It's a job with neither a salary nor wardrobe allowance, but First Ladies are still expected to dress to impress, as some of their clothing often become historical artifacts. So where does the cash come from to pay for the ball gowns and designer dresses for FLOTUS's endless public appearances?
Contrary to what some might think, First Ladies are responsible for their own wardrobes, meaning that none of what they wear is funded by tax payers. But Michelle Obama also doesn't borrow clothing from designers. Instead, she pays for most of what she wears—which would explain her penchant for off-the-rack looks, like those from J.Crew—and receives the rest as gifts.
However, Obama does not receive clothing as a personal gift for herself. As 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, the gown that Mrs. Obama wore to her husband's first inaugural ball was designed by Jason Wu. It was later donated to the Smithsonian and is listed by the museum as a "gift of Jason Wu in honor of first lady."
It was a little different for Hillary Clinton's 1993 inaugural gown. Designer Sarah Phillips said the intricately beaded dress cost about $50,000. The Presidential Inaugural Committee paid $10,000 of that. While Phillips isn't sure whether Clinton herself paid anything toward the dress, the Smithsonian describes the gown as a "gift of Hillary Rodham Clinton and the Presidential Inaugural Committee."
There are other ways that FLOTUS keeps the cost of her wardrobe down. Along with frequently recycling dresses and mixing and matching separates, Obama's personal assistant, Meredith Koop, is tasked with getting her boss some "deep" discounts.