Mrs. Bush made the Keds a staple of her wardrobe — but with a twist

By Adam Carlson
April 09, 2019 12:51 PM

Former First Lady Barbara Bush‘s style may have been defined by her pearls, but they weren’t her only go-to accessory: For decades before her death last April, at 92, she loved wearing Keds.

In Our Shoes, Our Selves, a new collection of essays from famous women about their relationships with their most meaningful footwear, Bush recounted in an interview before her death how her husband, President George H. W. Bush, sweetly gifted her dozens new Keds while they were in the White House.

“All my life, every summer, I wore Keds. … Then, when we were in the White House, I was noticing that everyone was wearing big, clunky athletic shoes, and I said to George, ‘You know, you can’t find Keds anymore.’ So he called the President of Keds and then, for my birthday, he brought in a bag of thirty different-colored pairs of Keds, every color you’ve ever heard of, mostly pastels,” Mrs. Bush told co-author Amanda Benchley.

“I was thrilled,” she recalled. “I thought it was the funniest thing.”

Barbara Bush (and her Keds) in 1991
JENNIFER LAW/AFP/Getty

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Mrs. Bush made the Keds a staple of her wardrobe (a PEOPLE profile from 1994 notes her wearing a “well-scuffed” pair) — but with a twist. She wore different colors together.

“It was fun because you could see people looking at you quizzically and thinking, wow,” she told Benchley.

As others took notice of her love of Keds, they started gifting her new pairs. (“You won’t believe what people will do when you are First Lady.”) At one point when she “already had so many,” Mrs. Bush gifted a bag of Keds to the homeless.

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Supporters also sent her painted Keds featuring a lobster (a nod to the Bush family’s retreat in Maine) or the Texas flag or a glitter fish, “and I would mix and match them,” Mrs. Bush said in Our Shoes, Our Selves.

And it all started with a gift from the president.

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“My husband was so thrilled to give me the Keds that day. He is a funny man,” she told Benchley. “And I thought, I should have said, ‘You know, you can’t buy diamonds anymore?’ “

Even years later, an 80-year-old Mrs. Bush “loved to pair a pink shoe with a red one from her closetful of colorful Keds,” granddaughters Barbara Pierce Bush and Jenna Bush Hager recalled in a 2017 memoir.