Whole books have been written about Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis' style, and although it's sort of redundant to post a column about her unique aesthetic, today is her birthday...so we figured, why not give her one more small shout-out?
Like anyone who lived a long, full life, Jackie went through many phases and many different "style decades." Style-wise, she's usually remembered as a fashion symbol — Chanel suits, pillbox hats, and pearls will always be associated with her years as First Lady. Yet she also had a strong sense of herself as a preservationist, and her efforts to restore and conserve the White House have been well documented.
Her background prepared her to be a smart and savvy aesthete. Born into the wealthy Bouvier family, she spent much of her childhood in an East Hampton mansion known as Lasata. As a girl, she rode horses on the grounds. She attended private schools in Maryland and Connecticut, and — after a stint at the Sorbonne — graduated from George Washington University with a degree in French literature. Out of college, her eye grew sharper working as the “Inquiring Camera Girl” for the Washington Times Herald.
In 1953, she married Massachusetts Senator John F. Kennedy. In 1960, JFK defeated Richard Nixon in a heated race and, in January of 1961, the new First Couple moved in to the White House. Just one month after moving in, Jackie announced the formation of a Fine Arts Committee that would focus on restoring the home. The next month, the committee appointed Lorraine Pearce the first White House curator.
"It would be sacrilege to merely redecorate it—a word I hate," Jackie said in an interview with LIFE Magazine. "It must be restored, and that has nothing to do with decoration. That is a question of scholarship." She helped to found the White House Historical Association in 1961 and oversaw the publication of the first guide to the building, which remains in print today. She also appeared in a televised tour of the restored White House, for which she received an Emmy.
The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum has many beautiful photos in the public domain from the Kennedys' White House years, and we pulled the slideshow above largely from those. That's why you see so much of "Camelot" with a huge — and noticeable — absence of photos from Jackie's other eras. After JFK's assassination in November of 1963, Jackie guarded her family's privacy closely, and there are fewer public photos available from the post-Camelot years.
When she remarried to Aristotle Onassis in 1968, Jackie released a statement to the press explaining her wish for a private wedding: "We know you understand that even though people may be well known they still hold in their hearts the emotions of a simple person for the moments that are the most important of those we know on earth — birth, marriage, death."
Although she could sometimes appear stiff and aloof, the constant tension between her private life and public persona makes her feel more human. It's visible in the photographs from the White House years, with snapshots ranging from a coiffed Jackie posed in the stately blue and red rooms, to Hyannisport photos that show a mother in a shift dress with a child on her hip, leaning against the porch rail.
In her later years, Jackie retained her commitment to preservation (working for the conservation of Lafayette Square in Washington DC and Grand Central Terminal in New York), and she kept her status as a cultural symbol. She's inspired fine artists like Andy Warhol and Gerhard Richter, and she's a continual subject of biographies and documentaries.
At the White House, her influence is, of course, still felt. Her efforts contributed to the designation of the home as a national monument, the establishment of the White House Historical Association, and the continuation of the curatorial post. In the words of Letitia Baldrige, Jackie's Social Secretary during her time as First Lady, "She changed the White House from a plastic to a crystal bowl."
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Photos: Mrs. Kennedy's visit to India, 1962, Photograph by Cecil Stoughton, White House, in the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston, Public Domain (1), Lasata, the girlhood home of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis in East Hampton (village), New York, photo by Americasroof, used under Creative Commons license 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons (2), Jacqueline Kennedy throwing the bouquet at her first wedding, September 12, 1953, photo by Toni Frissell, Library of Congress, Public domain by donation of the photographer via Wikimedia Commons (3), President Kennedy and family, August 4,1962, Photograph by Cecil Stoughton, White House, in the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston, Public Domain (4), Refurbished White House Red Room, May 8, 1962, Photograph by Robert Knudsen, White House, in the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston, Public Domain (5), White House Blue Room during the Kennedy Administration, 1963, U.S. Federal Government Work in the Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons (6), White House, First Lady's Bedroom, May 9, 1962, Photograph by Robert Knudsen, White House, in the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston, Public Domain (7), First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy and her children riding, 19 November 1962, Photograph in the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston, Public Domain (8), President and Mrs. Kennedy view America's Cup race, September 15, 1962, Photograph by Robert Knudsen, White House, in the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston, Public Domain (9), The Kennedy Family and Family Dogs, August 14, 1963, Photograph by Cecil Stoughton, White House, in the John Fitzgerald Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston, Public Domain (10)