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Lessons in Style from Jackie O

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On Madison Avenue, 1971
On Madison Avenue, 1971 Photography by Ron Galella/WireImage

AnOther looks back at the timeless elegance of Jackie Kennedy “O” Onassis

Born Jacqueline Lee Bouvier in Southampton, New York, she would grow up to be Jackie Kennedy “O” Onassis, First Lady of the United States, wife to one of America’s most influential and iconic presidents. Before Michelle, before Carla Bruni, before Sam Cam, Jackie O led the way for stylish women on the sidelines of politics, carving a personal style that championed classic staples, contemporary trouser suits, headscarves and sunglasses. Under the remit of friend and stylist Oleg Cassini, she brought pillbox hats and shift dresses to the masses and colour to each campaign trail that she embarked upon with her husband John F. Kennedy; her style a potent symbol of the new, youthful era of which he was emblematic. After her husband's assassination in 1963, she developed into Jackie O, marking a new period of fashion. She wore priceless jewels with T-shirts, gypsy skirts with Hermès headscarves, creating an effortlessly casual definition of glamour. Here, AnOther considers Kennedy’s disciplined style, picking 10 of her pioneering style decisions still seen today:

The power of a pillbox hat
The brimless flat hat was a longstanding Kennedy signature. In 1961, her stylist Cassini decided she needed an ‘off-hat’, believing that the hat should be an accent and an after-thought, so as not to take away from her face. Favoured designers include Marita at Bergdorf Goodman and Halston. Previously reserved for military and Pan Am hostesses, Kennedy made the relatively unknown hat an international trend.

Scarves are not just for your neck
When not wearing a pillbox hat, Kennedy often wore a headscarf. She pioneered the trend, teaming her silk scarves with a pair of oversized shades. The look was key to the Jackie O style of her later years, worn with classic LBD, gypsy skirts and T-shirts.

Arriving at JFK airport from Jamaica, 1976
Arriving at JFK airport from Jamaica, 1976 Photography by Ron Galella/WireImage
Oversized shades
These Jackie classics were her first fashion statement during her early years as a First Lady. They came with a signature Greek Key detail, which is symbolic of eternal life, a motif perhaps poignantly emblematic given the events that followed.

The A-Line silhouette
From shift dresses to two-piece suits, Kennedy’s range of pastel hued A-line suits and dresses were key to her look as wife of the president. She backed Dior’s New Look, which raised hemlines and brought ease to womenswear during the 1950s.

From the voluminous ripples of her coats by the likes of Hubert de Givenchy to the bouffant mass of her hair, Kennedy backed volume. Her iconic hairstyle was created by Mr Kenneth, who is often described as the world’s first celebrity hairdresser.

Wear White
Long before Margiela championed the stark anonymity of white, Kennedy wore preppy white jeans, shirts and dresses. Whether lounging on a boat across the Amalfi Coast or stepping out to meet the Queen in 1961, she became noted for the icy shade. On what would prove to be her last public appearance, she wore a white button-down gown by Carolina Herrera to the American Ballet Theatre Season Opening Gala at Lincoln Center in 1993.

Colour blocking
From pastel suiting to monochrome dresses, Kennedy was famed for her solid colours, made by couturiers including Jean-Louis Scherrer, Christian Dior and Givenchy. However she was confidentially advised to ‘cut the Paris cord’ and invest mainly in American designers, taking on Diana Vreeland as her style authority.

In Manhattan, 1970
In Manhattan, 1970 Photography by Roland School/Pix Inc/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images
Three-quarter length sleeves
Kennedy practically patented the three-quarter length sleeve. From fitted suit jackets to dresses and blouses, the look accentuated her wrist jewellery, gloves and chocolate-box handbags.

At her wedding to Aristotle Onassis in 1968, Kennedy wore a white, lace gown by Valentino, which has become the most replicated couture piece in history. She loved Valentino all her life, from classic suiting as a First Lady to his trademark ruffled dresses in her later years. On her death, Valentino paid tribute to Kennedy – “She had this inner quality to make elegant the simplest dress, the most shabby raincoat, the oldest pair of slacks. Her way to wear a scarf, a pair of sunglasses, to choose a bag or shoes or go barefoot, or with a tiara was natural, she was not thinking twice, she knew by instinct.”

Invest in a good suit
On November 22 1963, Jackie O opted for a woolen strawberry pink suit with a navy collar. The suit now carries the weight of her husband’s assassination, imbued with the consciousness of a nation. She wore it on the day he was shot, and continued to wear it after her flight back to Washington D.C., blood stains intact. “Let them see what they’ve done to Jack,” she said.

All photographs taken from New York Jackie: Pictures from her Life in the City by Bridget Watson Payne, published by Chronicle Books.

Text by Mhairi Graham


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