some modern style in the White House, even some of Barack's selections have been mocked. He's far from the first to take a little ribbing for his clothing choices, though. Here are 10 presidents who have been questioned for their lack of taste.

1. George Washington

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George Washington didn't want to be a king, but he did have the extravagant tastes of one: he liked to outfit his entire stable of horses in leopard-skin robes.

2. Thomas Jefferson

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Thomas Jefferson sometimes greeted dignitaries while wearing his PJs. On one such occasion, British minister to the United States Andrew Merry was on the receiving end of Jefferson's casual attire. He was not happy about it, writing,

"I, in my official costume, found myself at the hour of reception he had himself appointed, introduced to a man as president of the United States, not merely in an undress, but ACTUALLY STANDING IN SLIPPERS DOWN TO THE HEELS, and both pantaloons, coat and under-clothes indicative of utter slovenliness and indifference to appearances, and in a state of negligence actually studied."

3. James Monroe

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Although the Revolutionary War had long since been over by the time James Monroe took his appointed post, he insisted on dressing as if the war was still raging on outside of the White House. That means britches, a buffcoat, a powdered wig and a cocked hat. It was outdated and a little bit odd.

4. William Henry Harrison

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Do you remember being a tween or teen and refusing to wear a coat even when it was bitterly cold out? Or is that just a battle that my parents had with me? Anyway, I guess that's one thing I have in common with ninth President William Henry Harrison. He delivered a nearly two-hour inauguration speech on a cold, rainy, blustery day, refusing to wear a coat, hat or gloves on the grounds that they would make him look weak. Uh, bad idea. He fell ill almost immediately and ended up dying shortly thereafter. To be fair, he probably died from round after round of horrific "treatments" he was subjected to, but still—dressing a bit warmer could have prevented his untimely death.

5. Zachary Taylor

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Zachary Taylor was so unconcerned about his appearance that he wore clothes and hats that were battered beyond belief. They were so worn and abused that it wasn't uncommon for people to see him out and about and mistake him for a farmer.

6. Chester A. Arthur

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Chester A. Arthur was the first president to hire someone for the position of full-time valet - the man was a clotheshorse! He was rumored to own more than 80 pairs of pants alone. This may seem normal for someone of his stature today, but it was quite extravagant for the 1880s.

7. Dwight D. Eisenhower

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Technically, this incident happened before Eisenhower was President, but it seems so out of character for the persona Ike had in public that I had to share it. Our 34th POTUS had a wild sense of humor while he was attending West Point - once when his commanding officer requested that he appear in his dress coat, Eisenhower complied. He showed up to the meeting wearing his dress coat and not a stitch of any other clothing.

8. Lyndon B. Johnson


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Lyndon B. Johnson used accessories to get him out of meetings. When he found himself listening to someone drone on and on, he would set off the alarm on his wristwatch to get them to shut up. Charming.

9. Richard Nixon

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Richard Nixon's fashion faux pas wasn't because of something he wore himself - it was because of the "uniforms" he had made for the White House police force. They had all kinds of flair, from epaulets to embroidery to fashionable caps. After he was roundly ridiculed for the ensembles, which looked more like marching band uniforms than official police gear, he donated them to - what else - a marching band in Iowa. Supposedly. I couldn't find what specific school he donated them to. Anyone know?

10. Barack Obama

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Last year, Obama was mocked when he wore a pair of "dad jeans" to throw out the first pitch at the MLB All-Star game. "I am a little frumpy," he said. "Those jeans are comfortable, and for those of you who want your president to look great in tight jeans, I'm sorry - I'm not the guy. It just doesn't fit me. I'm not 20."

Any other presidential fashion faux pas come to mind? I seem to recall that GWB owned a particularly loud pair of cowboy boots with his initials on them, but maybe that's not so odd for a Texan.

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The Time Teddy Roosevelt Was Shot in the Chest, Then Gave a Speech Anyway
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On October 14, 1912—105 years ago today—Theodore Roosevelt was on the campaign trail in Milwaukee, running for another term. It was a tough race: Democratic candidate Woodrow Wilson proved to be a formidable opponent, and William Howard Taft, while unpopular, was the Republican incumbent. Roosevelt was running as a third-party Progressive, and in order to keep pace with his big-ticket rivals he had to work hard. By this point in the election season, he was giving 15 to 20 speeches per day, most of which stretched on for an hour or sometimes more. But this day, TR didn't feel too well. His throat was scratchy, he was tired, and so he planned a relatively quick stop.

What Roosevelt and his security team didn't know was that a man with a .38 caliber revolver had been trailing the campaign since they departed New Orleans. For a thousand miles, he rode quietly, just waiting to get his shot at the Colonel.

John Schrank was a Bavarian-born saloon-keeper from New York. He'd had some strange and troubling dreams in recent months, mostly about President McKinley, whose assassination resulted in Roosevelt's first term. In his dreams, Schrank said that President McKinley asked him to avenge his death and protect democracy from a three-term president. All Schrank had to do was kill Roosevelt before he could be reelected.

"BUT FORTUNATELY I HAD MY MANUSCRIPT"

Roosevelt stood in the seat of his automobile to wave at the crowds and Schrank, who was standing in the front row of the crowd, had his shot. He took aim: point-blank, right at Roosevelt’s head. Then three things happened at the same time. A bystander hit Schrank’s arm; Roosevelt’s security detail spotted the gun and leapt from the car; Schrank pulled the trigger. The shot landed squarely in Roosevelt’s chest just as Schrank was tackled and put in a headlock by the bodyguard. Roosevelt is said not to have noticed he was hit until he reached into his overcoat and felt the blood on his fingers.

