By the end of her husband’s first year in office, Mrs. Reagan had acquired a number of unflattering nicknames, among them “Queen Nancy.” But in early 1982, an opportunity arose that enabled Mrs. Reagan to show the press corps a different side of her. The Gridiron Club, an exclusive, century-old organization representing journalists, holds an annual dinner designed to bring together the press and the politicians of Washington for an evening of entertainment and humor. Members of the press perform skits poking fun at the politicians, and the President often gives a speech at the conclusion of the evening. Mrs. Reagan’s staff knew the press planned to present a skit about the first lady and what the media considered to be her expensive taste and fashionable ways, and decided she should perform a skit of her own. That evening, Mrs. Reagan arrived with her husband in evening clothes as expected. During dinner, as the skit about her played out onstage, she excused herself momentarily. Some in the room thought she was upset about the ribbing she was receiving and had walked out. But in truth, she secretly went backstage and donned a ridiculous-looking costume consisting of mismatched clothes – a navy polka dotted blouse topped with a red print housedress and a blue Hawaiian-print skirt, yellow rubber rain boots, a feather boa, a long strand of pearls, and a red straw hat with feathers and flowers. She surprised everyone, including her husband, by marching out on stage and performing her own number, “Secondhand Clothes.” In lyrics set to the tune of “Secondhand Rose,” she mocked the media’s criticism of her fashion sense, and dramatically concluded her performance by smashing to the floor a replica plate from the new White House china. She received a standing ovation – and demands for an encore – from a newly-appreciative and admiring press corps. The next day the headlines read, “First lady floors ’em with song and dance,” “She sings, she jokes, she’s a hit.” And the Washington Post wrote, “…the sophisticated audience of journalists, politicians and their friends responded to her performance as though she had undergone a major change. A number of those image-makers left the ballroom saying that Nancy Reagan’s song-and-dance number had transformed her image.”
I have to give her that this was a gusty move and one that really shows some humor and finally got her some good press on her clothes!