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Nancy Reagan's fashion influence: A look at her 'simple and elegant' style

Nancy Reagan was a fashion icon, and a first lady known for bringing a sense of style to the White House that the U.S. hadn't seen since Jackie Kennedy.
/ Source: TODAY

Nancy Reagan, who died Sunday at the age of 94, was many things: an actress, a first lady, the founder of "Just Say No." And she was also a fashion icon — a first lady known for bringing a sense of style to the White House that the U.S. hadn't seen since Jackie Kennedy.

Channeling a background in Hollywood, where she was an actress when she met her husband, Reagan brought chic and simple glamour to her first lady wardrobe.

Newly Elected Preident Ronald Reagan Seen Here Dancing With His Wife Nancy
Nancy Reagan wears a James Galanos gown at the 1991 Inaugural Ball.Dirck Halstead / Getty Images
Ronald And Nancy Reagan
U.S. President Ronald Reagan and wife Nancy wait for the arrival of a Head-of-State guest at the North Portico of the White House in Washington, DC in this undated photo.David Hume Kennerly / Getty Images

Designers who flocked to dress Reagan included Oscar de la Renta, Bill Blass, Adolfo, Carolina Herrera, James Galanos, Arnold Scassi. Throughout her husband's presidency from 1981-1987, the first lady's gowns featured simple silhouettes (though sometimes embracing the large shoulders that were staples of 80s fashion).

Ronald and Nancy Reagan in Tokyo, Japan on Nov. 14, 1983.Kurita KAKU / Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

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Her business looks were predominately Chanel-inspired suits with pussy-bow blouses and her casual wear encapsulated the All-American attitude of her husband's office (simple slacks, button downs, sweaters and the occasional pair of blue jeans).

President and Mrs. Ronald Reagan at Rancho del Cielo, California on Aug. 13, 1981.
President and Mrs. Ronald Reagan at Rancho del Cielo, California on Aug. 13, 1981.Photri Images/Superstock/Everett Collection

Galanos, who dressed Reagan for both the 1981 and 1985 inaugural balls, told the Los Angeles Times that the first lady "knew her style very well, and it was always simple and elegant."

Reagan herself said as much in a 2007 interview with W Magazine. “I don’t like a lot of frills and fusses,” she told the magazine. “I’ve always gone for the more understated look.”

Anwar Hussein Collection
Prince Charles, Prince of Wales and Princess Diana, Princess of Wales, wearing a Victor Edelstein dress, meet President Ronald Reagan and First Lady Mrs Nancy Reagan at the White House during an official visit to America on November 09, 1985 in Washington DC, United States.Anwar Hussein / Getty Images

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Staying true to what she liked, Reagan embraced a signature red color in many of her looks, which became known across the country as "Reagan Red." She opened up about the color to W Magazine, saying: “I always liked red. It’s a picker-upper. I didn’t give it the name of Reagan Red, but that became its name.”

Diana And Nancy
Princess Diana with Nancy Reagan during a visit to a drug rehabilitation centre in Washington D.C., November 1985.TERRY FINCHER / Getty Images

When Princess Diana visited the U.S. Capitol in 1995, the British royal even adorned her outfit with a red pocket square to compliment Reagan's look while the two visited a drug rehabilitation center.

Nancy Reagan
Nancy Reagan, decked out in red lace dress & gold earrings & necklace set, at president's dinner (Reagan endorsement of Bush's candidacy).Diana Walker / Time & Life Pictures/Getty Image

Her attention to glamour, however, was not without detractors. Reagan drew criticism for her redecoration of the White House, purchase of new china and extravagant entertainment during a recession (the projects, it should be noted, were financed by fundraising). Some critics even went so far as to dub her "Queen Nancy."

Raisa Gorbachev, wife of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, and Nancy Reagan attend a welcoming ceremonies for Gorbachev at the White House in Washington, DC.MIKE SARGENT / AFP - Getty Images

But Reagan defended her actions by saying she was supporting the fashion industry, and noting that her gowns were often donated to museums. Meanwhile, fans of the first lady praised her for returning elegance to the White House.

As Reagan's style was captured in a Reagan Library exhibit titled "First Lady of Style," the former first lady confessed that she never considered changing her style to

"You have to have your way of doing things," she told W Magazine. "And that's that."