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Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Jackie Kennedy: Fashion, Flair and Hair

The assassination of President Kennedy, 50 years ago on November 22, was the end of America's cultural innocence to a great extent. The Kennedy Camelot years, 1960-1963, also oversaw an era of big hair and small skirts and a kind of glamour of its own that emerged from the popular culture.

First Lady Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy set the standard in haute couture. "Fashion, in the early 1960s [for many Americans], was seen as a preoccupation of the wealthy." Valerie Steele, director and chief curator of the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology explained. Pre-Jackie,"[m]ost Americans had a sort of knee-jerk reaction: fashion was elitist, decadent. What she did was give a totally positive spin to fashion."

After JFK's death, public interest remained very high regarding the fashionable ex-First Lady.  During her post-White House years, she helped to make big, round sunglasses chic. In July 2013, Brie Dyas in Huffington Post reported (during what would have been Jackie's 84th birthday), "her name became a code word for a complete lifestyle. Having great manners? Very Jackie Kennedy. Using candelabras at the dinner table? That's very Jackie Kennedy, too.... When Jackie became First Lady, the public became enthralled with her simple approach to clothing and beauty. She shepherded women out of the tight waists, crinolines and overly styled hairdos of the 1950s and into sleek shifts, pillbox hats and a more natural approach to makeup that played up the eyes.

"Today, any store that makes its fortune in simple dressing -- we're looking at you, J.Crew -- should salute her."

Jackie wore a "flip" hairdo. Good girls in the Sixties wore flips. Lesley Gore wore a flip. Mary Tyler Moore wore a flip. Bad girls wore beehives, like The Ronettes and The Shangri-Las.

Mrs Kennedy was certainly a refreshing departure from the dowdy Mamie Eisenhower, and she set a standard for glamour that was embraced by First Ladies Nancy Reagan and Michelle Obama. Of course, most iconic is Jacqueline Kennedy's pink suit with pillbox hat that she wore to Dallas in November 1963. After the assassination, according to William Manchester’s The Death of a President, she was asked to “clean up her appearance,” but refused.

"No," the First Lady said, "Let them see what they have done."

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