I turned five the year Jackie Kennedy became first lady. I don’t remember any of the particulars of the inauguration, I was far too young to care about politics, but I do remember being totally and completely mesmerized by the new president’s wife. She was beautiful and, even at an early age, I recognized that she exhibited an ageless sense of style and grace. Although Jackie favored French designers, she quickly realized that as First Lady of the United States she needed to wear clothes by American designers. Staying true to her love of all things French, she found the perfect French-born American designer, Oleg Cassini who had emigrated to the United States in 1936. Cassini both understood French design and technique and was a US citizen; no one could have fit her requirements better. In fact, he designed a wardrobe for her consisting of over 300 dresses that were heavily influenced by Givenchy and other French designers. Although they did not know it, they were creating the “Jackie look” that would become a classic. Interestingly, some of outfits that Jackie became famous for were actually designed so the clothes would be more photogenic. His use of coat pockets and large buttons for the camera spread throughout the fashion world. Although many of Cassini’s designs were simple A-line dresses that were sleeveless or had three-quarter length sleeves, it was his clean lines and his choice of luxurious fabrics that took Jackie’s own innate sense of classic style to a different level.
Jackie understood her imperfections (large hands and a square face) and knew how to play up her assets (wide-set eyes and a big smile). According to ”What Would Jackie Do?” (Shelly Branch and Sue Callaway, 2006) she favored: Chanel jackets, A-line skirts, brooches, double-faced cashmere and silk satin, single-color schemes, and the neutral hue, “greige”, a cross between gray and beige. She wore boat and V-necks, few furs, and would blend orange and pink!” Jewelry was never overdone — a watch, a pair of earrings, and perhaps a necklace. The advantage to not overdoing it was that each piece she wore looked special. Notice the pictures above, the necklace or the sunglasses or the earrings, they all stand out, but none of the pieces take away from Jackie. She wore her jewelry, it did not wear her.
Another interesting thing about Jackie was her thirst for knowledge. She enjoyed history, languages, literature and art. Her work on refurbishing the White House as well as her fight to save the Grand Central Terminal in NYC was born out of her love of history and her desire to leave something for future generations. Regarding Grand Central Station, Jackie once said, ““A big corporation shouldn’t be able to destroy a building that has meant so much to so many for so many generations. If Grand Central Station goes, all of the landmarks in this country will go as well. If that happens, we’ll live in a world of steel and glass. This is … an issue that represents all issues.” She knew the importance of future generations having a link to the past.
Finally, Jackie was above all a lady. She had impeccable manners; she knew when to speak and when to keep her opinions to herself. She learned early that if you speak less often and know of what you speak, people will listen to what you have to say. It seems to have worked, we’re still listening (and learning), Jackie.
The Classic Woman’s Lessons Learned from Jackie
- Wear the latest trends, but don’t let them overpower you.
- Accentuate your assets, downplay your imperfections.
- Buy quality clothing.
- Think minimalist when it comes to jewelry.
- Continue to learn.
- Think before you speak. It’s totally alright to speak your mind, just know when to do it.
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