The Bush Sisters Didn't Always Look Like This

Barbara Bush and Jenna Bush Hager, glamorous "It Girl" twin daughters of former President George W. Bush, share not only a birthday but a modern and refined look, cultivated over many years spent navigating a blinding — and perhaps uninvited — political spotlight. America's first daughters stepped into White House history the moment their father was inaugurated on Jan. 20, 2001. But it was his second term when the young fashionistas truly started owning their style.

These days, the sisters are lighting up the town in New York City, taking turns appearing at fashion week runway shows, red carpets, and fundraisers, all the while collectively working as CEO, mom, wife, teacher, advocate, TV personality, humanitarian, author, and editor at large. They're powerhouses in their own right: independently strong women who value family as well as contemporary ideals, and the close-knit relationship they share as fraternal twins. While coming of age as America's first family may have taken its toll, those bumps and bruises along the way only proved to define them as individuals. Frequently described as the life of the party and not Republican, these ladies boldly carved out their own career paths and lifestyles.

1981: double trouble

"I discovered my best friend the moment we were born," Barbara Bush wrote in an article for Vanity Fair. Barbara claims older sister status over the younger Jenna, as the fraternal twins were born one minute apart, on Nov. 25, 1981 in Dallas, Texas.


The only children of former First Lady Laura Bush and former President George W. Bush, the eldest was named after her grandmother, former First Lady Barbara Bush; and the younger named after her maternal grandmother, Jenna Welch. Later, they would go on to acquire Secret Service code names Turquoise and Twinkle in descending order of age while serving as America's first family, they revealed at the Women in the World Summit (via InStyle).

Their mother, Laura, candidly expressed her private struggle to conceive in her memoir Spoken fom the Heart (Scribner, 2010). "I always knew they were trying to adopt kids when she got pregnant with us," Bush shared with People. Hager continued, "...The pregnancy and the fact that she was so sick-her kidneys [were] about to fail... My mother is pretty closed in some ways, so I never knew that. Now when she says, 'I just want my chicks to come home,' you understand where it comes from."


1985: bonded for life

Many years before the twins would splash across newsstands as society girls and household names, they spent their days doing what any other siblings might do: firing up their imaginations and exploring their world.


"When we were young, that partnership revolved around play as each other's constant slumber-party guest, sous-chef, backup singer, or lead vocalist. We were never bored under the dome of Jenna's expansive imagination, gathering sticky, fragrant honeysuckle for a gift on Mother's Day, digging for buried treasure in our neighbor's backyard, setting up a school, or playing pioneer, two barefoot girls lost in the unexplored woods ... of suburban Dallas. We went on nature walks in the alleys and howled at the summer moon, " Barbara wrote in Vanity Fair. "And what a magical idea the universe had in giving each of us the luxury of a partner. We have always had a dinner partner, a dance partner, a partner in mischief."


Sweetly owning up to being the less creative of the two, Jenna told Southern Living, "Barbara would be working on an art project, and I would be outside riding my tricycle in circles on the driveway."

1989: first grandkids

Just seven years old, the Bush sisters first looked on as their grandfather, George H. W. Bush, swore in as the 41st President of the United States. Later, in an open letter of candid White House life advice to Malia and Sasha Obama published in The Wall Street Journal, the sisters relayed their experience that day: "We stood proudly on the platform, our tiny hands icicles, as we lived history. We listened intently to the words spoken on Inauguration Day service, duty, honor. But being seven, we didn't quite understand the gravity of the position our grandfather was committing to. We watched as the bands marched by — the red, white, and blue streamers welcoming us to a new role: the family members of a President."


Their deep family roots only proved to be stronger by the year, politics notwithstanding. "When we were little and my grandfather was president, I thought everyone's grandfather was president," Barbara told InStyle. Jenna agreed. "That speaks to how normal our grandparents were," she said. "They babysat us the night before one of his huge debates... and Barbara lost her stuffed animal — which she still has at 34 — and my grandpa, instead of prepping for the debate, went on a search with flashlights because she wouldn't fall asleep."

Tiny, hopeful optimists, they could never have grasped the map that would unfold before them. Their fascinating lives were just beginning, 12 years of which would essentially be spent at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.


2001: kids in America

During a crisp January inauguration ceremony, in front of the nation, George W. Bush took his oath as 43rd President of the United States. It may have been a stellar moment for the Bush family, but the stress of their father's campaign and the social pressure of college life were starting wear on the girls. On May 29, 2001, the 19-year-old undergrads swung the tabloid door wide open on their college antics and underage drinking when "each was hit with a Class C misdemeanor — Jenna for trying to pass off a friend's driver's license as her own, Barbara for having a margarita in a state where the drinking age is 21," according to People. The girls were out partying at Chuy's restaurant in Austin, Texas, a state with a strict "zero tolerance" alcohol policy with stiff penalties, signed into law in June 1997 by — who else — their dad.


