Past Perfect: Jackie O.

Jackie O Collage
©artwork by Charles Bals / Another Slang


“I want to live my life not record it.”

In 1993 Jackie O. graced the cover of George Wayne’s R.O.M.E. magazine – a magazine that stood for exposé and was filled with stories surrounding elitist cultures of fashion and emerging celebrity.

Of course, Jackie O., who had just turned 63, was a part of that coterie. The feature on her, at this time in this magazine, underlined her ongoing importance in the world of fashion and culture. It also revealed just how bulletproof her composure over the last three decades had been. The magazine vaunted her with the words “Spying on Jackie ‘O.’” Regardless of the byline, no secrets were exposed. It was much more about revealing her style and smoking habits, which, for the Jackie known by 1970s America, were something of a sacrilege. Jackie, Jackie looked simply incredible in every picture.

There was Jackie Kennedy and then there was Jackie O. Same woman, two very different approaches to style – she is famed for both. As a Kennedy her éclat consisted of well-fitting classics assembled in perfect ensembles; items such as the A-line dress, the wool bouclé Chanel suit, the turtleneck sweater, the Gucci bag and the cashmere twinset, all were the best money could buy. This was the look of Jacqueline Kennedy, who preferred the decidedly French pronunciation of her name. Her style adapted to her life, but she always stayed true to her tasteful and somehow conservative look, always wearing it with grace and dignity. Jackie was educated (she spoke four languages and had a degree in French literature), refined and above all: She had an unerring sense of who she was and what she wanted.

John F. Kennedy’s comment on the media frenzy surrounding his wife is said to have been, “I am the man who accompanied Jacqueline Kennedy to Paris – and I have enjoyed it.”

Despite the great attraction she held for the media, she managed to keep her private life under wraps. She avoided the spotlight, but understood that it served its purpose, and was able to use her media presence to the benefit of her husband, John F. Kennedy, thus supporting her beloved America. And Jackie fulfilled her role with a pure, unadulterated elegance. This inexhaustible radiance was what made her famous. It remained the fundamental element of the whole range of her perfectly coordinated ensembles.

Jackie, it seems, lived in two very different worlds, her personal world and the one where she was, above all, the First Lady. The media served the latter world – good press was a driving force in her husband’s campaigns, but that was where the relationship ended. Meetings with the media had a clear goal and took place according to her terms, they were only able to see what Jackie allowed.

They never had access to her personal world – a world where Jackie already had many trials behind her and faced difficulties ahead as well: the loss of at least two infant children, her husband’s alleged affair with Marilyn Monroe, and, of course, his assassination in 1963 – as she sat beside him. After that day Jackie mourned the loss with the nation, then completely withdrew from public life. Outwardly, when the country needed her most, she was able to maintain her strong façade, a testament to strength; but internally Jackie was shattered.

It seems this phase, between Kennedy’s death and her marriage to the Greek ship owner Aristotle Onassis, was a time of recovery, before she moved back into the public eye ushering in a new phase of their lives. Gone were the suits from Chanel and the elbow length gloves. They were replaced by the famous beige trench coat, the silk scarves from Hermés and paired with the dark glasses that went on to become her trademark.

Jackie’s determination, her forbearance and grace were the outstanding characteristics throughout her transformations. Not her pillbox hats and over-sized glasses, they were just superficial details, good details no doubt – but her sense of style was derived from her sense of self and intrinsic to that self was sophistication and elegance.

Text: Morven Clements
Edit: Alicia Reuter