There are three giant female icons of the twentieth-century who were born in July. They grew up in relative anonymity but their marriages to prominent men catapulted them into the stage of the world. They were the focal point of their respective countries first, then the rest of the world.

They are (in order of age, left to right) Imelda Romualdez Marcos (b. July 2, 1929), Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis (b. July 28, 1929) and Diana, Princess of Wales (nee Lady Diana Spencer, b. July 1, 1961).

Imelda, the Philippine first lady, is renowned for her beauty, her involvement in politics and diplomacy during her husband, Ferdinand Marcos’s twenty years in power. Before all the hullaballoo about her shoe collection, she was actually a force to be reckoned with. She was so popular in the late 1960’s that when the Beatles visited Manila and pulled a no-show for a private concert at Malacanang Palace, their police escort was withdrawn and the crowds ran after them, shouting abuse (this at the height of Beatlemania!) Bong Bong Marcos, her son, thereafter famously remarked, “I prefer the Rolling Stones anyway.” It was also Imelda who visited Colonel Gadaffi when Libya was supplying the Muslims in Mindanao with weapons (thereby wiping out battalions of the army). This meeting resulted in the Tripoli agreement.

As for her so-called “edifice complex”, Imelda gave the Philippines the Cultural Center, the Heart Center, the Kidney Center and the Lung Center, all currently institutions of the country. People have lambasted her for her extravagance and made a loud stink about her shoes, gowns and jewelry… but I must say, there is a bit of Imelda in all girls. Personally, I love jewelry and shoes  and one can’t have enough of them. Imelda might as well be the precursor of Carrie Bradshaw (famous for her love of Manolos, Choos and Louboutins).

Imelda, of course, became the widow who failed to inspire pity (unlike the admired widow of all time, Jackie Kennedy). With Marcos gone, she attended several high-profile court sessions and was eventually vindicated. She is currently the sole surviving legend among the three mentioned and she has not faded into obscurity. Currently the Congressman of her late husband’s province, she dazzles or offends the public as she holds lavish birthday parties and wears her famous jewels.

Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, the Sorbonne-educated American First Lady, who would go on to marry a Greek billionaire, dazzled the world only years before Imelda; coincidentally, the year Jackie became First Lady was also the year Diana was born. There was no one like Jackie and no one else since (except for this First Lady, perhaps). In hindsight, Jackie actually fashioned her style after another fifties icon:

At a certain point, after she married JFK, Jackie actually cropped her hair into an Audrey-like pixie, which did not bode well for her square jaw. Jackie also made no secret of the fact that she admired Givenchy’s creations (and who should be Givenchy’s muse then but Audrey). The good thing about Mrs. Kennedy was that she eventually gained confidence in her own fashion sense and went on to popularize the pillbox hat and the boxy jackets with 3/4-length sleeves (and later on, she perfected the Capri look for the next generations – scarf, oversize shades, pedals and Rogers sandals).

If Imelda felt she was obligated to spend because she was the wife of the head of state, Jackie’s sense of extravagance had a self-involved tinge to it. Her world was narrower than her Philippine counterpart and she played the grand dame role to the hilt: horses, yachts and the jet-set. Her attributes are namely her devotion to her children, which is laudatory.  However, this also reflects how she chose to remain a private citizen and nothing more, which is a shame because to live such a great life entails giving back to the greater good.

In the end, Jackie is best remembered through her gowns and sense of fashion, which really has no use to people in general. She is also the glorified house wife who spent her husband’s money redecorating the home and overseeing menus. This is not in itself a negative thing but it is all too limited an occupation given her apparent intelligence:

She was acknowledged as more handsome than beautiful and she may have been chic but even Audrey had her U.N. missions and Liz had her AIDS advocacy. Jackie is the true product of media sensationalism, her husband’s martyrdom and her subsequent tragic widowhood the fodder for the image elite. With LIFE and LOOK magazines, and later even Hustler and Hello!, Jackie was the best thing that happened to the media moguls.

Princess Diana was born in the most comfortable situation (as Jackie and Imelda were deemed to be the poor relations when they were growing up) but she was certainly the most ill-educated. Her appeal was similar to that of Imelda’s: they centered on emotion. Diana’s strength lies in her ability to connect with the regular persona and even the marginalized. However, Imelda’s extravagance seemed to be at odds with her pronounced charity. Diana, born the wealthiest of the three, may have her occasions of indulgence but I doubt if it is ever at par with Jackie’s or Imelda’s.

