The Craziest First Lady Shopping Sprees

From Maureen McDonnell and Marie Antoinette to Syria’s Asma al-Assad, a look at the members of the first wives (spending) club.

Bettmann/Corbis; AP; Miguel Medina/AFP/Getty

Bettmann/Corbis; AP; Miguel Medina/AFP/Getty

Maureen McDonnell, the wife of former governor of Virginia, Bob McDonnell, made headlines this week when she and her husband were indicted on 14 counts of corruption, partly due to her lavish spending. McDonnell, however, is not the only first lady to tap into political funds for personal endeavors. From Marie Antoinette to Syria’s Asma al-Assad, a look at the members of the first wives (spending) club.


Marie Antoinette

Marie Antoinette (1755-1793) was the queen of corruption. While France was struggling financially during the French Revolution, Antoinette, known as “Madame Deficit" (or, Mrs. Debt), enjoyed spending government money on expensive fashion and jewelry, and outrageous parties at Versailles. Although recognized today as a style icon, Antoinette’s spending was mostly a reaction to her failing marriage with Louis XVI. Due to lack of attention from her husband, Antoinette would spend copious amounts of money and developed a gambling problem. She reportedly lost $1.5 million in one year.

Library of Congress

Mary Todd Lincoln

First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln (1818-1882) enjoyed frivolous spending in a time when the country was both at war and recovering from a financial pitfall. Although she attempted to keep her spending secretive, many journalists shed light on her "high costs of clothes, her frequent New York shopping binges, her trips to the Shore, and her expensive redecoration of the White House"--which she spent $26,000 on. Unbeknownst to her husband, Lincoln had garnered over over $27,000 in debt by 1864, and was comprimising her husband's presidency by sharing government secrets in exchange for personal loans.


Nancy Reagan

Midst a recession, Nancy Reagan spent frivolously. Nicknamed "Queen Nancy," Reagan first recevied criticsm for spending $200,000 on china for the White House and redecorating certain areas. She also enjoyed expensive clothing, which many felt was inappropriate considering the economic state of America at the time. Similarly, Reagan was criticized for borrowing designer clothing--from people including Bill Blass, Adolfo, and Galanos--as gifts in exchange for exposure, and was warned by the White House counsel to quit her habit. 


Imelda Marcos

Imelda Marcos, the widow of Ferdinand Marcos, former President of the Phillipines, loves her shoes (so much that she opened The Marikina City Footwear Museum in Manila to showcase hundreds of pairs from her collection). During her time as First Lady, Marcos was notorious for traveling the world, constantly adding to her thousand-plus shoe collection, which includes designers such as Givenchy, Dior, Chanel, and Ferragamo, while the people of the Philippines were living in extreme poverty. On one trip to New York alone, Marcos purchased a $3.5 million Michaelangelo painting, $2.5 million in jewelry, and over $19,000 on nightgowns. When Marcos left the palace, she reportedly left behind 15 mink coats, 508 gowns, 3000 pairs of shoes, and 1000 purses.

Miguel Medina/AFP/Getty

Asma Al-Assad

Syrian-born, British-raised Asma Al-Assad was dubbed the “first lady of hell” by Newsweek, after her glamorous life was brought to the public’s attention against the background of Syria’s political unrest. The wife of Syrian dictator Bashar Al-Assad has become known as the “modern-day Marie Antoinette” for her overly-lavish lifestyle. The most notable of Al-Assad’s spending was her online furniture shopping sprees, which amounted to tens of thousands of dollars—she also reportedly spent the same amount on “gold and gem-encrusted jewellery, chandeliers, expensive curtains and paintings,” all shipped to the Middle East. One report highlighted that Assad spent as much as $420,984 at one King’s Road boutique in London. Besides interior decorating, Assad also has a penchant for Christian Louboutin shoes (one pair, for example, was a pair of crystal-encrusted 16cm high heels that cost over $6,000), Chanel dresses, and fine jewelry, all of which she wears as her country continues to go up in flames.

Steve Helber/AP

Maureen McDonnell

Maureen McDonnell, wife of the former governor of Virginia, Bob McDonnell, tapped into her husband’s political action committee and campaign and inaugural funds to purchase clothing and other unspecified items that totaled over $17,000. The Red Skins cheerleader-turned-First-Lady had spending sprees at Nordstrom, Macy’s, Saks Fifth Avenue, Lord & Taylor, and Ann Taylor, where she purchased outfits for the 2010 inauguration, as well as looks for a promotional trip to California and the 2012 governor’s mansion gala. In an all-expenses-paid trip to New York, McDonnell dropped $10,000 at Oscar de la Renta, $5,685 at Louis Vuitton, and $2,604 at Bergdorf Goodman. McDonnell also reportedly accepted lavish gifts, including free cosmetic dentist work from a dentist in Richmond, “jewelry from a state delegate,” and a $15,000 shopping spree at Bergdorf Goodman from Virginia businessman Jonnie R. Williams Sr. The saddest part of McDonnell’s scandal? Even after countless shopping sprees at Bergdorfs, the former first lady still has no style.