FX’s new series, “Impeachment: American Crime Story” explores the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal, a now twenty-year-old news story, with fresh eyes.
Monica Lewinsky, then a White House intern in her early 20s, is now an anti-bullying activist with a viral TED Talk on shame. She serves as an Executive Producer on the show. Lewinsky’s involvement as well as the lack of any sex scenes in the series is a sign of the changing cultural landscape.
“Impeachment” writer Sarah Burgess didn’t feel the need to focus on the story’s salacious nature. She told The Wrap that “graphic sexual detail was the headline in 1998, it felt like…first of all, something that much of the audience already knew.”
The infamous stained blue dress is mentioned only fleetingly in the series. So where is the stained blue dress today? And how did a dress almost bring down a United States president?
The Story Behind the Blue Dress
In the A&E docuseries, “The Clinton Affair,” Lewinsky gave her personal account of how her blue Gap dress got its now-infamous stain.
After a White House radio address in February 1997, President Clinton told Lewinsky his personal secretary Betty Curie had a gift for her. Lewinsky followed Curie into the Oval Office but later ended up in the bathroom alone with Clinton.
“The illusion to everyone else was that I was not alone with him,” Lewinsky said of Curie seemingly being with her and the President the entire time.
Lewinsky continues in the docuseries, “and so we moved to the bathroom and were more intimate. There was some attention paid on me and then I was reciprocating, where up until that point he had always stopped before completion on his part. I sort of stood up and said I wanted to move past that stage and so he finally said OK.”
That’s how the dress got stained. So how did the dress become evidence in The Starr Report?
How Did the Blue Dress Become Evidence?
Lewinsky didn’t realize that the dress was stained at the time. She took it out of her closet in November 1997 to potentially wear it to a Thanksgiving gathering. When she noticed the stain, she told her confidant Linda Tripp about it.
Unbeknownst to Lewinsky, Tripp was secretly recording their phone conversations, waiting for the right time to expose the affair. Tripp knew the semen-stained dress was her best shot at physical evidence of the president’s misconduct. In a recorded phone call, she advised Lewinsky not to launder or get rid of the dress.
“It could be your only insurance policy down the road,” Tripp told Lewinsky. In 1998, Tripp gave the taped phone calls to the office of Kenneth Star, the special counsel investigating the Clintons and their associates’ real estate investments. The secret of the blue dress was out of the bag.
Lewinsky handed over the blue dress on July 28, 1998. According to the Starr Report, based on a test of the stained dress itself and a blood sample given by Clinton, “the FBI Laboratory concluded that the President was the source of the DNA obtained from the dress.” The stained dress unequivocally proved that an affair had taken place.
Where Is the Dress Now?
In 2015, the Las Vegas Erotic Heritage Museum offered Lewinsky $1 million for the dress. The museum had previously offered her $250,000 for it in May of 2014 after Lewinsky wrote, “it’s time to burn the beret and bury the blue dress” in a Vanity Fair essay. Lewinsky didn’t take either offer.
According to the Washington Post, The Smithsonian Museum never had any plans to acquire the dress. “I don’t think you can compare an item of popular culture with one of historical significance in quite that way,” Lonnie Bunch, the Museum of American History’s assistant director for curatorial affairs said at the time.
Bunch went on to say that the museum doesn’t display the bullets that killed President Lincoln or the blood-stained clothing Martin Luther King Jr. wore at the time of his assassination.
Perhaps Lewinsky and the creative team behind “Impeachment” are right that it’s time to bury the blue dress and that it was never the point of the story.