No outfit is more synonymous with former First Lady Jackie Kennedy than her pink suit. Worn by the fashion icon on the day of her husband’s tragic assassination on November 22, 1963 in Dallas, TX, Jackie kept the bloodied suit on for hours after President John F. Kennedy’s death, leaving its image in the collective American memory as a symbol of the First Lady’s grief and enduring emotional strength. On what would have been her 91st birthday, CR remembers the significance of Kennedy’s historic skirt suit.
The ensemble itself, a pink wool number, was a design from Coco Chanel’s Fall/Winter 1961 collection. At the time, this chic staple was emblematic of sophistication and the modern woman, and Kennedy had been photographed wearing the suit a few times prior to the Dallas rally. Made of a woven tweed fabric known as bouclé, the raspberry-pink ensemble featured a quilted navy collar, gold buttons, and four square pockets. Although the design was by Chanel, the piece itself was fitted and sewn for the First Lady in New York by high-end Manhattan boutique Chez Ninon, with fabrics, buttons, and trim directly sent from the Chanel atelier in Paris. This was due to Kennedy’s political position—at the time, it was only acceptable for First Ladies to be seen in American-made clothing.
Kennedy accessorized her suit with a matching pillbox hat and white gloves on that fateful day in Texas. The outfit was reportedly a favorite of the president himself, who had asked her to wear it on the day of the Dallas rally. Seated next to her husband in an open-top convertible, Kennedy was caught in the crossfires of the attack, and was the first to catch her husband’s body as the bullets hit.
After the shots were fired, blood from JFK’s wounds seeped into her tweed outfit. Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson and his wife Lady Bird were in a separate vehicle during the parade, and Lady Bird later reported how she “saw, in the president’s car, a bundle of pink, just like a drift of blossoms, lying on the back seat. I think it was Mrs. Kennedy, lying over the President’s body.”
Following the assassination, Kennedy refused to remove the blood-soaked suit upon arrival at the hospital. She continued to wear it on the Air Force One ride back to Washington, broadcasted on national television as Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson was sworn in as the 36th President of the United States. The suit stood as a public statement of grief, and she stated that she wanted JFK’s assassin to “see what they’ve done.” The First Lady expressed that her only regret was wiping her face clean of blood before going on camera. It wasn’t until the next morning that she finally removed the stained ensemble.
Today, the suit’s bright raspberry hue is synonymous with the assassination, but the color Kennedy wore that day was not known to the public until November 29th, 1963, when now-shuttered Life Magazine featured colorized photos for a memorial issue dedicated to JFK. Up until that day, only sepia-toned bloodstains were visible on Kennedy through the video footage of Lyndon B. Johnson’s makeshift inauguration.
The whereabouts of the pillbox hat and gloves are unknown to the public, but Kennedy’s suit remains preserved in the National Archives, along with the stockings, shoes, and handbag she wore that day. While other items from the assassination are on display at museums in the U.S., the suit and accompaniments are hidden from the public eye—and will remain that way for nearly a century.
Kennedy was careful to preserve the suit and it was subsequently sent to the National Archives in the 1960s, although the pieces technically belonged to the Kennedy family. In 2003, the First Lady’s daughter, Caroline Kennedy, officially donated the items to the Archives, but requested that her mother’s suit remain privately stored for 100 years. If the suit ever does become available for viewing, it won’t be until 2103. A provision in Caroline’s deed of gift stated that the suit stay out of the public eye for 100 years so as to avoid any “undignified or sensational use of the materials (such as public display) or any other use which would tend in any way to dishonor the memory of the late President or cause unnecessary grief or suffering to members of his family.” Until then, the suit and accompanying pieces remain within the Archives, in a secure, climate-controlled area.
The bouclé skirt suit has come to represent the essence of Kennedy herself—a sophisticated, fashionable, beloved First Lady, who stood strong amidst a public tragedy and refused to conceal her pain. The ensemble holds an extreme emotional significance, serving as an emblem not only of Kennedy’s grief, but of the powerful public statement that followed.END
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createdAt:Tue, 21 Jul 2020 15:04:31 +0000