Fox News reported the incident was actually Jenna's second offense, saying, "She paid a $600 fine, served community service and attended an alcohol-awareness class." Looking back, she told Today, "Barbara and I got in trouble together. We've been on covers of magazines... but it was more like the National Enquirer."

2004: party girls

Even though Barbara and Jenna were constantly under the watchful eye of their security detail, they seemed to be spiraling out of control. Once the media caught wind of these so-called "party girls," it was open season on the Bush twins. They were the butt of a slew of scathing jokes from all sorts of sources, including Conan O'Brien (via New York magazine), who observed, "President Bush is being criticized because his inaugural celebration cost $40 million. When asked about it, the president said, 'Sorry, but my daughters insisted on an open bar.'" It was many years before when their father officially swore off his own drinking habit. Wife Laura revealed to Oprah (via ABC News) just how he did it, in 1986 on his 40th birthday. "We had the wild drunken weekend and it was no different from any other weekend... George just woke up and he knew he wanted to quit. And he stopped and he was able to stop. A lot of people can't. A lot of people need help to stop."


"One thing Barbara and I constantly [say is] 'Praise the Lord, yell Hallelujah at the top of our lungs that social media didn't exist.' Because we weren't perfect. And I don't think kids should be perfect. I think college is really a time, in a safe way, to make mistakes and explore who you are." Jenna confessed to People. While they may have had the luxury of a perceived cloak of privacy in a pre-Twitter, pre-smartphone society, the twins were about to face the harsh reality that their actions were shining a piercing, negative light on America's first family, though they were perhaps typical of the Texas college scene. Would the Bush sisters be able to salvage their good girl reputations?

2005: take two

Their father's inauguration on Jan. 20, 2005 marked not only his second term, but a stylish 180-degree transformation for the Bush twins. Jenna, having graduated college from the University of Texas at Austin with a degree in English, and Barbara, who graduated from Yale with a humanities degree, both less than a year prior, had now been working the campaign trail, speaking together and independently on behalf of their father, as documented by the New York Times. Where before they had been involuntarily thrust into the spotlight as children, they were now choosing to participate as adults.


And there was that little photo spread in Vogue. The Guardian wrote: "Having been ferociously, though not always successfully, guarded from publicity for the duration of the Bush presidency, Barbara and Jenna are suddenly everywhere... The 22-year-olds appeared in a glamorous photo-spread in US Vogue magazine and declared in an interview that dad 'scares the heck' out of their boyfriends." Draped in gowns by Oscar de la Renta and Calvin Klein, the twins had flipped the tables on their reputation and their look.

The girls later reflected on the striking difference four years can make at the Women in the World Summit, where they spoke alongside their mother. "When our dad [George W. Bush] was running we were seniors in high school, which is a particularly selfish time because you're trying to figure out what you want to do with your life," Jenna recalled. "We said, 'We don't want to campaign.' We also said, 'You're not going to win' and stuff like that, and so we didn't really do much during the [first] campaign. But then [with his second run for office] I had accepted a job in Harlem to teach and Barbara was moving to Africa, but we postponed all that because four years later — which shows you how much you grow up between 18 and 22, although I still stuck my tongue out and I don't regret it one bit — we realized that our dad had given us everything. He made us feel like we could do whatever we wanted, so how could we not help the man who had given us that gift. And so we campaigned, and those are some of our fondest memories as a family."


But even while the White House may have been a temporary home base, these sisters were on a mission to define themselves worldwide.

2008: three's a crowd

Longtime boyfriend Henry Chase Hager proposed to the younger Bush twin on Aug. 15, 2007, and the couple wed on May 10, 2008 at the Bush family estate, Prairie Chapel Ranch, aka "The Western White House," in Crawford, Texas, as documented by InStyle. Her raggedy college denim just a flicker in distant memory, Hager stunned in an organza Oscar de la Renta gown. The same spread from InStyle also mentioned her maid of honor twin sister, rocking a Lela Rose cocktail dress for the occasion. Even with the strictest of privacy measures in effect, as well as an intimate guest list, small-town Crawford celebrated the wedding as if the bride and groom were royalty. "Souvenir shops hung banners wishing Ms. Bush, 26, and Mr. Hager, 30, well. Jenna-and-Henry coffee mugs, mouse pads and coasters flew off the shelves. One shop served wedding cake," claimed the New York Times.


But would Mr. Hager be able to hang with these tight-knit twins? Barbara told People, "He got me in the marriage also." She went on to say the sisters warned Mr. Hager that every Christmas Eve, they'd all share the same bed. She says that has yet to happen, "but I think he's had to take a number of naps with both of us and that might get annoying." Noting her husband's understanding of their sisterly bond, Hager continued, "He says he's the ham in the ham sandwich."

