The Queen of America (at home)
She spent more than her President husband’s salary on clothes – and always looked a million dollars. Now, an enchanting new book reveals the REAL Jackie Kennedy…
The role of First Lady is a fascinating one. The American President’s closest companion, she is the doyenne of his domestic sphere, his sounding board for all matters personal and – quite often – a significant political aide.
Crucially, the wife also has the task of humanising her fierce, political-animal husband. During his presidential campaign, for example, Michelle Obama’s admission that her husband left his dirty socks lying around won as many column inches as his healthcare policies. And yet despite the nuances of the role, there is one overriding requisite: the wife is expected to look polished at all times. From the luminous Michelle Obama to Samantha Cameron, our own ever-elegant equivalent, there is something about a well-turned-out woman that inspires confidence. Feminists may turn in their graves at the thought, but somehow – still – it reflects well on her husband. If the top man’s wife looks unruffled… well, so should his people.
It could be argued that this preoccupation with political other halves began with Jackie Kennedy.
As a young and pretty woman when she joined her husband in the White House in 1961, she was the picture of a new and exciting age. Her predecessor, 65-year-old Mamie Eisenhower, had been a gregarious and stylish lady, but Jackie was in a class of her own. And how the media loved her. She was famously relaxed in the presence of the press, adroit at charming them without giving anything away. Of course, she was immaculately dressed at all times.
As well as sporting the latest designs from luxury fashion houses such as Givenchy, Dior and Chanel, she also employed designer Oleg Cassini to make her bespoke outfits for public occasions. Such was her passion for clothes, she is said to have spent almost $150,000 on her wardrobe during her first year in the White House – that was $50,000 more than her husband’s presidential salary.
The power of ‘The Jackie Look’ has stood the test of time; even today, her name conjures visions of oversized sunglasses, pillbox hats and pearls. Her bright pink Chanel suit, which she wore on the day of her husband’s assassination in Dallas, is one of the last century’s most iconic images.
But those who consider her a mere clothes horse are misinformed. Jackie was an educated and inquiring woman and yet her intellect was often overlooked in the face of her undeniable beauty.
Born Jacqueline Lee Bouvier, she grew up in New York and was educated at The George Washington University, during which she spent a year in France. Accompanying her husband on an official trip to Paris some years later, she beguiled the press with her ability to converse easily in French. Kennedy himself remarked: ‘I am the man who accompanied Jacqueline Kennedy to Paris – and I have enjoyed it!’
She was foremost, however, a wife and mother. As revealed by Mark Shaw’s captivating images, she glowed in the presence of her family. Ironically, she was at her most relaxed, and arguably her most beautiful, away from the keen eyes of the world.
British journalist Lady Jeanne Campbell once remarked that Jackie ‘has given the American people… one thing they have always lacked: Majesty’. Looking at these snapshots, it’s hard to disagree.
The Kennedys: Photographs by Mark Shaw, £45, is published by Reel Art Press: www.reelpress.com
PHOTOGRAPHS: © MARK SHAW 2012/MPTVIMAGES.COM
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