Remember when Jackie Kennedy attended her husband’s presidential inauguration with a perfect egg-shaped pillbox hat perched atop her head?
That’s because it was meant to be unmissable.
“Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country,” he implored a nation in need of reassurance and leadership at the height of the Cold War.
President Kennedy with First Lady Jackie at his inauguration. Credit: Leonard McCombe/The LIFE Picture Collection/The LIFE Picture Collection via
Not everything worked out as planned. Eight inches of snow fell on Washington overnight, winds lashed and, among all this, one accident would end up infiltrating American wardrobes.
Jackie’s orb-like hat had been made to match a coat and fawn dress already created for her by her personal courtier Oleg Cassini. But it was also designed to look different: A cloth pillbox was exactly what everyone else would not be wearing.
In the freezing cold, many of the women sported stolid mink caps — except Jackie, who stood out as the beacon of a new generation, characterized by clean lines and elegance. She appeared on the steps of the Capitol like “the gorgeous petal in a dowdy bouquet of fur,” according to Thurston Clarke, author of “Ask Not,” a book about the 1961 inauguration.
Jackie’s distinctive headpiece was designed by Halston (real name Roy Halston Frowick). Later known as the creator of the free-flowing, slinky fashion of the 1970s disco era, Halston was then an up-and-coming New York milliner. He apparently spent hours sandwiched between two mirrors, shaping Jackie’s hat into a perfect, simple dome.
Except, of course, it didn’t end up like that.
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That morning, as she reached up to clasp the hat in high winds, Kennedy accidentally gave it a dimple — a shallow indent, unnoticed but broadcast around the world. America swooned nonetheless. Kennedy’s deification as the ultimate first lady of fashion had begun with a misshapen hat, its influence stretching to imitators from high society to the rural Midwest. Halston later laughed that “everybody who copied it put a dent in it.”
Jackie’s ensemble that day — which she completed with a sable circlet and muff — has become one of the most celebrated of presidential inauguration looks. But there’s one thing we may have all been getting wrong: the color.
So when, in 2017, Melania Trump wore a powder blue Ralph Lauren inauguration suit likened to Kennedy’s, was it a tribute to an outfit that never existed?
was Melania Trump paying tribute to a dress that wasn’t really blue? Credit: Pool/Getty Images North America/Getty Images
But the eulogizing of the first lady’s “looks” risks relegating her to the role of a mere mannequin, when she in fact directed much of the new administration’s aesthetic — and not just when it came to fashion.
JFK’s inauguration marked the beginning of a new era of media-savvy presidents — and he had his wife to thank for much of it.