Something happened to the Reagans on their way to a "People's Inaugural."

Nancy Reagan's wardrobe, for one thing.

When it initially was reported that her finery would cost $25,000, Nancy Reagan deemed the figure "ridiculous."

She was, it turned out, right. Washington Post fashion editor Nina Hyde called up the designers and found out that were Nancy Reagan an ordinary citizen, and charged the full price, the bill would have come to about $46,000.

Way back in the beginning, some thought was given to an "austerity" event, to show a lean second term on the way. No galas, no balls, just a solemn swearing-in to be followed by serious business.

The idea died aborning. We will have a slightly scaled down replay of 1980, when the conservatives, having at last taken the castle, swarmed into town, swathed it in black mink and paved it with stretch limousines -- and defended their extravagance as something that would comfort the masses, as did the glamour movies of the Depression.

The Reagans do not strive for the common touch. Their people are like themselves: self-made, not anxious to recreate the deprivations of their childhoods as an example for the populace.

Ann Mathias, who is in charge of the lunch given the president on Capitol Hill, invited six ordinary citizens to be guests at the event and ordered a "non-effete" menu. No such effort is being made for the private reception at the White House on Sunday, which will follow the oath-taking.

There is no sign that everyday people feel slighted or offended by the celebration. In fact, they are, if anything, a trifle bored by Reagan's second inauguration, much as they were by his second election, which seemed to many an unwelcome interruption of their favorite television programs.

The president relies on sports as the great leveler, the surest bond between him and the country. Presidents must be sports-minded to survive. Jimmy Carter, you remember, indulged in the loneliness of the long-distance runner and after botching a World Series locker-room visit was run off the scene. Richard M. Nixon was our most stricken idolater of the jocks. He worshiped at the shrine of Vince Lombardi, contributed plays to the Redskins and confided that his dream was to be a sports announcer. Ronald Reagan actually was a sportscaster, and the fans recognize him as one of their own.

The Olympics, to hear him talk, were the high point of his first four years in the White House. Although the absence of the Soviets diminished the competition and several American athletes gave way to tantrums and tempests of tears that were the antithesis of good sportsmanship, the president rhapsodized about the games as if they were the spiritual experience of a generation, sparking marvels of "excellence" and touching off what is called "the new patriotism."

"We saw our young people, in many ways the trend-setters of society, show that it's in style again to put your hand over your heart when the flag goes by, and it's in style again to sing the words of the national anthem," he said in one of his many raptures on the subject.

It is no wonder then that, after his Sunday swearing-in, he will pause in his awe and thanksgiving at being once again the leader of the Western world, to flip a coin to determine which team gets the ball first in the Super Bowl.

He will perform this rite -- Nixon would have called it "a historic first" -- after he visits the Jefferson Memorial "Youth Pageant."

He will unite the two strains of his presidency, the reverence for television and the devotion to sport, that make him kin to the millions of Americans who will blot out their cares and their families to watch the action. He will not interfere with their pleasure; he will share and, he hopes, heighten it.

That's a long way from the icy day in 1961 when John F. Kennedy had a poet at his inauguration. Robert Frost, the venerable Yankee laureate, read a poem composed for the occasion. Kennedy had a thing about words, being an avid reader of books and admirer of intellectuals. Reagan recently told a group of high school students that television provides "continuity and reassurance" in our lives.

The Reagan inauguration is going to cost $12 million, some of it financed by funds left over from Carter's bare-bones celebration. Reagan will be inaugurated with affluence and athletics, with no grandeur planned, and little class. It will be a populist inauguration; Reagan himself will represent the aspirations and preoccupations of the ordinary guy.