First Lady

Nancy Reagan Turns 90: Photos of Her Most Fashionable Looks

From glamorous gowns to bow-tied blouses, see the impeccable style of Nancy Reagan, who turns 90 Wednesday.

Photos from left: Diana Walker / Time Life Pictures / Getty Images; Corbis; Frank Trapper / Sygma / Corbis

Photos from left: Diana Walker / Time Life Pictures / Getty Images; Corbis; Frank Trapper / Sygma / Corbis

Happy Birthday, Nancy Reagan!

From the bright lights of Hollywood in the ’40s and ’50s to the political scrutiny of the White House in the ’80s, former first lady Nancy Reagan has always had a signature style. With her secretarial bow blouses and elegant designer gowns, she “never made a single faux pas,” designer Oscar de la Renta told People magazine. In honor of her 90th birthday on July 6, The Daily Beast looks at Reagan’s top looks through the years.

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After graduating from Smith College, Nancy Davis found herself working in Chicago, then earning roles on stage in New York, and finally, signing a seven-year contract with MGM in 1949. As the eternal housewife on screen, she earned rave reviews among critics and eventually also from fellow actor and future president Ronald Reagan, whom she wed in 1952. Here, she posed in ’50s signature gloves and a boat-neck cocktail dress.

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Working Mom

The same year the Reagans were married in a small ceremony in Los Angeles, they welcomed their first child, Patti, who joined two children from Reagan’s previous marriage. Despite their growing brood, both Ronald and Nancy were still working in front of the camera and smiling in their elegant ensembles at red-carpet events.

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Daisy Dukes

In 1958, the family welcomed Ronald Reagan Jr. and nine years later, they became the first family of California, when Reagan Sr. won the gubernatorial election in 1967. They took a trip to St. Thomas that same year, where the then first lady of California sported this pink, daisy-emblazoned swimsuit and matching hat.

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Home on the Range

After two terms as governor of California, Reagan decided not to run again, instead setting his sights on the White House. Though he lost the 1976 Republican presidential nomination, the family enjoyed their time at home, riding horses and plotting Reagan’s comeback for the 1980 election.

Wally McNamee / Corbis

Here Come the Reagans

After Reagan won the 1980 election, he and Nancy toured the White House with then-President Jimmy Carter and then-first lady Rosalynn Carter on Nov. 20, 1980. The incoming woman of the house showed off her luxurious side in this fur-lined suit during her first post-election visit to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.


First Lady in Red

After Reagan won the 1980 election, Nancy stood by him at his first inauguration on Jan. 20, 1981, in what was to become her signature shade. The color, which W magazine reported she has worn in 1966, was soon dubbed “Reagan red.” She later told W, “I always liked red. It's a picker-upper.”

Ron Edmonds / Bettmann / Corbis

Gorgeous in Galanos

Nancy showed some shoulder in this striking sheath by James Galanos for her first inaugural ball. “She knew her style very well, and it was always simple and elegant,” the designer told the Los Angeles Times. The 59-year-old first lady brought a new wave of style to the White House in this embroidered lace asymmetrical dress, which reportedly cost $10,000.


All Ruffled Up

In March 1981, the White House released this official portrait of first lady Nancy Reagan smiling inside her new home in a pink ruffled top and A-line Reagan red skirt. “I don’t like a lot of frills and fusses,” Reagan later told W of her style. “I’ve always gone for the more understated look.”

Anwar Hussein / Getty Images

Elegant in Emerald

When the president and first lady hosted Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip on March 3, 1983, in San Francisco for a formal state dinner, fashion critics blasted the British monarch’s look but praised Reagan for her understated chic green gown.

White House / CNP / Corbis

Remember the Time

Though King of Pop Michael Jackson was shining and bedazzled in a black-and-blue cropped blazer for his 1984 visit to White House, the first lady donned a simple white knitted suit that included her signature bow at the neck. As she has long taught us, when it comes to over-accessorizing, it is important to “Just Say No.”

