Fashion statements, political or otherwise, have a price tag.
When it comes to making fashion statements in the White House, everyone knows the first lady’s got the biggest platform. Throughout history, a few first ladies have even used that platform to make a few pointed statements. However, how she pays for her clothes is still somewhat of a mystery — especially since her wardrobe can get pretty pricey, and her position doesn’t come with a salary. So, do first ladies get a clothing allowance to fund their fashion ventures? Here’s what you should know.
Contrary to popular belief, if the first lady wants to sport a fancy wardrobe, she’s got to foot the bill herself. In her 2010 memoir, Spoken From The Heart, Laura Bush explained how she was “amazed by the sheer number of designer clothes that I was expected to buy” as the first lady. To point, Bush dropped a whopping $8,500 on a single red lace Oscar de la Renta gown to wear to the Kennedy Center Honors in 2006.
For anyone who’s not already swimming in cash, keeping up with wardrobe demands as the FLOTUS can be a lot. After all, as the official hostess of the White House, the first lady is responsible for organizing and hosting official political events, as well as making appearances with — and in place of — her husband. So in short, she pretty much has to look camera-ready at all times. Some first lady outfits are noted for running into the thousands of dollars for a single look.
Joanna Rosholm, former press secretary for Michelle Obama, gave an insider’s view: “Mrs. Obama pays for her clothing,” she explained to CNBC in June 2014. “For official events of public or historic significance, such as a state visit, the first lady’s clothes may be given as a gift by a designer and accepted on behalf of the [United States]. They are then stored by the National Archives.”
So, it’s not always a struggle, as the first lady typically has help from some of the nation’s most renowned designers, who will offer to dress the first lady for free. Inauguration looks in particular are often considered priceless, but the out-of-pocket costs for the first family are next to nothing, since designers donate the outfits.
As it turns out, the pressure for the first lady to look great at all times has always been too real. According to the National First Ladies’ Library, Mary Todd Lincoln spent so much on her wardrobe, she thought about selling manure from the White House grounds to pay off her debts. And to keep her garb from becoming a political liability for President John F. Kennedy, Jacqueline Kennedy had her father-in-law step in to help pay for her clothing costs.
So while the first lady doesn’t have a special clothing allowance and must pay for her own wardrobe, she can still get her hands on some gorgeous gowns using a pretty awesome presidential loophole.