This is the week of what would have been Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis’ (1929-1994) eightieth birthday. Blogs, magazines, newspapers, and TV programs are celebrating her life and style – particulary her style. She was – and is – a fashion icon. Those of you in doubt of her lasting appeal need only to google the phrase, “the Jackie Kennedy Look,” and see how many sites are dedicated to this ideal.
What is her attraction? Exactly what is “the Jackie Kennedy Look”? Is it a hairstyle? It couldn’t be that; Jackie’s hairstyle over the years changed radically, going from a curly, soft, and cropped bob on her wedding day (shown below)
to a crisp bouffant at her husband John Kennedy‘s inauguration as the 35th President of the United States (below)
to a long, loose, and straight un-style when island-hopping with Greek shipping tycoon husband #2 Ari Onassis. (below).
Not that Jackie Kennedy’s hairstyles didn’t set fashion trends. Her 1961 inauguration hairdo, the bouffant, defined by the Oxford Dictionary, as [hair] “styled so as to stand out from the head in a rounded shape,” from the French word for ‘swelling,’ swept the nation in popularity. Her short, dark locks were teased, sprayed, and curled by her hairdresser, Mr. Kenneth of Lilly Dache, New York.
When Jackie Kennedy was First Lady (1961-1963), a rumor spread that she wore wigs from time to time, which Jackie’s spokespeople denied vehemently. Unfortunately, though, the rumor was proved true when sister-in-law Joan Kennedy blurted out in an interview:
“You know, Jackie talked me into wearing a wig. She has three of them, and she wears them a lot, especially for traveling. I tried one, but it just felt silly.”
Then, if it wasn’t her hair that defined the Jackie Kennedy look, perhaps it was her clothes. Consider her signature look…
formal, for day: the pillbox hat, pearls, the three-quarter length sleeves, the boxy Chanel suit jacket with A-line skirt
informal, for day: the sleeveless silk sheath accented by a single strand of pearls at the throat
informal, for night: a fabulous gown by designers such as Oleg Cassini completed by elbow-length white gloves and a clutch bag
But these were Jackie’s looks from the White House years, when she posed, posture perfect like a princess, beaming a happy smile. But then her husband was murdered and Camelot was no more. Her life changed and, with it, her wardrobe.
After she married Onassis, she became “Jackie O” and was photographed strolling the streets of Europe, slumming in casual attire -sexy capri pants with flat, strappy sandals. After Onassis’ death, she moved to New York to become a book editor for Doubleday. When she was seen on the streets, she kept her head down to avoid recognition, ducking the press, hiding behind those ubiquitous, bug-eyed, dark glasses and sometimes concealing her famous head under a scarf.
No, the Jackie Kennedy Look can’t be summed up by pointing to a hairstyle or style of dress – they were too variable. Granted, whether First Lady, international playgirl, New York socialite, or career publisher, Jackie Kennedy had style, to be sure, a strong fashion sense, showing up largely as a preference for clean, uncluttered lines and simplicity. But she had an indescribable personal quality, too, a je ne sais quoi, the French would say, a quality that transcended all the changes she made to her wardrobe and hair – the quintessential Jackie O – that keeps us fixated on her well into another century.
What was it that made Jackie such an icon that we still want to look at photos of her, though she has been gone so long?
One need only consult the TV comedy “Seinfeld” for the answer to this little conundrum. In the 87th episode known as “The Chaperone,” character Elaine Benes (played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus) seeks a job at Doubleday as a book editor, following in the steps of Jackie Kennedy Onassis.
Elaine does not get the job. Read the Seinfeld script below to find out why Elaine was rejected by Doubleday:
New scene – Elaine at her job interview at Doubleday with Mrs. Landis.
LANDIS: Of course, Jackie O. was a great lady. Those are going to be some tough shoes to fill. Everyone loved her. She had such…grace.
ELAINE (gushing): Yes! Grace!
LANDIS: Not many people have grace.
ELAINE: Well, you know, grace is a tough one. I like to think I have a little grace…not as much as Jackie –
LANDIS: You can’t have “a little grace.” You either have grace, or you…don’t.
ELAINE: O.K., fine, I have…no grace.
LANDIS: And you can’t acquire grace.
ELAINE: Well, I have no intention of “getting” grace.
LANDIS: Grace isn’t something you can pick up at the market.
ELAINE (fed up): All right, all right, look – I don’t have grace, I don’t want grace…I don’t even say grace, O.K.?
LANDIS: Thank you for coming in.
ELAINE: Yeah, yeah, right.
LANDIS: We’ll make our choice in a few days, and we’ll let you know.
ELAINE (stands up): I have no chance, do I?
LANDIS: No. <They shake hands.>