Western media wagged its finger last week when photos surfaced of Ri Sol Ju, the young bride of North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un, carrying a Christian Dior clutch.
The outrage was understandable: When Jimmy Carter visited the tightly controlled state last year, he reported that the food rations had shrunk from 1400 calories a day to 700, and that was before recent floods threatened the meager food supply.
Meanwhile, if there’s so much as a recession on in America, it’s J.Crew only for Mobama. Anything finer might as well be embroidered with a scarlet “e” for elitism.
But that’s the thing about dictators; they don’t have to worry about how voters will perceive their wives’ taste for accessories worth more than their annual salaries because they never have to face an election. Not one they can’t rig, anyway.
Combine the privilege not to give a damn with a national treasury-sized shopping budget, and you’ve got a tradition of despotic housewives, the world’s most morbidly fascinating fashion plates.
Meet more current and former first ladies who share Ri Sol Ju’s affinity for luxury.
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Ri Sol Ju
Born: Unknown, ca. 1986
Wife of: Kim Jong -un, supreme leader of North Korea, runs the most militarized country on the planet.
Her Story: North Korea relies on foreign aid to feed its citizens but flouts the U.N. sanctions in order to import luxury goods like sake, tobacco and Mercedes Benzes for the political elites, according to The Telegraph. Add former pop star Ri Sol Ju’s designer handbags and smartly tailored skirts to the list!
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Wife of: Bashar al-Assad, President of Syria, killed more than 7,000 in a year-long crackdown on protests.
Her Story: A cache of leaked emails obtained by TheGuardian in March revealed that Asma al-Assad—dubbed “the freshest and most magnetic of first ladies” in a now-infamousVogue profile—spent the months leading up to the Homs massacre in the throes of an online shopping spree. Among the items in her cart: ₤3,000 crystal-dusted Louboutins, jeweled necklaces from Paris, a Harrod’s vase, custom furniture from London and a new chocolate fondue pot.
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Wife of: Paul Biya, President of Cameroon, changed constitution so that he can’t be prosecuted for things like killing as many as 100 protesters after he’s out of office.
Her Story: Best known for her signature coif, “la banane,” the first lady of Cameroon favors designs by Chanel and Dior, according to the HuffingtonPost, while husband favors fraudulent elections. Her biographer was imprisoned for “insult of character.”
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Wife of: Robert Mugabe, President of Zimbabwe, extracts personal wealth from a state-owned diamond mine while thousands needlessly die of cholera.
Her Story: The first lady of Zimbabwe is such a notorious shopaholic that in 2002, the EU imposed sanctions specifically to “stop Grace Mugabe going on her shopping trips in the face of catastrophic poverty blighting the people of Zimbabwe,” according totheBBC. The First Shopper, as she is known, once dropped $120,000 during a single two-hour Paris spree. "I have very narrow feet, so I wear only Ferragamo,” she reportedly explained.
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Wife of: Zine al-Abedine Ben Ali, President of Tunisia, sentenced to decades in prison and fined $70 M. for rampant corruption, stealing cash and jewelry, and possessing drugs and weapons.
Her Story: As the Jasmine Revolution toppled her husband’s administration last year, the first lady, known for her love of fast cars, made a quick getaway: Trabelsi reportedly grabbed $35M of gold ingot from the Bank of Tunisia on her way out of town. According to the SydneyMorningHerald, Trabelsi was known for decorating her rooms with museum artifacts and have ice cream flown in for dinner parties from Saint-Tropez.
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Ex-wife of: Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, former President-for-life of Haiti, kidnapped, tortured and killed thousands of political enemies, sold corpses.
Her Story: The fireworks alone at Bennett and Baby Doc’s state-sponsored wedding were said to have cost $100,000. Facing embezzlement charges and a populist uprising they fled Haiti shortly thereafter. When authorities raided their French villa, they found Bennett trying flush a spending diary down the toilet, according to the WallStreetJournal. On her books: “$168,780 for clothes at Givenchy, $270,200 for jewelry at Boucheron, $9,752 for two children's horse saddles at Hermes, $68,500 for a clock, $13,000 for a week in a Paris hotel.”
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Widow of: Slobodan Milosevic, President of Serbia/Yugoslavia, responsible for a decade of wars in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo that claimed 200,000 lives.
Her Story: The politically ambitious first lady created an entire political party, the Yugoslavia United Left, for the purpose of buying up all the good, state-owned real estate, according to TheNewYorkTimes. Before her husband went to the Hague for the Bosnian genocide, a bank controlled by the Milosevic family sent Markovic’s beautician—who kept the childhood scar on Markovic’s forehead covered by thick, black bangs—a credit for $250,000. She fled to Russia to avoid being tried for the murder of a Serbian journalist.
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Wife of: Hosni Mubarak, President of Egypt sentenced to life in prison for the murder of hundreds of hundreds of peaceful protesters during Arab Spring, along with assorted corruption charges.
Her Story: The half Egyptian, half Welsh former first lady was under investigation for corruption with regards to the millions in personal wealth she accumulated during her husband’s reign. She suffered a heart attack when she was detained but, according to Newsweek, has been little heard from since putting up $3.4 million and a Cairo villa in bail.
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Wife of: Ferdinand Marcos, deposed President of the Philippines, embezzled billions while establishing crony capitalism and, eventually, instituting martial law.
Her Story: Imelda Marcos was known to dip into the Philippines’ treasury to bankroll her lavish parties and world travel. But even the People Power revolutionaries who seized the Malacañan Palace in 1987 were shocked to find more than a thousand pairs of shoes in her closet. Marcos, meanwhile, had already fled to Hawaii, reportedly wearing modest Nordstrom espadrilles.
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Wife of: Juan Perón, President of Argentina who tortured political enemies, suppressed the media, and created a safe harbor for Nazis.
Her Story: While serving as the friendly, female face of her husband’s fascism, Perón had Dior’s atelier outfit her for a visit to Francisco Franco’s Spain and the “Rainbow Tour” of Europe. According to legend, Christian Dior called her “the only queen I ever dressed.”
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Fourth and final wife of: Mao Zedong, First Chairman of the Central Communist Party, killed as many as 40 million with his Great Leap Forward.
Her Story: Party leaders were scandalized when Mao left his wife for Jiang, an actress twenty years his junior, but divorce was granted on the condition that Jiang stay out of politics for thirty years. Then, according to a 1984 biography, she became one of the chief architects of the cultural revolution and exacted swift revenge on her early detractors. Another perk of being the chairman's main squeeze? Having his ex committed to a mental hospital.
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Wife of: Louis XVI, King of France, burdened the country’s lower classes with paying for the bankrupting wars in America as bread prices rose and malnutrition spread.
Her Story: We would be remiss if we left off the queen whose name is so often invoked when describing despotic housewives. By more than tripling the Queen of France’s traditional household budget with reckless spending on clothing, gambling, gardening, Marie Antoinette pioneered the time-honored tradition of acting as the media scapegoat for class warfare caused by one’s world-leader husband. Merci, Madame Deficit!