Jackie kennedy pink suit national archives 2017
Talking about the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Lady Bird Johnson, who had been riding ahead of the first couple in the fateful 1963 motorcade, recalled her most heart-rending memory of that day.
The recollection is seared into the minds of generations of Americans who were not in Dallas five decades ago on Nov. 22, but, after watching the vivid color film footage of the shooting, felt as if they had been among the horrified bystanders in Dealey Plaza.
“I [looked] over my shoulder and saw, in the president’s car, a bundle of pink, just like a drift of blossoms, lying on the back seat,” Lady Bird Johnson said at the time.President John F. Kennedy and Mrs. Kennedy disembark from Air Force One at Love Field, Dallas.EPA/Cecil Stoughton
That “drift of blossoms” was, of course, the diminutive figure of Jacqueline Kennedy — Jack’s 34-year-old wife, crouching for cover in the strawberry-colored Chanel suit, which became an emblem of the tragedy.
“The outfit is a terrible talisman of American history and heartbreak,” says New York-based fashion expert Pamela Keogh, who writes about the iconic wool bouclé two-piece in her book “Jackie Style.”
“But despite symbolizing a very sorrowful moment in our nation’s past, it also shows Jackie’s courage.”
The grief-stricken First Lady famously insisted on wearing the blood-spattered suit during the swearing in of Lyndon B. Johnson aboard Air Force One before the flight back to Washington, DC.
“Let them see what they have done,” she repeatedly said when asked if she wanted to change.
Writing in her diary about the hastily arranged inauguration ceremony, Lady Bird Johnson noted: “Mrs. Kennedy’s dress was stained with blood.Women model suits designed by Chanel, which many believe inspired Jackie Kennedy’s iconic pink suit.Paul Schutzer//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images
“Somehow that was one of the most poignant sights — that immaculate woman exquisitely dressed, and caked in blood.”
Photographs of Jackie being met at Andrews Air Force Base by her brother-in-law, Bobby, show the solidified dark brown marks.
It wasn’t until the following morning that the grieving widow finally agreed to take off the outfit, after the official autopsy at Bethesda Naval Hospital. She then comforted her two children, Caroline and John, at the time aged just five and two.
Today, Jackie’s pink suit, with its distinctive navy blue collar, is kept inside an acid-free box in a numbered storeroom within the National Archives and Records Administration in Maryland.
It has never been dry-cleaned and, according to the few staffers who have seen the suit, looks brand-new except for the telltale blood stains.
It will remain hidden from the American public until at least 2103 because Caroline, her sole surviving heir, signed a deed in 2003 stipulating that it remain hidden for 100 years.
The terms will likely be renegotiated by Kennedy’s descendants in the next century.
“The dress won’t see the light of day in my lifetime,” says Keogh. “And for that, I’m grateful.
“To my mind, there would be something very ghoulish about it being put on display.”
There is no denying the fascination for the suit, which has been copied dozens of times on-screen. It has been worn by a succession of actresses playing the chic First Lady in movies and TV series. Most recently, Minka Kelly wore a version in this summer’s civil-rights epic “Lee Daniels’ The Butler,” while Ginnifer Goodwin re-created the look in the National Geographic Channel film “Killing Kennedy” airing this month.Jacqueline Kennedy waves at the camera while visiting with her sister, Princess Lee Radziwill (right) in London on March 27, 1962.Bettman/Corbis
Most experts concur that the suit Jackie owned in 1963 was itself a copy of a Chanel. They believe it was manufactured in the Big Apple’s Garment District by the upscale fashion label Chez Ninon.
“In the old days, Chanel let certain US-based designers buy a suit and literally copy it, line-for-line,” explains Keogh. “They would send them the exact material and buttons from France.”
So why would a wealthy blue blood, one of the most famous women in the world, wear a knockoff? The answer lies with Jackie’s father-in-law, Joe Kennedy, who bankrolled her wardrobe and was conscious that fancy Paris design houses didn’t square with the First Couple’s all-American image.
