In the truly iconic company of history’s most directional women, from Audrey Hepburn to Greta Garbo, ‘Jackie O’ – as she was affectionately nicknamed – debuted in American high society in the '60s not simply as the wife of then-US President John F Kennedy, but as the very image of all things demure and sophisticated. Through Jackie Kennedy’s fashion, the First Lady’s name became shorthand for elegance.
Though impeccable, her heyday wardrobe choices were generally considered to be of a conservative nature. In truth, however, there were moments in which her choices were playful and pioneering – and the innovative risks she took with her clothing tended to pay off.
The former First Lady cultivated a legacy that has inspired legions of designers, and even a 2016 film starring an Oscar-tipped Natalie Portman as Jackie O herself. Her penchant for gentle experimentation, along with her innate grace, explains why it is worth dissecting Jackie Kennedy’s fashion as it was, as well as explore why it continues to capture imaginations today.
The former First Lady became a master of black-tie dressing after entering the public eye. Though her closet was not necessarily sizeable when she first arrived at the White House, she soon dedicated herself to expanding its contents: it was even alleged that she spent $50,000 more on her wardrobe than her husband’s $100,000 annual salary in her first year as FLOTUS.
Jackie Kennedy’s suits including many a three-piece ensemble, are the stuff of legend. Slim-fitting pencil skirts were an everyday staple, often paired with a slightly boxy cropped jacket inspired by the classic Chanel tweed design. Pants were relegated to off-duty moments in favor of skirts in bold yet feminine shades such as marigold yellow, pop-art pink and muted turquoise.
When it came to patterns, the First Lady made even animal print becoming. She was the owner of a sweeping Oleg Cassini coat made from authentic leopard’s fur, which she teamed with carefully crafted pillbox hats.
Though Jackie O was entirely captivating in her floor-length gowns, twin suits and prim-and-proper dresses, she was equally as elegant when at leisure and was lauded for her effortless style. Favoring basics, her go-to garments consisted of Henley T-shirts, turtlenecks in a rainbow of colorways, jeans in classic cuts and pants in cropped lengths.
Tailoring had its place outside of official duties and when wearing a suit or sharp, masculine-inspired separates, Kennedy would balance the look with feminine details such as soft, ruffled silk blouses or the considered placement of a bow, tied at the throat or around the waist.
An element of the mod mood that was prevalent at the time permeate Kennedy’s everyday wardrobe in the form of carefully tailored navy trench coats paired with knee-high boots in a patriotic palette of red, white and blue.
Classic Jackie Kennedy outfits rarely went without perfectly coordinated accessories. While at the White House the First Lady launched several trends, including bringing the pillbox hat into the mainstream. These statement pieces were designed for her by Halston and were often colored in the same bright hue as her outfit.
Kennedy also tended to wrap an Hermès scarf around her head, tied in a knot under the chin. Oversized sunglasses were another indispensable accessory, providing the former First Lady with what she referred to as the opportunity to people watch. Additionally, elbow-length gloves were an integral part of Jackie Kennedy’s style vocabulary – preferably a pair in a fresh white hue.
For those who aspire to emulate Jackie Kennedy’s fashion, there are a number of other signature commandments that the icon lived by. She cinched in dresses for both day and night with an ornate wide waist belt, while embracing louder colors and experimenting with shorter skirt lengths and seasonal prints for casual parties. She also consistently nodded to her core conservative style with an extra-long string of pearls resting on top of her ensembles.
Despite her predilection for polish, however, so much of Jackie Kennedy’s style came from things unseen. Her elongated posture and the streamlined sensibility of her outfits, for example. It was this philosophy of careful consideration that cemented her influence, ensuring her effortless approach to elegance remains as relevant in the 21st century as it was in her heyday.