First ladies don't typically earn salaries, but that doesn't mean there aren't other ways to make money while in the White House. First Lady Melania Trump's net worth is actually enormous, even when considered independently from that of her rich husband.
Estimates vary as to the exact figure. Networtho.com believes that Melania is worth about $11 million, while Celebritynetworth.com estimates it to be much higher, at around $50 million. If the latter figure was true, that would make her tied with Jackie Kennedy as the richest first lady ever.
Melania seems to have made most of her fortune through modeling and through her personal jewelry company. Currently she's mostly taking a break from working and is focusing on being a mother. "Fashion is a tough business," she told Harper's Bazaar in early 2016. "I have a lot on my plate right now, and I'm busy enough." But the wealth she's already built up remains.
Her career began as a teenage model in Slovenia. She started doing commercials there at the age of 16, but the modeling market in Eastern Europe wasn't big enough for her aspirations; a friend of hers told GQ that "she wanted to leave" because "she was sure that there was nothing for her in Slovenia." At age 18 she signed with an Italian agency and started completing jobs in Milan and Paris. The New Yorker reports that the particulars of her modeling career at this time are "a little hazy," but that "she went on to have reasonable success, working mostly in print."
Next she moved to New York City and quickly shot to international fame, working with high-profile photographers like Peter Arnell, Arthur Elgort, and Mario Testino and appearing on the covers of Vogue, New York Magazine, Harper's Bazaar, and British GQ. Shortly after coming to New York, she got a coveted job as the model for an enormous Camel cigarettes billboard in Times Square. She also started appearing in high-end fashion catalogs for lines like Bergdorf Goodman and Lord & Taylor. A recent lawsuit on behalf of Melania called her "one of the most photographed women in the world."
Melania launched a line of jewelry, "Melania Timepieces & Jewelry," in 2010 through QVC, a broadcast network. She'd waited until then to begin any entrepreneurial activities so that she could focus on her young son, Barron. "I am a full time mom; that is my first job," she told Parenting.com in 2013. "The most important job ever. I started my business when he started school. When he is in school I do my meetings, my sketches, and everything else."
But once launched, the collection was pretty successful for her — reportedly selling out its first batch in 45 minutes — though it does not seem to currently offer any items for sale. She designed all the pieces in the collection and served as its art director (while enrolled in university in Slovenia, she had studied architecture and design).
Another business endeavor of Melania's did not go as smoothly. She tried to launch an anti-aging skincare line in 2012, but it was never able to officially catch on after the businesspeople who had sponsored the project split ties.
Even though her jewelry and skincare lines aren't selling items at the moment, she's reportedly still raking in money from lines of accessories. These companies have not been highly publicized, but a 2017 Associated Press investigation found that she made between $15,000 and $50,000 in 2016 from two of which she's listed as the CEO.
Melania has also dipped into acting on occasion. She made a brief cameo in 2001's Zoolander, together with her future husband, and appeared many times on Donald's show "The Apprentice."
So, it's a wide range of things that have combined to make Melania wealthy. Now that she has her fortune, she's possessive over it: She's currently engaged in a lawsuit with The Daily Mail, claiming that their negative coverage of her (they published allegations that she worked as an escort, which she denies) prevented her from obtaining "major business opportunities." The suit argues that she could have been able to "launch a broad-based commercial brand in multiple product categories [... including] apparel, accessories, shoes, jewelry, cosmetics, hair care, skin care and fragrance" if the tabloid hadn't published its stories. Whether her net worth is $11 million or $50 million, the figure would still put her firmly in the 1 percent.