Victoria Strout has watched almost every press briefing by the coronavirus task force since it started in March. The marketing operations manger, who is in her late twenties and lives in Fort Worth, realized there were two special elements she kept watching for during the briefings: Dr. Deborah Birx. And Dr. Deborah Birx’s scarves.
Strout’s group chat would always light up with messages during the press briefings, and she and her friends would ultimately find themselves talking about Birx. “If she wasn’t there or if she was kind of off-camera, we would be like, Where’s Dr. Birx today? We need Dr. Birx,” says Strout.
They appreciated the doctor’s straightforward way of delivering information and her collected demeanor, sure, but they also really, really liked her armada of neckwear and sent one another screenshots of the scarves she’d worn at briefings.
One Sunday, Strout decided she was going to compile all the scarf shots from the group text and create a Birx-scarf stan account on Instagram. It would just be something fun, something to send to her friends for a laugh.
About a month and a half later, the account Scarves of Dr. Deborah Birx now has more than 41,000 followers. Each Instagram is a screenshot of Birx at a press briefing or public appearance wearing—you guessed it—a scarf. Strout runs the account by herself, which means she watches the news whenever Birx is at the White House to make sure she gets prime scarf footage. Strout has gotten it down to a scarf science: She watches several live streams at once to ensure she can get multiple Birx angles and optimal scarf presentation. She likes C-SPAN for the multiple angles, Time for the high resolution, and the direct White House stream for the lighting and straight-on view.
Throughout this odyssey, Strout has become something of the leading Deborah Birx scarf historian. Birx has worn her trademark accessory almost every time she has made a White House appearance, says Strout, and while she has repeated scarves a few times, she almost always wears them with a different outfit or tied in a different way. “You’re like, Oh, I forgot she’s worn that before,” says Strout. She doesn’t consider herself a fashion expert, so Strout relies on followers to point out the designer of each scarf, many of which are vintage.
It’s a sign of the times that pop culture is rallying behind esteemed physicians like Dr. Anthony Fauci and Birx, vaulting them to the same level of discussion and frenzy as a TikTok star or a Jonas or a Hemsworth. But to Strout, it makes sense: “You want this calm leader to walk you through this moment, and I believe that Dr. Birx not only is that in her literal role as a leader during this time, but her fashion makes it clear that it’s the role she’s stepping into. In the way she’s dressing, she’s communicating this kind of approachable, trustworthy persona.”
Strout has heard via Instagram followers that Birx is aware of the account, although (somewhat predictably) she’s confused about the fuss over her and her attire. But it’s not just the scarves, says Strout—for many, Birx is a symbol of intelligence and fortitude. “I get a lot of direct messages where people are talking about how they’ve been impacted by her or inspired by her” says Strout. “Some say, ‘My daughters have decided to study science because of her.’ ”
So can we expect the Birx-scarf coverage to continue post-pandemic? “I’m kind of taking it one day at a time and seeing what the followers are looking for,” says Strout. “As long as people are still interested in the scarves, in Dr. Birx in that moment, then I’ll be there for it.”