I am a frustrated Jackie Kennedy Onassis biographer. The problem is, all the Jackie biographies have become a rehash of her life and times. For the next few posts, I’m going to study Jackie through the evolution of her clothing choices – and come up with my own thesis as to whether she is a fashion muse or a mere celebrity who carries the clothes better.
In the late 1940’s, Jackie Bouvier was already a budding legend. The academic star of Miss Porter’s as well as a champion equestrienne had become Queen Debutante of the Year. For some reason, I cannot find a picture of Jackie as a debutante in that off-the-shoulder gown.
She already had a marked preference for clean lines as seen here in a photograph with her father in 1947 (most probably in her high school graduation from Ms. Porter’s):
I like how the belt pulls everything together and while there is so much one can do with such thick, curly hair, I like Jackie’s hair here. Most obviously, you can see where Jackie got those incredible cheek bones, snub nose and full lips. Father and daughter are just freakishly two peas in a pod when it comes to looks.
I stumbled upon this picture of Jackie, hot off the 1940’s. The flamenco dress complements her dark hair and brows:
Jackie is a few weeks short of her twenty-fourth birthday here but she looks rather old. Her hair is a frightful mess and not just because of the wind-blown effect. Later on, in the succeeding years (and pictures), she would opt for sleeker looks. The two scenarios I have here is, a) Jackie Bouvier is in the middle of growing her hair out of a bad cut or b) Jackie Bouvier did not have the money for the salon. She may have all these wealthy relatives and came from exclusive schools but it is common knowledge now that she only had her salary as the Inquiring Photographer at her disposal.
(Digression: It is rather heartening to consider that there is a bit of Jackie in us at some point in her life: that we all live on a budget.)
In 1953, this was the dress suit of the day:
Jackie’s suit dress seems better put together and is more similar to the 1955 version of the suit dress:
I suppose, even then, Jackie had a fashion-forward sense.
Now I have never been a fan of Jackie’s 1953 wedding dress; her cocktail dress of a nuptial gown in 1968 was far nicer. But this picture captures more than the tragedy of the dress but features the sorrow Jackie had to hide (her father was too drunk to give her away so that’s her step-dad):
Jackie’s wedding ‘do is pretty bad as she used that rose point veil (which is actually quite pretty except it emphasizes how disproportionate her head size is to the rest of her body). Objectively speaking, it could be the disappointment of Black Jack’s absence, but Jackie was not a beautiful bride. Her face already has the features which would make her face appealing and distinctive but at this point, she’s not pretty.
I really like how Jackie (here with Jack in 1954) handles texture here – leather gloves, a (cotton?) cardigan and fur stole with the silk dress as the canvas. The bag, brooch and pearls are picture-perfect accessories. Maybe those shoes were fashionable then but I find them too heavy, too clunky.
Jackie, seen here with Michael Canfield, her sister Lee’s first husband, in 1955. Her hair just drives me nuts – it looks like a bird’s nest after the eggs have hatched. Her accessories are of interest here as they have an ethnic feel in its beaded glory. Even the pattern of her sunglasses complements the theme. Jackie struck me as rather uptight for the most part but here she appears completely relaxed.
Jackie with her sister Lee in 1954. The gowns are quite 1950’s in terms of style but where Lee opted for the full skirt, Jackie opted for the straight cut (which speaks of the sisters’ physiques, Jackie was leaner and Lee more voluptuous). I am not a fan of Lee’s printed dress and while Jackie’s lace dress looks better, her necklace looks rather heavy, it’s distracting. Jackie also sports a pixie cut here, which is way better than her nuptial hairstyle.
Another sister act – this time, the Bouvier sisters posed for Vogue in 1955, modeling sweaters. One can see just how doe-eyed Jackie (left) is and while Lee is conventionally more attractive, there is something appealing about Mrs. Kennedy. Jackie plays with stripes and this time Lee pulls the clean look.
Jackie, seen here with Jack in the 1956 engagement party for Jean Kennedy, sports a nicer hairstyle (she must have started with the stylist Kenneth Batelle). Her pearls are more refined but I have never been a fan of brocade so am not feeling her dress here.
I love the pattern of Jackie’s lace-and-velvet top or dress. It looks so sleek and elegant (with the candlelit dinner as the background). Her coiffure adds to the polished look – but then, this is after all a dinner party. And even back then… was there a flicker of attraction between Jackie and Bobby?
Jackie and Ethel in early 1957. While Ethel looks like an average American marm here (complete with her dinner napkin still safely tucked onto her blouse), Jackie’s Mediterranean looks complement that Mountie tie of her top. This is one of her best haircuts as well.
This is my favorite Jackie look of the 1950’s – the sleek hair, triple strand of pearls, dainty drop pearl earrings, the studded clutch and strapless dress with the cute bow detail. This was in April 1957, during the April Paris Ball at the Waldorf. (I must say, Eunice is rocking serious ear and brooch bling here). The shawl Jackie carries is a rich pink shade, which I discerned from this picture:
One of the joys of being flat-chested – the dress looks absolutely fabulous on her. I also like how Jackie stayed away from red, mature-looking lipstick and opted for pinks. Almost four years after marrying JFK, I think this is the point where Jackie enters a whole new plane. And she’s already about three months pregnant with Caroline here.
With baby Caroline in April 1958. Jackie scores an interesting look here – clean lines in a vibrant color, actually a green shade, lined with gold (and well and good as the Kennedys landed a LIFE cover). I like the detail of the dress – though am not sure if those are flowered patterns.
She looks a little bit like Geena Davis in this picture. Odd that this family has already been singled out for a LIFE cover but I must say that early on, the attractive wife and adorable baby formula (not a pun) has worked for JFK.
In 1959, Jackie Kennedy landed another LIFE cover – as the front-runner’s wife.
The previous year, JFK had just been re-elected to the Senate by a landslide victory and by now they were planning to campaign for the U.S. Presidency.
The road seemed paved for victory – politically and sartorially.
UP NEXT: The Evolution of Jackie Style : Volume II (1960’s)