Jackie Kennedy’s White House Style

JFK Library. Click to enlarge

What did these two women think of the other one’s outfit when they met? I’ve been preparing a talk on Jackie Kennedy’s White House fashion for a local museum. The research has been a lot of fun.  In the process, I’ve come across many photos like the one above showing a very young Jackie (she was only 31 when she came to the White House) meeting older women.  The fashion contrast is astonishing.  Jackie wore up to the minute style, in this case a sleek dress with few embellishments.  Her companion did not.  Although these must have been her very best clothes, she looks quite weighed down by the past in her flowery hat, mink stole, and brocade dress.

Getty Images, 1961. Click to enlarge

Although not as striking, we can also see the contrast in this photo taken on inauguration day. Jackie wears a sleek coat and hat combination custom designed by Oleg Cassini.  The other powerful women next to her—Lady Bird Johnson, Mamie Eisenhower, and Pat Nixon–look fusty in comparison.

Jackie knew that she had youth on her side, even if her style of dress would soon be copied everywhere.  She forbid Cassini to make copies of the outfits he designed for her.  “Just make sure no one has exactly the same dress I do—the same color or material,” Jackie wrote to Cassini. “[I] imagine you will want to put some of my dresses in your collection—but I want all mine to be original and no fat little women hopping around in the same dress.”

Ouch…

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6 Responses to Jackie Kennedy’s White House Style

  1. Bell Neice says:

    In the age before cell phone videos, and hacked e-mails, and “viral internet” famous people would often do everything in their power to ensure that any letters and papers that didn’t show them in the best historic light were destroyed. Where was the Cassini note found? In Jackie’s papers or Cassini’s? I’m not surprised at her comment about fat little women, but I am surprised she didn’t manage to control the fact that the comment survived her.

    • Lynn says:

      The quote is from Oleg Cassini’s book A Thousand Days of Magic. It’s from a personal letter Jackie wrote to him. I’m sure it wasn’t meant for public consumption.

  2. Wendelah says:

    When Is your talk? I live in the San Fernando Valley and would love to attend.

  3. That inauguration photo also reminds me that Mrs. Kennedy seems to have learned the lesson of Mrs. Nixon’s plain “respectable Republican cloth coat.” They are wearing wool in a sea of furs.

  4. Reader says:

    The older lady’s outfit is laughable. But what’s interesting to me is that even Jackie’s considerably more modern dress looks a bit fussy to me. There’s a later photo of her in what I think is a yellow gingham shift that is my favorite.

  5. Reader says:

    The photo also demonstrates how much harder it is to dress when you are older or any age when you don’t have great looks. You end up piling on accessories in order to distract and end up looking ridiculous. A paired-down look is very appealing, but you have to have the hair, face, and body to pull it off.

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