But, thanks largely to cartoonist Garry Trudeau, creator of the popular Doonesbury comic strip, and the generosity of a compassionate nation, help may be at hand.
Museum officals last month let it be known that the dress was growing - sagging under the weight of the heavy crystal and bugle beads in the shape of ferns that encrust the James Galanos creation Mrs. Reagan wore to the President's first inaugural balls (eight in all) on Jan 20, 1981.
Trudeau inaugurated a six-day series of cartoons in which the fictional TV newsman Roland Burton Hedley Jr. calls attention to this "incredible but true Gramm-Rudman Horror Story."
In short, he said, budget cuts had made it impossible for the museum to do the necessary $10,000 or so in repairs to "stabilize" the gown.
Though it seemed preposterous, the whole story is true. And, indeed, the museum has launched a campaign for donations to repair the Reagan dress along with five others in its first-lady gown collection.
Earlier this month, Trudeau had his zany newsman Hedley saying, "Show you care by sending your tax-deductible contribution," and he gave an address.
The next day, he gave the address again, this time urging youngsters to ''stage your own benefit inaugural."
In all, about $500 in donations trickled in. Then Monday, Trudeau listed the museum's telephone number so people could call and pledge donations. The phones rang unceasingly.
On Tuesday there were 250 calls. By yesterday afternoon, 100 more had called.
With the cutbacks required under the Gramm-Rudman budget-balancing law, an official said, the museum really was starved for cash to fix up the Reagan
dress and those of the wives of Presidents Andrew Jackson, John Tyler, Franklin Pierce, Grover Cleveland and William McKinley. In all, the cost will be about $70,000.
A week from Saturday, on June 7, according to the distributor of Doonesbury, Trudeau will run the phone number - 202-357-4025 - one last time.