Last month, a series of conversations recorded in 1964 between Jacqueline Kennedy and Arthur Schlesinger Jr., a former Kennedy aide, was published into the latest book on the legendary first lady – and one of my favourite 20th-century style icons – titled Jacqueline Kennedy: Historic Conversations on Life with John F. Kennedy. During these conversations, Jackie speaks her mind – sometimes controversially so – sharing her opinions on political figures, musing on life in the spotlight, reminiscing on past times with JFK. Though her words in these conversations can be raw, from them emerges a new perspective on Jackie’s life from the woman herself – and it serves to remind me what a strong and unforgettable woman she was.
Elegant and poised even in moments of extreme crisis: Jackie Kennedy acted as a role model for women of her time and continues to remain so today. What are the elements that composed such an iconic public figure and, of course, such a revered celebrity in the fashion world as well? Though her wardrobe revealed her impeccable taste, it was not simply her outfits that made her so celebrated as a paragon of style. It was also how she presented herself: her graceful mannerisms and speech, the way she wore her clothes. She used all the components of self-presentation to her advantage.
How can we take after Jackie to look our best in front of others? First of all, Jackie was a woman who knew how to carry herself. She had superb posture – most likely a result of years of horseback riding as a girl. Good posture can make you instantly appear confident – not to mention taller and thinner. Slouching, however, can make you look disinterested or sloppy, and can even give you back or jaw pain. So keep your shoulders straight and your head held high: you will seem and feel more alert.
Jackie also knew what types of clothes fit her best. For formal affairs, she often chose empire-waisted gowns (a high-waisted dress that gathers just below the bust and has a long, flowing skirt) in order to lengthen her legs. She also wore boat-neck shirts in order to accentuate her collarbone, one of her most striking features. By knowing her body type and understanding what looked best on her figure, she was able to take fine clothes and make them look extraordinary.
And, naturally, there was her wonderful sense of style. Jackie had a penchant for French fashion; her year studying at the Sorbonne at age 20 perhaps sparked this lifelong passion. She also had a remarkably colourful wardrobe – sometimes daringly so – that is largely imperceptible in the black and white photographs that documented much of her time as First Lady. Her taste and choices of clothing have been imitated since she entered the public sphere, not only by millions of women around the world, but also by established designers such as Givenchy and Tom Ford.
To me, Jackie Kennedy is a timeless figure of grace, strength, and style. Following her example, women everywhere can adopt her elegance as a model for when we need to look our best in the public eye – whether we are giving an important presentation, making a speech in front of an audience, or even simply sharing our thoughts at a minor meeting. No matter the size of the crowd, Jackie carried herself admirably and let her strength shine through.