A Look Back at the Best Style of Nancy Reagan

Michael Jackson with Nancy Reagan. Photo: Diana Walker/Getty Images

Former First Lady Nancy Reagan has died at age 94, reportedly from congestive heart failure. Married to President Ronald Reagan, she was the conservative ideal of a supportive, devoted wife, a political force in her own right, and a fashion icon famous for wearing American designers, not to mention her signature Reagan red.

During her years as First Lady, Reagan was regularly voted one of the most-admired women in the country. She was known for her simple and elegant style, wearing designers like James Galanos and Carolina Herrera, and “never making a single faux pas,” according to Oscar de la Renta.

That’s confirmed by James Galanos, one of her favorite designers. “She never went to the extreme,” he told W in 2007. “Nancy’s daytime clothes were very clean and classic, what I call very good American style, the shirtwaist dresses and wonderful Adolfo suits. These clothes were perfect for her lifestyle, and she knew exactly what she was doing.” 

In a 2007 exhibit at the Reagan Library, 80 of her outfits were put on display, all a uniform size 2. Reagan maintained a tiny figure throughout her life, and was rumored to have battled anorexia.

Reagan was a great believer in the value of entertaining at the White House, pursuing and maintaining friendships with powerful Democrats and foreign leaders alike. Critics didn’t always take as well to the First Lady, branding her as extravagant. A $200,000 order of new china for the White House shortly after the Reagans were installed earned her a lot of scorn, as did her acceptance of expensive gowns as gifts. Reagan poked fun at her clotheshorse reputation in a 1982 roast, where she sang a parody of “Second Hand Rose” titled “Second Hand Clothes.”

“It’s important that a First Lady be fashionable and glamorous, because she represents the country and its style,” said Carolina Herrera. Reagan’s support for American designers and American fashion earned her a lifetime achievement award from the CFDA in 1988. See photos of the First Lady’s style throughout the years.