“It was part of this movement to have the Kennedys seen as not too silver spoon and ivory tower,” says Scott Stoddart, dean of the School of Liberal Arts at the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan. “Chez Ninon maintained a close relationship with Chanel, which saw the arrangement as a way to repay Mrs. Kennedy’s long-term patronage.”
It was routine for Jackie and her sister, Lee Radziwill, to cherry-pick pieces by Givenchy, Chanel and Pierre Cardin, and have them copied “relatively on the cheap” by their favorite designers such as Oleg Cassini.
“Receipts don’t exist for the Chanel [facsimile] but there are other receipts from around the same time for other items made up in New York from French designs,” adds Stoddart.
Fashion historian Steven Brawley, who blogs at pinkpillbox.com, reveals that the original suit debuted in the September 1961 issue of Life magazine, in an article about the fall Chanel collection.Architect John Carl Warnecke explains a model of Lafayette Square to Jacqueline Kennedy on September 26, 1962.Bettman/Corbis
Headlined “In Suits Too, a Trim and Slim Fit,” the editorial showed a brunette model, a Jackie look-alike with bouffant hair, wearing the double-breasted jacket and skirt and crossing a New York City street.
Was it a coincidence that the same issue of Life featured Mrs. Kennedy on the cover, talking about her plans to renovate The White House?
“I often wonder if she was reading her interview, then flipped to the fashion pages, saw the suit and thought, ‘I simply must have that!’ ” says Brawley.
The day of the assassination was not the first time Jackie appeared in the outfit. Photos show her wearing it at least six times prior to her husband’s murder, ranging from a mass at Camp David in November 1961 to a meeting at Washington, DC’s Lafayette Square in September 1962. She wore it during her March 1962 trip to London when she lunched with Queen Elizabeth II.
“The suit was supposedly a favorite of the president’s because he liked the bright pink color,” says Stoddart. “He asked her to wear it in Dallas that morning because it would look good photogenically — something the crowd would spot.”Jacqueline Kennedy (center) with the Maharajah and Maharani of Jaipur at the White House on October 24, 1962.Kennedy Library Archives
JFK, always image-conscious, approved his wife’s outfits for the important Texas trip, which was meant to mark the start of his 1964 re-election campaign. In an interview with biographer William Manchester, Jackie recalled that her husband told her, “There are going to be all these rich, Republican women at that lunch. . . wearing mink coats and diamond bracelets. And you’ve got to look as marvelous as any of them. Be simple — show these Texans what good taste really is.”
Not that she needed the advice. “There were no such thing as stylists in those days, but Jackie had a very clear sense she was going to be surrounded by men in grey or navy blue suits,” explains Keogh. “She knew she needed that block of color to stand out. Nobody was going to have a rare and beautiful pink Chanel suit like her’s.”
She paired the suit with the equally iconic matching pillbox hat made by Halston (who did millinery jackie kennedy pink suit national archives 2017 work for Bergdorf’s), but left the coordinating coat, in a darker shade of pink, aboard the plane because the weather that morning in Fort Worth was unexpectedly mild.
To this day, nobody knows what became of Jackie’s hat after the shooting.
There are several theories about its whereabouts, the most common being that Mary Gallagher, Jackie’s former personal secretary, now in her 90s, was handed the hat by Secret Service staff and kept it in her collection. Although Gallagher has sold many of the items that she received from her famous employer, she refuses to comment on its fate. Another possibility is that it somehow just got thrown away by the crew who cleaned the president’s limousine of blood. After all, the concept of CSI didn’t exist back then.
A missing piece of history, the pillbox hat remains absent from that box in the windowless room of the National Archives, where perhaps the saddest symbol of the JFK tragedy lies in controlled temperatures of between 65 and 68 degrees, in 40 percent humidity, shielded from light and prying eyes.
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