Tribute to Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis
In 2000, Vogue’s international editor-at-large Hamish Bowles told the Metropolitan Museum of Art that Jaqueline Kennedy Onassis set the standard for how “an entire generation” of American women strove to “look, dress, and behave.” Indeed, Jackie O was one of the most influential and beloved fashion icons of her era and beyond—from stepping into the White House as First Lady Jackie Kennedy to marrying the famous Greek millionaire Aristotle Onassis.
Jacqueline Lee Bouvier was born on July 28, 1929 in New York City to a socialite mother and a Wall Street stockbroker father. She was bright and witty as a child, but wanted to do things her own way. In the ’40s, this fierce individuality was often taken as rebellion. One of her grade-school teachers at Manhattan's Chapin School called her “a darling child, the prettiest little girl, very clever, very artistic, and full of the devil.” In her early twenties, she snuck away from her all-girls college in the suburbs to the high-society scene in Manhattan every weekend. After a study-abroad in Paris and two more years at George Washington University, Jaqueline won a twelve-month junior editorship at Vogue, taking her to the magazine’s New York and Paris offices for a year. Her first day on the job, though, her editor expressed concern about her age, telling her that a 22-year-old woman should prioritize finding a husband (welcome to the ’50s!).
Eventually, Jackie moved to Washington, working as a camera girl for the Washington Times-Herald, and there she met the charismatic and hopeful politician John F. Kennedy. Although Jackie was already known as a beautiful and fashionable socialite, her 1953 marriage to the recently elected Senator Kennedy put her squarely in the spotlight. Who can forget her stunning ivory silk taffeta wedding gown by noted African American designer Ann Lowe? That dress, with its elegant portrait neckline and full skirt covered in tiny embellishments, was displayed on every newspaper and fashion magazine for weeks. Only seven years later, John F. Kennedy announced his candidacy for the presidency and Jackie’s style was talked about at every event and outing. She popularized some of the most recognizable trends of the ’60s and ’70s, including tailored coats, strapless gowns, pillbox hats, and shift dresses.
Her fame easily garnered the attention of fashion designers around the world, leading to custom creations from designer Oleg Cassini, who dressed Hollywood stars like Grace Kelly and Shirley Temple. Cassini designed some of Jackie’s most iconic pieces, including her silk evening gown she wore the night before her husband’s inauguration in 1961. From her pink matching suit set and pillbox hat in Dallas to her signature white gloves and simple accessories, Jackie Kennedy’s style was refined and elegant, and epitomized the put-together image of the ’60s American woman.
After JFK’s tragic assassination, Jackie eventually began to sport more casual and bold ensembles, like oversized sunglasses and shift dresses with shorter hemlines and more groovy patterns. Her famous Hermes silk headscarves, casual linen button-downs, and wide-leg pantsuits became a part of her everyday casual, yet refined East-Coast wardrobe. After her marriage to Greek shipping magnate Ari Onassis in 1968, Jackie continued to experiment with her style and was constantly photographed at events and galas in exquisite gowns accented with striking jewelry and handbags. Although her expensive ensembles were far out of reach for the average woman, her style became the reference point for designs in big-box retailers and clothing manufacturers around the world. Her sophisticated fashion choices gracefully transitioned from one era to the next with a style grounded in elegant simplicity. Many of the trends that Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis made famous in the ’60s and ’70s are popular today—from her effortless headscarves to her casual button-down shirts over chic wide-leg pants.
Jaqueline Kennedy Onassis passed away in 1994, leaving behind a legacy that was much more than sartorial. She set the bar for future First Ladies with an agenda that bolstered the arts and prioritized historic preservation. She is, undeniably, an icon—and her contributions will be felt for many years to come.