Jackie Kennedy: Queen of Camelot and Style Icon of the 1960s

Today’s post comes from Marisa Hawley, intern in the National Archives Strategy and Communications office.

As part of the “six weeks of style” celebration to recognize the Foundation for the National Archives’ partnership with DC Fashion Week, we are showcasing fashion-related records from our holdings. This week’s fashion theme is 1960s: The Times (and Fashion) They Are A’ Changin

Mrs. Kennedy in the Diplomatic Reception Room, 05 December 1961. (John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, National Archives)

Mrs. Kennedy in the Diplomatic Reception Room, 05 December 1961. (John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, National Archives)

When John F. Kennedy became President of the United States at the age of 43, he became not only the youngest President elected but arguably one of the funniest, intelligent, and charismatic. The charm and optimism that he and his family embodied captivated the American public in an entirely new way, and his term—though tragically cut short—was affectionately known as Camelot. If President Kennedy was the King Arthur of this golden era, however, there is no doubt that Jacqueline Kennedy was the trendsetting queen.

First Lady Jackie Kennedy, along with her husband, firmly believed that the White House was a place where America’s thriving culture was to be promoted, showcased, and celebrated. Her respect for the arts was also reflected in her own signature style as she became a symbol of sophisticated fashion.

Although Jackie discouraged the excessive focus on her appearance in the media, her unique and refined wardrobe certainly set a new standard during her time in Washington. She quickly became an international style icon, influencing the fashion of not only women across America, but around the world—and continues to do so today.

In this photograph of a presentation of a silver pitcher to the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House, Jackie is pictured in one of her distinctive looks: a bold red ensemble of a boxy jacket with a straight skirt.

Jackie’s own personal fashion icon was Audrey Hepburn, which is why the First Lady’s style typically reflected Hepburn’s old Hollywood glamour. Jackie was known for wearing classic, tailored suits and ladylike dresses in strong, solid colors—especially pink, yellow, red, and ivory.

First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy Feeds Horse in India, 19 March 1962. (John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, National Archives)

First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy Feeds Horse in India, 19 March 1962. (John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, National Archives)

Her daywear generally consisted of simple sleeveless dresses, wrist-length gloves, and strands of pearls or a brooch. Around the White House, it was common to see Jackie in high-waist trousers with a trim blouse, turtleneck, or cashmere sweater. She almost always topped off her daytime look with her iconic black, oversized sunglasses—a trend that has yet to go out of style.

When she was traveling to foreign countries—like India—she was mindful to dress according to the custom of the host nation.

For eveningwear, Jackie usually went for the sleeveless, single-colored dress with a bateau neckline—one that runs horizontally, front and back, across the collarbone.

President John F. Kennedy and First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy visit with members of the American Ballet Theatre, 22 May 1962. (John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, National Archives)

President John F. Kennedy and First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy visit with members of the American Ballet Theatre, 22 May 1962. (John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, National Archives)

She also could be found at nighttime events wearing long sheath dresses or off-the-shoulder gowns. Jackie is pictured at a White House dinner here with a white dress and matching elbow-length gloves.

Perhaps her most recognizable outfit is the watermelon-pink suit with her trademark pillbox hat that she wore the day her husband was assassinated in Dallas, Texas.

This iconic pink suit was designed as an exact replica of the Chanel suit with Chanel fabric, but made in the U.S. to avoid political criticism. Despite the bloodstains from the tragic motorcade, Jackie insisted on keeping the suit on for the swearing in of Lyndon B. Johnson later that day.

The suit is currently housed in the National Archives in College Park, Maryland, although the pink hat has disappeared before the rest of the outfit made its way to the Archives.

Another of her pillbox hats, however, is available for viewing in the National Archives online collection.

Examine more “signature styles” and history-making signatures in our current exhibition, “Making Their Mark: Stories Through Signatures,” in the Lawrence F. O’Brien Gallery at the National Archives Building in Washington, DC.

To further explore Jacqueline Kennedy’s signature style, check out the First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy Collection online at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library website.

President and Mrs. Kennedy Deplane from Air Force One at Love Field, Dallas, Texas, 11/1963. (National Archives Identifier 6816409)

President and Mrs. Kennedy Deplane from Air Force One at Love Field, Dallas, Texas, 11/1963. (National Archives Identifier 6816409)

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