By Melissa Locker
Nancy Reagan in Red Dress for White House Portrait
Credit: Dirck Halstead/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images

When Nancy Reagan passed away in 2016, at the age of 94, she left behind a legacy of public service, charitable works, and impeccable style. The former first lady was considered a style icon by many White House watchers, and perhaps her biggest contribution to fashion was elevating the humble red dress into a classic and iconic look.

There's little doubt that Reagan loved the color red, which according to Vanity Fair, she started to show an affinity for as far back as 1966, when she wore a red suit to stand by Ronald Reagan as he launched his campaign for governor of California. The former Hollywood starlet's love affair with the flattering color may go back even further. "I always liked red," she told W magazine in 2007. "It's a picker-upper." When her husband became president in 1981, she once again wore red, donning a red coat and matching hat to his swearing in ceremony.Embed from Getty Images

Once she became the First Lady, her love of red became legendary. She seemed to have dozens, if not hundreds, of red outfits filling her wardrobe. She wore red power suits and red ball gowns and wrap dresses that showed off her tiny waist. She even had matching red cardigans that she and her husband wore together. She had red flower prints and red plaids and red polka dots. She would pair her red wardrobe with red shoes and clutches, accenting her outfits with pearls and gold jewelry and, of course, a matching red lipstick. She wore a red Bill Blass sheath to the second inauguration and a red look from James Galanos for her official portrait. She wore red to state dinners, charity events, and her "Just Say No" events. When "Nancy Reagan Fashion Paper Dolls in Full Color" were released in 1983, they wore red, too. Nancy wore red so often that eventually the media had no choice but to dub her preferred shade "Reagan Red".Embed from Getty Images

Her affinity for the color extended far past her time in the White House. She wore red to the 2007 opening ceremony for The Heart Truth's First Ladies Red Dress Collection exhibit, featuring red dresses and suits worn by the seven living First Ladies, held at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. Naturally, she wore red to the opening of the "Nancy Reagan: A First Lady of Style" exhibit.Embed from Getty Images

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Nancy's style certainly seemed to owe a debt to Jackie Kennedy—full of classic wool suits, pearls, and good coats with the occasional ‘60s style hat—but her predilection for red set her apart. Jackie may have paved the way for stylish First Ladies, but Nancy's combination of Washington elegance, Old Hollywood glamour, and that iconic red, made it clear she had taken some of Jackie's style and made it all her own.