“I believe a woman gets more if she acts feminine,” Reagan once famously said. And so she did, casting an adoring gaze upon her movie star-turned-President husband during his every speech, and styling herself as the actress that she was. After four years of a comparatively austere administration, Reagan made it her goal to re-glamorize the White House and its inhabitants. The one-shoulder Galanos column dress and long white gloves that she wore to the 1981 inauguration festivities foreshadowed eight years of refined designer looks (and Michelle Obama’s 2008 inauguration gown).
Her signature shade was a crimson dubbed “Reagan red,” a color she called a picker-upper. She commanded tailored suits and countless Oscar de la Renta creations as she hosted guests like Cher at chic receptions, always handling the task like a grand Hollywood affair. A 2007 exhibit at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library showcased 80 of her favorite looks, including her 1952 wedding gown. De la Renta stated at the time that Reagan “never made a faux pas.” Fellow designer James Galanos agreed, telling W: “She never went to the extreme. 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.”
Her style was unquestionably appropriate, but the means with which she acquired them were not always so. She was criticized for accepting free designer clothing, though she defended this Ethics in Government Act violation by clarifying that the items were borrowed. In spite of this, she tirelessly campaigned for the “Just Say No” anti-drug movement, executed a successful White House redecoration through private donations, purchased a new china set and interacted with royalty at Prince Charles and Princess Diana’s 1981 wedding.