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Moment 57: Reagan for Real

Former First Lady Nancy Regan was something of a fashion icon in the years before and during her turn in the White House, but she was not without controversy.

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Nancy and Ronald Reagan in 1973

Nancy and Ronald Reagan in 1973.

Photo By Sal Traina/WWD Archive

Appeared In
Special Issue
WWD 100 issue 11/01/2010

Born Anne Frances Robbins on July 6, 1921, in Chicago, Nancy Reagan (she was called Nancy from birth) first gained prominence in WWD in 1966 when her husband was on the campaign trail for governor of California. In July that year, the Smith College theatre arts graduate gave the paper a candid interview entitled “Reagan for Real,” in which she said, “I’m afraid people are going to have to take me just as I am,” and claimed that her planned wardrobe for the campaign would include “the clothes I wear for my normal life, a suit with a blouse is most comfortable.”

 

It proved a somewhat simple statement from a woman who would come to be something of a fashion icon. Beginning with Governor Reagan’s election, the very private and speech-shy Nancy’s every clothing choice was chronicled, from the white wool James Galanos number she wore to his California inaugural ball to the peach crepe faille outfit, also by Galanos, that she donned in 1981 for Prince Charles and Lady Diana’s royal wedding. In July 1981, WWD ran a page-one sketch of a white crinkle cotton full-skirted square dance dress by Adolfo with a red, white and blue sash that she planned to wear for a surprise barbecue party for the new president’s 58th birthday. Her sartorial choices raised both compliments and controversy: in January 1981, WWD ran a story headlined, “Nancy Reagan’s Style Spurs Sales,” in which Saks Fifth Avenue said its sales of Adolfo suits and eveningwear were running 200 percent ahead nationally. That same month, she was forced to contest accounts that she had spent $25,000 or more on her inaugural wardrobe. (She said the designer had donated her ball dress, which would later be given to the Smithsonian.)

 

The former first lady attended the CFDA Awards twice, and was honored with a lifetime achievement award in 1988 wearing an Oscar de la Renta gown in signature “Reagan red.” In May 2002, reflecting on her eight years in the White House, she told the paper, simply, “I miss the whole thing.”