But it turns out that Teddy’s long-winded speeches saved his life that day: The bullet traveled through a 50-page copy of his prepared speech and the steel eyeglasses case he carried in the same pocket. The bullet was slowed enough not to reach his lung or heart, which Teddy deduced from the absence of blood when he spoke or coughed. He refused to go to a hospital and insisted on giving his speech.

“Friends, I shall ask you to be as quiet as possible. I don't know whether you fully understand that I have just been shot; but it takes more than that to kill a Bull Moose,” he began. He spoke for at least 55 more minutes (though some estimates say 90), still wearing his blood-soaked shirt. (You can read a stenographer’s report of his speech here.)

The pages of the speech that saved Roosevelt's life were later bound into a book.
The pages of the speech that saved Roosevelt's life were later bound into a book, which—along with the eyeglasses case and the shirt TR was wearing—can be seen at the Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace National Historic Site in New York City.
Erin McCarthy

Roosevelt would spend the next eight days in the hospital. The bullet had lodged in his chest wall and removing it was deemed too unsafe. The wound healed and he never reported trouble from the injury again. Despite having lived through his assassination attempt, the presidency would not be Teddy’s again: Woodrow Wilson’s 41 percent of the vote meant the office would be his, though Roosevelt did beat out incumbent Taft, marking the only time a sitting president has come in third place in a reelection bid.

Schrank, in the meantime, was apprehended immediately. He lived the rest of his life in an insane asylum, and died of pneumonia in 1943.

This post originally appeared in 2012.

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"The Thing": The Mysterious Teenage Ghost That Haunted Taft's White House
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John Plumbe Jr., Library of Congress // Public Domain

“My dear Clara,” Major Archie Butt wrote in the summer of 1911, “It seems that the White House is haunted.” So began what would become the only written record of the mysterious Executive Mansion ghost known only as "The Thing."

That July, word of an apparition appearing to servants in William Howard Taft’s White House reached Butt, a military aide to the president who served as a kind of personal secretary and attaché. Reported encounters with a ghost had been scaring domestic staffers for months, as he recounted in a letter to his sister-in-law Clara. The spooky tale he told her remains an enduring question mark for White House scholars even today.

As the gossip of the time went, The Thing was felt more often than seen. Taft’s housekeeper—“a spooky little thing herself,” as Butt put it—reported that servants told stories of feeling The Thing appear as a slight pressure on the shoulder, as if a curious kid were leaning over to see what they were doing. Butt scolded the housekeeper, telling her, "ghosts have not the sense of touch, at least those self-respecting ghosts of which I have heard." But the servants maintained that it was, in fact, the spirit touching them.

“There’s a long tradition of White House ghosts,” Evan Phifer, a research historian at the White House Historical Society, tells Mental Floss. “Lincoln is a very popular one, Andrew Jackson—even a British soldier from the time of the War of 1812.” But The Thing is one of the more unusual White House spirits, because no one knows who he was. “It’s not a president or a first lady. It’s this unknown boy about 14 or 15 years old," Phifer says.

Several of the White House staff reported feeling this mysterious pressure on their shoulder, only to turn around to an empty room. Just one member of the household, though, said she actually saw the ghost. Marsh, First Lady Helen Taft’s personal maid, reported not just feeling the ghost leaning over her shoulder, but seeing the ethereal figure, whom she described as a young boy with light, unkempt hair and sad blue eyes. “Now who on Earth this can be,” Butt mused, “I cannot imagine.”

Taft responded to news of the spooky rumor with “towering rage,” Butt said, banning anyone in the house from speaking of the ghost under threat of firing. The president worried that the story would get out and the press would have a field day with the news. But his aide seemed to have a sense of humor about the whole situation. “I reminded him that the help was in such a state of mind that, if it was positively believed that the upper floor of the White House was haunted, the servants there could not be kept in their places by executive order,” Butt wrote.

Still, both of them found their curiosity piqued. Taft was “as anxious to hear about the thing as I had been,” according to Butt. And the aide, who was often on the receiving end of the housekeeping staff’s complaints, was afraid to let on just how intrigued he was by The Thing. “I don’t dare let any of them see how interested I am in it,” he told his sister-in-law. He hoped that the ghost would fade into the background as the year wore on and the staff got busier, relieving him of the duty of calming down superstitious domestic employees.

But even while publicly scoffing at the story, Butt was privately planning to research the mysterious boy’s possible origins. He asked several different servants to tell him their stories about The Thing, and told Clara that he was “going to delve into the history of the White House” to see if any boy matching The Thing’s description had lived—or died—there. But he never mentioned it in his letters to Clara again. It seems that he never did find out who the ghost might have been.

Modern White House historians are just as perplexed as he was. The only known youngster said to haunt the presidential residence is Willie Lincoln, who died during his father’s second year in office, possibly of typhoid fever. But Willie was 11 when he died, much younger than the description of The Thing. (Besides, Willie's ghost was already a known figure in Washington—the first reported sightings of his ghost in the White House date back to the 1870s.)

Whoever the paranormal figure might have represented, Taft was seemingly successful in squashing the rumors before they reached beyond the White House walls. “I didn’t really see the story in any papers of the time, so you could say that Archie Butt did a good job of keeping the story under wraps,” Phifer says. “This seems to be the only mention in the historical record of this ghost.”

Butt himself, though, was not long for this world. In April 1912, returning from Europe to the U.S. after a six-week leave of absence from the White House, he died in the sinking of the Titanic. And as for The Thing? Well, if Archie Butt ever did get to the bottom of the mystery, he took the story to his watery grave.

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