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Nancy Reagan's Fashion Style

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Nancy Reagan in Elegant Evening Gown
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Nancy Reagan in evening gown in October 1981

Gianni Ferrari/Cover/Getty Images
During the White House years, Nancy Reagan attended hundreds of special events, such as state dinners, that required wearing evening attire, much of which she borrowed from fashion designers. Nancy Reagan was acquainted with several fashion designers, including James Galanos who designed her white one-shoulder gown, which she wore for inaugural balls in 1981. In her book My Turn, she called him "Jimmy" Galanos and said that she had known him since her days in Hollywood.

During her husband's first year in office, Nancy Reagan endured a barrage of criticism from the press about her interest in fashion, her acceptance of gowns from high-end designers, and the expensive gowns that she wore. An example of this phenomenon was the press coverage Nancy Reagan received for the white beaded inaugural gown by Galanos. A figure of $25,000 was mentioned in connection with the gown although this amount may have covered all the inaugural clothing. This much money spent on clothing was considered excessive by 1980s' standards.

Commenting in his book Nancy: A Portrait of My Years with Nancy Reagan on her style and sense of fashion, Michael Deaver, a close advisor to Ronald Reagan for more than twenty years, said "For a woman of her background...dressing to the nines for White House events seemed like nothing less than good manners. But by the early 1980s, Nancy was courting the wrong side of history. Not only had she sacrificed her career to stand by her man; she dressed unashamedly like a woman who had done just that."

The relationship between Nancy Reagan and the press improved after she spoofed herself at a press event by dressing in an outrageous ensemble and singing a specially prepared rendition of "Second Hand Rose." According to Deaver, "the skit paid off..." and "...Nancy felt more comfortable elevating her profile to do good works." Some of the criticism Nancy Reagan faced seems a little odd to us today because now most people realize that it's not unusual for designers to lend clothing and fashion accessories, such as pricey jewelry, to movie stars or other celebrities.

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