By Friday morning, after a night of celebratory balls marking President George W. Bush's second term, the first lady emerged as something even more: a new glamour figure for the nation, with fashion writers from both sides of the political spectrum applauding her makeover and trimmer figure.
The liberal Washington Post finds her suddenly "radiant and glamorous" after "a remarkable transformation. First lady Laura Bush has never looked better or more obviously regal."
The first outfit – "a far cry from the fussy, dowdy, electric-blue suit" she wore four years ago, said the New York Post – was an understated winter white cashmere dress and matching coat.
But it's not just the clothing, PEOPLE reports in its new issue. Slowly and subtly, Bush seems to have shed about 20 lbs., lightened her hair and, with advice from her clothes-crazy twin daughters, tossed out her old jeans and embraced more form-fitting fashion.
Two years ago Bush hosted a fitness fair on the South Lawn and her own personal makeover began. "She started working out after that," former press secretary Noelia Rodriguez tells PEOPLE. Now 58, the First Lady meets with a trainer three times a week for a mix of cardio, gentle Pilates and yoga, plus abdominal work with an inflatable fitness ball. "
"Doesn't she look fantastic?" raves TV fitness star Denise Austin, who's an occasional workout partner of the first lady, and has been to the White House's family-quarters workout room. "She's strong now." According to another friend, Bush was thrilled by a quote in The New York Times on the subject: "They're saying I'm a size 6!" (She's closer to an 8.)
As for diet, Bush eats oatmeal with fruit and honey most mornings and relies on steely will to resist temptation like Mexican food, a onetime Bush family favorite now relegated to a once-a-week treat.
"I've found the best way to indulge without regret," she told PEOPLE last year, "is to eat just a few bites." The payoff: looking great in her clothes.
"She has a great figure, don't you agree?" says inaugural ball gown designer Oscar de la Renta. And four more years to show it off on the world stage.