She made it look deceptively easy. The collarless sheaths, the unadorned A-line dresses, a strand or two of pearls. Understated? Certainly. Imitable? Never. Jackie’s style was the stunning sum of parts that in theory shouldn’t have added up. She had a fine-honed delicacy, despite her size-10 feet, and a regal bearing, although her legs were so bowed she had earned the nickname Banjo Legs in her 20s. “She was not a classic beauty,” says Valentino, one of her favorite designers, “but she was extremely striking.”
Her glamor was extolled even in her pre-White House days. “She has the look of a beautiful lion.” wrote a columnist in July 1960. But it was her appearance at her husband’s Inauguration—outfitted in Oleg Cassini’s sable-trimmed beige wool coat and pillbox hat—that launched the Jackie look. The other women in attendance, recalls Cassini, “all had big fur coats and looked like bears roaming around. Jackie looked so neat and pretty and young. She became a bombshell right away.”
So what if her style was expensive? According to Cassini, it was Joe Kennedy who footed the bills. Besides, says Letitia Baldrige, the former White House social secretary, “her public wanted her to dress well. If she had suddenly gone out and shopped at Sears, they would have hated it.”
Over the years she would help set countless trends: one-shouldered gowns in the ’60s, sari-style dresses in the ’70s, classically tailored pantsuits in the ’80s. But her own fashion sense was timeless. “Jackie’s style stayed mostly the same,” says designer Carolina Herrera, whose clothes Jackie often wore in recent years, “but she was always modern, so she looked as good in the ’90s as she had in the ’60s.” Valentino says that meeting Jackie “was like touching the sky with your finger.” Emulating her style, the rest of us might not have reached that high. But we were happier for the trying.