Print Edition: April 11, 2012
Very rarely have a president and first lady been noted for their style to the point of becoming icons, but the Kennedys (that is President John and his First Lady, Jackie) cemented themselves not only politically, but sartorially with aplomb, grace and endurance. Here are a few posthumous style lessons from the great ones – yacht, country club and polo included.
John: John really possessed that fashionable cool factor that led to his near celebrity status in the 1960s. Much of this had to do with his youthful demeanor and undeniable grasp on what clothes could really do. Spurning the Abe Lincoln top hat for his inaugural speech, he made waves as someone who could truly make a difference.
The east coast look is perhaps one of my favourites to see on men. It’s clean, classic, sporty and quelle beau. Very few, however, have perfected the look like JFK. Countless images of the man stepping off of a sailboat, khaki pants rolled to escape the water, paired with an untucked white shirt and black Ray Ban Wayfarers with windblown hair is and will be an enduring image in style. A slim, light coloured tennis sweater was versatile throughout the seasons, and he would often throw it over a white or coloured Oxford shirt with white or beige pants. His style looked easy because he wore it so well. “The ease of his style made it really look like he didn’t think that much about it,” said men’s fashion designer Thom Browne to The New York Times in 1962. His two-button Brooks Brothers suit has endured the test of time, as well as his slightly rumpled white button down covered with a pima sweater – perfect for the sun, sand and sails.
Jackie: Few first ladies have captivated the public like Jackie Kennedy. A French-by-origin debutante with a penchant for Continental style, she was first deemed too European, too inaccessible and far too couture for the once buttoned-up world of American politics in the early days of Kennedy’s campaign. After some time, however, it was discovered that she was perhaps the biggest asset to the Kennedy campaign imaginable. The public loved Jackie, and so did the fashion world.
With an undeniable east coast vibe to match that of her husband, she fit right in with the Cape Cod scene that she and her family frequented. Lilly Pulitzer sheath dresses in that slimming, A-Line ‘60s style that has come back with fervor this season were perhaps her most enduring mark. These dresses came in white, black, and pastels – always paired with a pearl necklace tucked into the neckline. Her hemlines were as decent and classy as she was. She popularized the pillbox hat, Van Clef & Arpels jewelry, dark Ray Bans, white J.Crew pants and Ralph Lauren sweaters. She adored figure skimming white Chanel suits, custom-made coats by Givenchy and Dior and double-breasted navy coats paired with dainty white gloves. “I am a woman, above everything else,” she once said to Vogue magazine regarding her distinct style. “I dress myself as one.”
Jackie wore what she was comfortable in, and what she was comfortable in happened to be the East Hamptons, the tennis court, the seaside and the country’s top boutiques. Her clothes fitted her life and what a gorgeous life (at least superficially) she had. “I try to dress with courage, endurance, of course, and above all else, responsibility and taste,” she said to Harper’s Bazaar. She most certainly mastered taste.
Though John was tragically killed in 1963 and Jackie passed away in 1994, they will always be remembered together as a powerful political force whose influence extended into the fashion world.