Photo courtesy of the Kennedy Library
As the Inaugural Ball fervor continues, and our collective imaginations run wild with fanciful ball gowns and inspired haute couture bespoke for Mrs. O, we thought we'd dust off the history books and review the Inaugural costumes of First Ladies past. And what better way to begin than with the greatest style icon of all: Jackie Kennedy.
It was January 20, 1961. As President and Mrs. Kennedy arrived at the National Guard Armory in Washington, Stanley Woodward, chairman of the Inaugural Balls, recalled that Mrs. Kennedy "stopped everybody dead in their tracks."
She wore a white silk peau d'ange cape with soft lines, an elegant drape and twin embroidered buttons at the neck. It felt both regal and romantic in the same breath. Precise arm slits allowed 20-button white kid gloves to peek through, as Mrs. Kennedy held a matching silk peau d'ange clutch.
And as the official press release described, the dress underneath was "a full-length sheath of white silk peau d'ange veiled with white silk chiffon ... the hip-length bodice richly embroidered in silver and brilliants, and covered by a transparent overblouse of white silk chiffon."
The designer of this stunning ensemble? Jackie Kennedy - although she did turn to Diana Vreeland, then editor of Harper's Bazaar, and Ethel Franau, the esteemed former fashion director of Bergdorf Goodman, for expert help.
Jacqueline Kennedy: The White House Years includes an undated letter from Mrs. Kennedy to Vreeland, in which Jackie relays her design vision: "Here is the picture [of a dress by Victor Stiebel] I tore out of some English magazine of what I think I would like the Inaugural Ball dress to be ... I imagine it is silver and white with a faille skirt. I also imagine the lines are the same as the enclosed Dior picture with the dark beaded top. I would like to modify the long bodice - so it doesn't look like a Dior of this season - something more timeless."
The book also notes that the undefined-waist silhouette created by the chiffon overblouse was inspired by Marc Bohan's debut collection for Dior. Though as the note above indicates, Mrs. Kennedy was conscious not to reference Dior with too heavy a hand. The cape, notably absent in her directive, was said to be Jackie's very own late-in-the-day addition.
As much inspiration in fashion comes from looking back, we thought it might be worthwhile to consider a few Jackie Kennedy style notes for Mrs. O and her Inaugural Ball selection.
As a woman interested in clothes, who has a distinct point of view that manifests in most everything she wears, how perfect it would be for Mrs. O to collaborate with one her favorite designers. Maria Pinto, also a personal friend, would make an ideal candidate. A personal style statement in the greatest sense, a co-creation would truly set the tone for Mrs. O's White House wardrobe.
And though many expect Mrs. O to wear one of the rich jewel tones she's known to favor, perhaps a pure winter white would have the greatest impact. After all, Jackie was a fan of bold hues herself, but dazzled in white for the Inaugural Ball.
Finally, while all eyes seem to focus on the gown, attention must be paid to every layer. As we saw with Jackie, the impact of an overcoat may be just as great as the dress underneath. The grand entrance brings the peak of suspense and drama and the world will be watching (certainly, we will be).
Check out the newly opened LIFE Magazine photo archive at Google for wonderful historical photos, including this, this and this of Mrs. Kennedy from the 1961 Inaugural Ball. And finally, we should note that much of the research for this post was done with the help of the truly lovely book Jacqueline Kennedy: The White House Years.