As far as we know, Michelle Obama purchases her clothes with her own money (with the exception of her inaugural gown, which Jason Wu made for free with the understanding that it would land in the Smithsonian after MObama wore it). But not all First Ladies are independently wealthy like Michelle. Sarah Brown is one of them. She appears in public in designer clothes by labels like Graeme Black and Britt Lintner. During the G20 summit she wore a £9,000 top. But she doesn't buy these things. She rents them. The Times of London reports:
She has no income of her own, having given up all paid work when her husband was Chancellor to avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest. She is not allowed to receive gifts, nor to borrow clothing, not even for a summit.
So to look the part for Britain, Mrs Brown has to rent these outfits, the ones that we all scrutinise so brutally, paying a tenth of their value (excluding shop mark-ups) each time. She paid hundreds of pounds of her own money to rent [the £9,000 top], and returned it afterwards
The Times takes issue with this system:
I don't want to live in a country where I am paying for an MP's plant pots. But I don't want to live in a country, either, where the Prime Minister's wife has to negotiate rental prices out of her own pocket for clothes she needs for public occasions to avoid being branded a cheapskate fashion disaster.
Yeah, really — awkward. A spokeswoman for Brown tells the Guardian, "She buys a lot from high street stores like M&S and New Look but she also rents and buys dresses and jackets from her favourite designers, Graeme Black and Amanda Wakeley." So she's been doing the high-low mix all along! Since before we all cared so much about what Michelle wore. But the Times makes an excellent point — an enormous amount of scrutiny is placed on what First People wear. Why can't Sarah borrow clothes? She's not an elected official. Practically every public person wears something borrowed to public events. And these ladies have a lot of public appearances to make. We're a little surprised that Michelle hasn't repeated anything yet. Maybe she borrows things, too.