On the other hand, Diana did take a leaf out of Jackie’s book and devoted much time to her children. Some might criticize her for using Wills and Harry as part of some publicity campaign (something Jackie resisted) but in hindsight, Diana was the walking magnet for the paparazzi. If those pictures with her children at McDonald’s or Disneyland were never published, she might as well never have spent time with them. One thing though which neither Imelda nor Jackie ever did, which Diana played to the hilt, was the shameless defamation of her husband. Maybe Charles may not have been as powerful or as charismatic as JFK or Marcos but Diana seemed bent on destroying him, not only to their children but to the whole world. To this day, Imelda speaks highly of Marcos and Jackie, to the public’s knowledge, never spoke a disloyal word about her husband’s infidelities.

Diana was also rather reckless and had no sense of history. She seemed to have no respect for her position or her sons’ positions. I daresay she was acting out her extreme humiliation and pain when Charles openly chose Camilla over her. But this did not seem to  make her any wiser. Of the three, Diana is portrayed more often as being downright bitchy and petty. Am sure Jackie and Imelda had their low-blow moments but with Diana, the people who work for her actually resign in protest (most notably, when she gloated over Tiggy Legge-Burke’s “abortion”).

Diana’s death, though, took the world by storm and there are several angles to it: her youth, her sons, all these possibilities after her divorce. I will remember the time I heard about it: my best friend rang me up on Sunday afternoon and told me. I was a high school freshman then and was moved by the spectacle of the funeral (though I felt that Earl Spencer was pushing it with his not-so-subtle swipes at the Royal Family). True, I do not condone Charles’s apparent disregard for Diana (unlike JFK, who was proud of Jackie’s triumphs abroad, Charles resented his young wife her fame) but the Princess’s behavior was so awful that I couldn’t side with her either. In any case, the victors of it all would have to be William and Harry, who seem to be well-adjusted young men.

These July born icons – Imelda, Jackie and Di – embody all that is adored and resented in women. They have us quite a show but now, in the days of Paris, Lindsay and Britney, they are sorely missed.

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Every girl dreams of her big day – when she marries the love of her life and lives busily ever after, raising a family and probably balancing her career along with it.

However, a big part of this dream big day centers around yards of silk. Or satin. Or chiffon. With lace. Or tulle. No matter how the marriage turns out, the wedding dress is the icon of the day. I am still one of the fortunate few who have yet to see my very own wedding dress (why fortunate? Because am still enjoying the single life). For the time being, I am quite content to observe and to discuss my favorite wedding dresses:

There are two mother-daughter tandem whose wedding dresses I both adore (as opposed to the wedding dresses of Jacqueline Bouvier and Caroline Kennedy, which I find bordering on nuptial nightmare): the first stylish pair being Princess Margaret (left) in her 1960 marriage and her daughter Lady Sarah Armstrong-Jones in her 1993 wedding:

Both Margaret and Sarah opted for none of the embellishment of beads, appliques and brocades. They opted for rich silks, using diamond tiaras to accessorize their wedding day look. Of course, Margaret had her gown cut to suit her rather petite yet curvy figure while Sarah’s dress emphasized her lean silhouette. In a sense these dresses may have influenced my own personal preferences as I keep telling my mother that I refuse to have much bead work.

Another simple stunner was worn in 1996 by Carolyn Bessette when she married Camelot hunk JFK, Jr.

Carolyn could not have chosen a better dress as her debut to being Mrs. Kennedy. It was so chic in its simplicity and it complemented the charming little chapel where she married. The casually-knotted hair, the sheer gloves and the bouquet of lilies-of-the-valley were her accessories and she carried them off with great aplomb.

Quite a change from her mother-in-law’s overdone wedding dress for her first marriage:

Coincidentally, the only other woman who can claim to be more famous than Jackie O also had a rather disastrous wedding dress (as her marriage turned out) all crumpled and frumpy:

My second mother-daughter sartorial wonders are Grace Kelly in her 1956 nuptials and Princess Caroline of Monaco in her 1978 wedding:

Grace and Caroline both used interesting headpieces, with the former wearing a classic Juliet cap and the latter sporting boho-chic flowered ringlets. Lace is their cloth of choice, which they layered over silk. I like how they were able to maximize this potentially fussy fabric and yet it still looked so elegant. Grace might be the classic nuptial chic but I like the scalloped hem of Caroline’s gown and how it grazes the ground so gently.

My final choice is the one dress very few can pull off since it requires being a size zero. Grace’s dress has been modified countless times but this one is associated with one woman and one legend:

Mainbocher’s creation for Wallis Simpson emphasizes her ultra-skinny figure and her most famous motto, “You can’t be too rich or too thin.” The dress, of course, gained attention for the notoriety of its wearer: the woman who stole England’s King Edward VIII. Wallis, who preceded the skinny Twiggy and the equally frail-looking Kate Moss, wears a dress no one else would wear. It seemed cut and stitched for Wallis alone; moreover, the silhouette of the dress is very 1930’s and very unforgiving to anyone who weighs over ninety pounds. However, I chose it for the love story surrounding the dress and its uniqueness.