Ira Schwarz / AP Photos

Galanos Gets Another Go

For her second inaugural ball, after her husband was reelected, Reagan returned to old faithful: James Galanos. The 1985 gown, which was also slender and white, offered more coverage and just as much bling. Though there was a bit of criticism about Reagan’s glamorous wardrobe, the designer was quick to defend her. “My clothes are long-term investments,” Galanos told People magazine. “They usually end up in museums, too. Women who spend this kind of money understand.”

Diana Walker / Time Life Pictures / Getty Images

Shine On

During a Canadian-U.S. summit in March 1985, Reagan stood tall in this Adolfo gown, which cost an estimated at $6,000, beside Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and his wife, Mila. The designer and Reagan had a longtime style love affair. “I think she will always have an effect on fashion,” Adolfo later told the Los Angeles Times.

Diana Walker / Time Life Pictures / Getty Images

Bow-ed Over

Besides her love of red, Nancy Reagan was known for her pussy-bow blouses. At a drug-abuse summit at the White House in April 1985, she said yes to both of her signature looks in this classic first lady ensemble.

AP Photos

A Nod from Di

When Princess Diana came to visit the White House in November 1985, the Princess of Wales showed her respect for the first lady with a Reagan red pocket square, while Reagan wore the color all over. “I think people believe that when one occupies this position life is all roses and glamour and there are no worries. How I wish I was one of those people who never lets anything show on her face,” Reagan told the Sun-Sentinel just a month later.

Gary Hershorn / Reuters / Corbis

Fur-Lined Ladies

As the holiday season approached and the temperature dropped in Washington, D.C., in December 1987, Reagan pulled out her fur coat, as did the style-conscious first lady of the Soviet Union, Raisa Gorbachev. Though they reportedly had a fashion face-off, Reagan put the rumor to rest. “There are very important things being discussed here, and what somebody wears or doesn’t wear really isn’t terribly important,” she told Time.

Diana Walker / Time Life Pictures / Getty Images

Singing in the Rain

Channeling her Broadway roots in this yellow dress and accompanying tweed jacket, Reagan stood in front of the Samson & Lion Fountain while sightseeing during a Moscow summit in May 1988.

Diana Walker / Time Life Pictures / Getty Images

Appearance Is Everything

The Reagans reserved their first and last state dinners for British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. By the time their final event for Thatcher came in November 1988, Reagan had mastered more than her crimson wardrobe. “Presentation was everything,” the White House chef at the time told The Guardian.  “Mrs. Reagan never told me how something tasted. It was always presentation—like a flower bouquet, the colors had to correspond. We knew that, so we proceeded like that.”

Jim Smeal / WireImage / Getty Images

The Color of Friendship

Though the shade of her dress at Forbes’ 75th anniversary at Radio City Music Hall in New York tends to signify friendship, Reagan’s relationship with Raisa Gorbachev reportedly remained frosty. Nevertheless, the yellow cinched-waist cocktail dress at the 1992 event was a welcome departure from her typically fiery wardrobe tone.

Jason Reed / Reuters / Corbis

Post-Ronald Era

Three years after her beloved “Ronnie” passed away, the former first lady arrived at a dinner hosted by Queen Elizabeth for former President George W. Bush at the British Embassy in May 2007. Despite her climbing age and great loss, Reagan demonstrated the unassuming grace she was renowned for.

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Still Shining

As she arrived at the 2008 Ronald Reagan Freedom Award gala dinner, Nancy Reagan showed off her chic glasses, classic pearls, and decorate white and gold top, proving she hasn’t lost her flair for fashion.

Dennis Brack / Black Star / Corbis

Return to Red

Despite Obama’s gaffe at his first press conference in 2009, in which he mentioned doing a séance to talk to the late President Reagan, Nancy Reagan forgave him. She joined Obama at the signing of the Ronald Reagan Centennial Commission Act at the White House in June 2009, wearing a red suit and a smile. She is still, like President Kennedy’s wife, a beacon of first lady fashion and poise. “What is so interesting about Nancy is how she's grown,” jeweler Kenneth Jay Lane told W in 2007. “She was perfectly nice when I first met her, like many other ladies—comme il faut. She became more sophisticated, easier and looser, and always very kind.”