The “Jackie Look”: Fashioning the First Lady’s Image

    The “Jackie Look”: Fashioning the First Lady’s Image

    10 lots in our June 10th Kennedy sale illustrate the special relationship between First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy (1929-1994) and Oleg Cassini (1913-2006), her official fashion designer. Cassini was anointed Jackie’s "Secretary of Style" not only because he had a concrete vision, but also because he knew the importance of what Jackie’s clothing would represent. Her evening gowns, day wear, suits, coats, hats, and accessories would create a distinctive "Jackie look" that would mark the reign of the new "American Queen."

    The extent to which Jackie contributed to the success of her husband’s presidency should never be underestimated. That is because Jackie, as much as Jack or their two young children, cultivated and disseminated the Camelot myth. Just 31 years old when she arrived at the White House, Jackie realized that her youth, beauty, and poise would popularize her husband’s presidency. Well-educated, well-spoken, and conversant in four languages, Jackie was perfectly suited for public office. Her graceful personal carriage, striking looks, and fashionable clothing set her apart from the dowdy spouses of other world leaders.

    Cassini concurred. In A Thousand Days of Magic: Dressing Jacqueline Kennedy for the White House (New York: Rizzoli International Publications, 1995), Cassini recollected, " I was proposing a new look, a new concept, my interpretation of how Jaqueline Bouvier Kennedy should appear in her role as First Lady…[I] told her that she needed a story, a scenario as First Lady." (p. 15-18)

    The collaboration between Jackie and Oleg can be seen in the letters, sketches, fabric flow charts, newspaper clippings, and garments in our June 10th Kennedy auction. Jackie was much more than a mannequin: she was an extremely active participant in the creation of her clothing. She pored over French and American fashion magazines, scouring the pages for design ideas and noting her preferences in the margins. She herself proposed different fabrics, colors, and tailoring for her outfits. In one such letter to Kay McGowan, Oleg Cassini’s secretary, Jackie wrote: "Enclosed is a white suit Oleg said he could do…in the same material as my yellow one last Spring…Important is the very tight set-in sleeve. A black jet sleeveless blouse might be pretty with it…"

    The results of Jackie and Oleg’s partnership were often spectacular. Take for instance the Cassini designed floor-length gold and black evening dress which Jackie Kennedy wore at the September 19, 1961 White House dinner in honor of President Dr. Manuel Prado Ugarteche and First Lady Clorinda Málaga de Prado of Peru. Two of the lots in our Kennedy sale feature "Black Tie Oleg Cassini" label replica gowns of Jackie’s original creation, one in Cassini’s “vivid Tintoretto mustard-gold”, the other in white.

    Cassini designed 300 outfits for Jackie during the Thousand Days between 1961-1963, many the result of give-and-take collaboration between the designer and the dressed. The pair set major worldwide fashion trends. In Jackie's wardrobe, you could find all the classic elements of 60s mod--A-line dresses in bright colors and bold patterns, strapless gowns with elbow-length gloves, tailored suits, fur-trimmed coats with oversized collars, buttons, and pockets, and of course, pillbox hats. These auction lots show how Jackie, working closely with Oleg Cassini, fashioned her image as a First Lady fashion icon.