Ever since a 2003 trip to Africa with her father, Barbara's focus has remained on world health and her organization Global Health Corps, which she cofounded and has served as chief executive forsince 2007, at the age of 26. In a New York Times article, she stated, "I'm crazy about my family... I was very much taught to care about the world." The article continues to report that Barbara "has a reputation as the liberal in the family (like her grandmother, also a Barbara), for she has spoken out in favor of gay rights, lives in New York City, and at Global Health Corps has built ties to abortion rights groups like Planned Parenthood Global and Marie Stopes International." The buzzing organization attracts upwards of 20,000 applicants annually for positions across Eastern and Southern Africa, as well as the United States, according to the Global Health Corps annual report.


Jenna, who had found success teaching in Baltimore and had authored two books, joined NBC's Today in 2009 as a correspondent and contributor to the show. She told Today, "It wasn't something I'd always dreamed to do... But I think one of the most important things in life is to be open-minded and to be open-minded for change." She went on, "I hope to focus on what I'm passionate about because I think I'd do them best job on them — education, urban education, women and children's issues, and literacy." Jenna would also accept a position with Southern Living magazine as editor at large in 2012. True to her southern roots, she told USA Today, "I'm excited to interview influential Southerners, explore iconic places, and show how the next generation of women entertain."

2013: family time

In the four years since their family's White House stint officially ended in January 2009, the sisters proved that even a wild-child reputation can be changed for the better. The girls struck out on different paths, all the while keeping in close touch with each other.


Jenna would give birth to her first daughter, Margaret Laura 'Mila,' in April of 2013, named in honor of her grandmothers. At her baby shower, and prior to finding out the sex of her child, Hager told People, "I really love the relationship I have with my mother... so to have a daughter would be special." In contrast to Jenna's growing family, the older Bush sister was hot on the dating scene at the time with Panamanian graffiti-artist boyfriend Miky Fabriga, who she made time to see amidst her travels throughout Africa. He warmed her father's heart with their shared interest in art. "My dad is obsessed with art right now. So anyone that likes art, he is excited about," she told People. And as far as being an Aunt to Mila? "I love having her to spoil."


2015: Poppy is born

In August 2015, the Hagers' second daughter, Poppy Louise arrived on the scene. True to family tradition, they announced in People, "Poppy is named after Jenna's grandfather, George Herbert Walker 'Poppy' Bush, aka Gampy. His nickname growing up was Poppy, and we are proud to name her after a man we so adore. Louise is in honor of our grandmothers' middle names, Louise and Lewis."


On the topic of the importance of that sisterly bond, Jenna told Today, "I think that's something I look forward to teaching my daughters, just the power of having a sister and how you know your sister can be your best friend and your biggest advocate, and I think we feel pretty lucky that we have somebody to rely on." Barbara agreed: "You always have a great partner in crime in everything you're doing."

2016: The Bush legacy

So, what are these stylishly talented twins up to in 2016? Splitting time between speaking engagements, interviews, and on-air TV spots, and co-authoring children's books with her mom, mother-of-two Jenna gets up early. "I lay out my clothes in advance, a time-saving trick I learned from my mom in seventh grade. Again, there seems to be a major nerd theme here," she joked with Today. During a taping of the show with host Savannah Guthrie, even daughter Poppy joined in on the small screen action for a #StartToday workout segment. Barbara, in turn, has also established herself as a multi-faceted philanthropist, businesswoman, fashion maven, and lifestyle guru. In a profile in Self, the busy New Yorker revealed she never stops — running, that is. "The West Side Highway is a great path — I usually start in Tribeca and go up along the water. On weekends, I love running across the Williamsburg Bridge, running around in Brooklyn, and then back to Manhattan across the Brooklyn Bridge." The CEO's favorite beauty essential? "I always carry ChapStick!"


Even though they live just blocks from each other in NYC, "we talk at least 10 times a day," Jenna told Southern Living during a cover photo shoot and interview. As portrayed in the magazine, "Barbara describes her own style as clean, simple, and feminine. She's had a lifelong love affair with fashion, taught herself to sew at age 12, and was voted 'most likely to appear in Vogue' by her high school classmates." Jenna agrees that "Barbara has great fashion sense," saying, "I was the one stealing clothes from my sister's closet." A self-prescribed tomboy, Jenna confided to Southern Living, "I'm happiest in jeans and a tee. It's the Austin, Texas, in me." But she cops to reluctantly cultivating her feminine style, thanks to her sister and her on-camera work for Today. Ever her sister's champion, Barbara gushed, "My sister brings such a spirit to her life... I laugh at everything she says. She has taught me that you can make any situation fun and exciting and also meaningful."


Oozing modern style and regularly slipping into designer duds, the Bush sisters prove that a lifestyle and wardrobe transformation can go hand in hand. They've earned their stripes over countless hours of media scrutiny, and they've proven time and time again that they are strong, independent thinkers who contribute in valuable ways to the world — and they look good doing it. That and a little laughter goes a long way between best friends. While they admittedly cannot read each other's minds, they fearlessly empathize with each other. Bush encapsulated their special connection in Vanity Fair: "I've never known the world without her in it, minus one minute. Or without her next to me."