June 13, 2012

{What Does a Fashion Icon Wear to Her Own Wedding/s?}

[This is a reprint of my article from the Summer 2012 issue of SEASON MAGAZINE about the weddings of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. There are a few "Jackie stories" in my upcoming book, The End of the Fairy-Tale Bride....]

During the presidential state visit to France in the spring of 1961, “more than a million Parisians lined the parade route, chanting ‘Jacqui! Jacqui!’ as the Kennedys entered Paris,” Kathleen Craughwell-Varda recalled in Looking for Jackie: American Fashion Icons. As the charismatic wife of the U.S. president, Jackie Kennedy’s chic, elegant style—copied by women around the world—even won over the toughest fashion critics, the French!

However, the woman who revolutionized a stodgy fashion industry and headlined the best-dressed list for years had not worn the wedding gown of her choice. Jacqueline (Jock-leen) Bouvier was a young bride in 1953 when it was typical for the bride’s mother to plan the wedding, dictate or greatly influence what her daughter would wear (as well as whom she would marry), and basically run the show.

Of course the headstrong Jackie was not just any bride of the fifties. She was the future wife of one of the wealthiest men in the country and one whose father had great political plans for his oldest son’s future. So not only did the Newport wedding become a huge Kennedy-orchestrated, high society spectacle (instead of the small affair the bride and her family wanted), but the bride’s gown reflected what the groom requested. “Jackie wanted to wear a sleek, modern gown, in keeping with the pared-down style she preferred,” Craughwell-Varda explained, “but Jack persuaded her to select something more traditional and old-fashioned.”

The bride’s mother chose Ann Lowe, an African-American designer in New York City “who catered to society women.” From her workshop on Lexington Avenue, the designer created an elaborate gown of ivory silk taffeta with a portrait neckline, off-the-shoulder cap sleeves and big ruffled swirls on the full skirt. Jackie also wore the long rosepoint lace veil worn by her mother and grandmother attached to their wax orange blossom wreath. Perhaps the only time the glamorous Jackie looked “traditional.” (If Jackie had gotten to choose, don’t you think her gown would have been very Givenchy-ish? And with all that Kennedy money at her young fingertips, perhaps she would have gone directly to the master French couturier himself!)

Her second wedding dress was indeed her own choice. Hoping to have “‘freedom from the oppressive obsession the world has with me,’” Jackie married Greek shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis in 1968. The shocked public still couldn’t get enough. In a short Valentino beige lace and chiffon two-piece dress, images of Jackie leaving the Skorpios chapel with Onassis were broadcast around the world. Valentino sold 150 copies of Jackie’s wedding dress within two months, becoming his most successful couture piece ever.

Model wearing Valentino dress like
Jackie Onassis wore in 1968.

At the time of her only daughter’s wedding in 1986, Jackie encouraged Caroline to take the lead in the discussions with designer Carolina Herrera. Jackie didn’t want her daughter to go through what she had endured. Nevertheless, the public seldom allowed their favorite fashion, taste and style icon to stay in the background for long. ~

[This is a reprint of my article from the Summer 2012 issue of SEASON MAGAZINE about the weddings of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. There are some "Jackie stories" in my upcoming book, The End of the Fairy-Tale Bride....]

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