CHAPPAQUA, NY—After months of tirelessly supporting his wife on the campaign trail, devoted spouse and former president Bill Clinton breathed a resigned sigh Monday and carefully folded the charcoal silk, fitted sheath dress he had hoped to wear as first lady during next January's inauguration and placed it back in its beautiful box.
The 61-year-old Clinton, who has appeared on the covers of both Time and Newsweek and has recently been lauded for his work as an outspoken advocate for human rights, purchased the Christian Dior gown earlier this year after wife Hillary announced her bid for the presidency. Though he has promised to stand by her until rival Barack Obama is officially named the Democratic nominee in August, Clinton told friends that he "could not bear" to look at the dress any longer.
"A beautiful gown like this shouldn't be wasted on any but the most special of occasions," said Clinton, who, before packing the garment away, spent a quiet moment running his fingers over the expert stitching and delicate cascade of ruffles. "No. This dress deserves to be worn by a real first lady."
After slowly tying the original silk bow around the box and clutching it to his chest for 45 seconds, the former world leader gently placed the dress inside his so-called "first lady hope chest." Sources close to the Clintons have confirmed that the chest includes items the 42nd president had planned to bring with him to a Hillary-led White House, among them a pair of unworn white satin gloves, some hand-blown glass Christmas ornaments, a pewter locket bearing a portrait of his mother, a pressed daisy, two pearl drop earrings, and a handful of wallpaper and fabric swatches.
"My, my, would you just look at this—all dressed up and no place to go," said Clinton, removing a ruby brooch from a small box marked "Final Iraq Pullout." "I suppose the American people want better for their first lady than some pie-eyed boy from Arkansas with a head full of dreams and all the grace of a peeled potato. I only hope Michelle [Obama] or Cindy [Hensley McCain] will have the courage to change those hideous drapes in the Lincoln Bedroom."
While Clinton has vowed never to wear the outfit publicly, he admitted to removing the gown from its box once before, after Hillary won the California and New York primaries. On that occasion, Clinton reportedly stood before his bedroom mirror, held the bodice to his torso, straightened his posture before extending a gloved hand outward and, in honeyed, lilting tones, repeated the line, "Oh, this old thing? Prime Minister Fukuda, you do go on."
Despite her husband's charm and optimism, Sen. Clinton was unable to gain enough delegates to secure the Democratic nomination and will return to her seat in the U.S. Senate. After she announced the suspension of her $212 million campaign, former president Clinton told reporters he was "devastated" that he would never have the chance to stand before the American people on the Capitol steps in the timeless elegance of Dior.
"It was silly of me to waste so much money on such an extravagant outfit, but when I saw it in the store, I thought to myself, 'Bill, that's your inauguration dress,' " Clinton said. "I suppose it's for the best, though. Knowing me, I would have spilled champagne all over it. Still, can you imagine?"
Clinton has denied rumors that he will wear the high-necked, cap sleeve frock at an upcoming gala at Arkansas Children's Hospital. He has also refused to give the one-of-a-kind gown to his daughter, Chelsea, saying she is still years away from getting married and "doesn't have the waist for it."
Clinton added that the most upsetting aspect of packing the tailored first lady dress away was that it meant recognizing that his decades-old dream of being first lady would never come true.
"I remember watching President [John F.] Kennedy's inauguration," said Clinton, clasping his hands to his chest and staring off into the distance. "It was Jan. 20, 1961. He placed his hand on the Bible as everyone watched and took the oath in front of God and Chief Justice Earl Warren. And there beside him was Jackie. Oh, Jackie. In that pillbox hat and that glorious Oleg Cassini masterpiece in greige wool melton. She was a wonder."
"I remember thinking, 'Someday, I'll be president,'" Clinton continued, "'and then, eight years later and largely owing to my own massive public appeal, my wife will become president and I can be the prettiest first lady there ever was.'"
At press time, Clinton was seen in a low-cut black evening gown holding two bottles of champagne as he attempted to gain access to Sen. Barack Obama's campaign bus, telling reporters he only wished to discuss a "key domestic issue" with the presumptive Democratic nominee.