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Who Pays for Michelle Obama’s Fantastic Designer Wardrobe?

Michelle Obama Designer Clothing Dancing

Image: JLN Photography/WENN

Michelle Obama has a singular, vibrant sense of style and a cozy relationship with the fashion industry. That's common knowledge. The First Lady, widely regarded as a style icon, has the ability to make a designer a household name or boost a brand's sales, and she has wielded her power judiciously: Mobama's high-low wardrobe mixes off-the-rack items with custom pieces designed by America's best young designers. 

We don't elect our First Ladies or pay them any kind of salary, but being the President's partner is a de facto job. For example, we expect the First Lady to participate in affairs of state — at the very least, by attending high-level public and diplomatic events. To that end, Mrs. Obama's carefully chosen wardrobe is as much a job requirement as it is a form of personal expression. 

So who pays for her clothes? Did we, the taxpayers, subsidize Mrs. Obama's two Jason Wu inaugural gowns? What about the Naeem Khan dress the First Lady wore to the recent opening of the Metropolitan Museum's new Anna Wintour Costume Institute?

According to a new report out today from the Associated Press, the answer is no:

"Laura Bush, in her memoir, said she was 'amazed by the sheer number of designer clothes that I was expected to buy' as first lady."

How does Mrs. Obama, a fashion icon with far more expensive tastes than Mrs. Bush, swing it? For starters, the Obamas reported adjusted income of $481,000 last year, and assets worth $1.8 million to $7 million. And like most people, Mrs. Obama (mostly her personal aide, really) looks for discounts.

For really big events, however, the first lady has an option not available to every fashionista. Here's how Joanna Rosholm, press secretary to the first lady, explains it:

"Mrs. Obama pays for her clothing. 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 U.S. government. They are then stored by the National Archives." For example, Michelle Obama's first inaugural gown was presented to the Smithsonian, where it is listed "gift of Jason Wu in honor of First Lady."