Much attention has been paid throughout modern history as to the dress sense of women in the political arena. This applies both to female politicians, but also to the wives and partners of male politicians both in the UK and across the water in the US. Nell Darby takes a look at the First Wive style of the inimitable Jackie O.

Many column inches have been spent by the international press discussing the clothes of Michelle Obama, who has given US politics a bit of fashion respectability after the quiet costumes of previous First Lady Laura Bush. Whilst this may be unfair – why should those women not directly involved in politics have so many people tutting at their clothes? – it is nothing new. The most written-about, talked-about  First Lady was undoubtedly Jackie Kennedy in the first half of the Sixties.

So famous did she become for her wardrobe, that the attention didn’t stop after her husband John F Kennedy was assassinated in 1963. After her remarriage to Aristotle Onassis she became even more of a style icon, now known as Jackie O.

jACKIE O WEDDINGJacqueline Lee Bouvier (1929-1994) was born into a wealthy East Coast family and married Senator John Fitzgerald Kennedy in 1953.  When her husband became President in 1960, Jackie was put under the media spotlight. She was younger than her predecessors and was seen as both glamorous and exotic by the American media and public.

Jackie’s style can be divided into two eras – that of Jackie Kennedy, and that of Jackie Onassis. During her days as America’s First Lady, she was famous for her modest, elegant look. She was a Francophile, and used a lot of French designers.

French-born Oleg Cassini designed her Inauguration Day fawn-coloured coat, but Jackie also wore outfits by Chanel, Dior and Givenchy. Her most famous look was the pink sleeveless a-line dress, tailored jacket and pillbox hat, which she was also wearing on the day that JFK was assassinated in 1963.

She was fond of the simple shift dress, owning ones in plain colours as well as more striking check-patterned ones. On formal occasions, she would team the sleeveless dress with elbow length white gloves and a string of pearls.

Yet Jackie could dress for relaxation as well. When her daughter Caroline was little, she and JFK were pictured walking along a beach, JFK still formal in jacket, shirt and trousers, but Jackie in a long line jumper with pockets and casual pale coloured trousers. On another occasion, again on a beach, she attempted to guard herself against a strong breeze in a ribbed black polo-neck jumper, a more beatnik look that suited her.

After she was widowed and left the White House, Jackie was able to experiment more with her clothes; as wife of the President, she had had to pick modest looks that would not attract controversy. Now, married to Greek billionair and shipping magnet Onassis, she became famous for her large, square Nina Ricci sunglasses that almost hid her face, Hermes head scarves and wide-legged trousers.

She also tried out a more hippy look, wearing hoop earrings and gypsy skirts as well as Pucci-style prints, mini-dresses and long necklaces. Her attempts at keeping up with fashion didn’t always work, the Pucci design being one example. The Jackie O style worked best when it was kept simple and timeless.


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