Nancy Reagan in a red Oscar de la Renta dress. (Photo: Getty Images)
Nancy Reagan, who died Sunday at age 94, loved sequins, fur, and, perhaps most memorably, the color red.
“I always liked red. It’s a picker-upper,” she told W in 2007. “I didn’t give it the name of Reagan Red, but that became its name.”
Nancy Reagan in James Galanos dancing with Ronald Reagan. (Photo: Getty Images)
As first lady, Reagan wore only clothing made by American designers — this was a direct response to designers asking her to. After Jackie Kennedy had sometimes worn the French label Givenchy, a group of designers published a letter in the New York Times “emphasizing how important it was that our first lady wear American clothes,” de la Renta told W. “What better endorsement for our industry than to have a wonderfully well-dressed first lady?”
Nancy Reagan in an elegant James Galanos gown. (Photo: Getty Images)
Her favorite designers included James Galanos, Oscar de la Renta, Bill Blass, and Carolina Herrera. One of her most notable looks was her one-shouldered Galanos inaugural gown from 1981— it was a white, beaded floor-length sheath gown of lace over silk satin (the dress is now in the Smithsonian collection and estimated to be worth $10,000).
Nancy Reagan in a Bill Blass ensemble. (Photo: Getty Images)
She’s also remembered for the Chanel-inspired Adolfo suits she wore on the road during her Just Say No campaign against teen drug use — prim, with the collars buttoned up to the throat — and her more casual outfits like the gingham shirts she wore on her Santa Barbara ranch.
Reagan prided herself on choosing classic, simple clothing, like shirtwaist dresses or slim skirts, she could wear again and again for decades (and often did — she rotated one Adolfo velvet cocktail suit in and out of her wardrobe for over 40 years). “I don’t like a lot of frills and fusses,” Reagan told W. “I’ve always gone for the more understated look.”
Ronald Reagan and Nancy Reagan in a red Oscar de la Renta gown. (Photo: Getty Images)
“Whatever she bought, she had it forever,” a friend of Reagan’s told the New York Times in 1988. “She got more out of an outfit than anybody I know. She’d have the hems shortened, and put everything neatly away, and bring them out two or three years later and wear them again.”
Nancy Reagan in a white Bill Blass dress in a letter to the designer. (Photo: Getty Images)
Her love of fashion, however, wasn’t always celebrated. In 1982, Reagan admitted that she’d accepted thousands of dollars in gifts of clothes and jewelry. She defended herself by saying that she was borrowing the clothes and planned to either return them or donate them to a museum, but agreed not to accept any more designer-loaned clothing. This practice continues today, as does the idea of the first lady as an American style icon — Michelle Obama’s white one-shouldered 2008 inaugural gown by Jason Wu was the modern version of Reagan’s 1981 dress — all set in motion by the lady (usually) in red.
Nancy Reagan in a red Bill Blass gown with Ronald Reagan. (Photo: Getty Images)