Jacqueline Kennedy’s Smart Pink Suit, Preserved in Memory and Kept Out of View

This article brings up a host of issues surrounding the exhibition of fashion that supplement those treated by Valerie Steele in “Museum Quality: The Rise of the Fashion Exhibition,” Fashion Theory, Volume 12, Issue 1 (2008).

By  in The New York Times, November 14, 2013

On the plane back to Washington, in her pink Chanel suit, caked with her husband’s blood, Jackie Kennedy resisted all suggestions from aides that she clean herself up. Instead, she just said, “Let them see what they’ve done.”

But for the half century since John F. Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963, the most famous artifact from that day, one of the most recognizable articles of clothing ever worn, has been seen by almost no one. Now preserved by the National Archives in a climate-controlled vault outside of Washington, it is subject to Kennedy family restrictions that it not be seen for almost a century more.

If there is a single item that captures both the shame and the violence that erupted that day, and the glamour and artifice that preceded it, it is Jackie Kennedy’s bloodstained pink suit, a tantalizing window on fame and fashion, her allure and her steely resolve, the things we know about her and the things we never quite will.

That Mrs. Kennedy is so closely linked to an item of clothing is fitting. In nearly three years as first lady, she had gained universal celebrity for her youthful style. Politically, it meant huge crowds whenever she accompanied the president. But for Mrs. Kennedy, who felt vulnerable, fashion gave her a sense of separation from the public’s gaze. It was armor.

So even on that day, before the horror of what ensued, to look at Mrs. Kennedy was to be drawn inevitably to the pink suit, a line-for-line copy of a classic cardigan-style Chanel with navy lapels. The suit came from Chez Ninon, a Park Avenue salon that created many of her clothes, following her taste for simple lines. She wore it at least six other times, including on a 1962 visit to London and that same year to greet the prime minister of Algeria.

Fifty years ago, at noon in Dallas, Clint Hill, who was the Secret Service agent assigned to Mrs. Kennedy, thought the pink suit looked fluorescent against the dark blue of the car carrying the president and the first lady.

“She stood out so much in the car because of the color of that suit,” said Mr. Hill, who has released a new account of the killing, “Five Days in November,” in time for the anniversary. “It was like the sun just illuminated it.”

Now preserved in its vault, the pink suit and its accessories, still stained, the stockings blood-powdered and folded in a white towel, remain essentially unchanged from the day of the assassination. Only the outfit’s matching pillbox hat and white kid gloves are missing, lost in the chaos of that day.

Although the National Archives has kept the suit and accessories, including navy shoes, bag and navy blouse, since 1964, when they arrived in a dress box, the items legally belonged after her death to Caroline Kennedy as her mother’s surviving heir. So a deed of gift was made in 2003 with the provision that the suit would not be seen by the public until 2103. Through her office, Ms. Kennedy declined to comment.

Over the years, the Kennedy family has sought to avoid the sensational treatment of assassination artifacts, and that is the explicit intent of the 100-year restriction. Nonetheless, Martha Murphy, chief of special access at the archives, said Mrs. Kennedy’s clothes are the only items in the assassination collection with this specific restriction.

By comparison, scholars and researchers who meet special criteria of the archives may view President Kennedy’s clothing and the rifle used by Lee Harvey Oswald. To the best of anyone’s knowledge, access to Mrs. Kennedy’s suit for research purposes has never been granted.

After Mrs. Kennedy returned to the White House, early on Nov. 23, her clothing was put in a bag, presumably by her personal maid, Providencia Paredes, and soon after placed in a dress box. Records show that it arrived at the archives sometime before July 1964, accompanied by an unsigned note on the stationery of Mrs. Kennedy’s mother, Janet Auchincloss.

The note simply said: “Jackie’s suite and bag — worn November 22, 1963.” It is unknown whether Mrs. Auchincloss made the decision to send the clothes to the archives or, as many believe, was following her daughter’s wishes. Ms. Paredes, in an interview, said the suit was at first sent to Mrs. Auchincloss’s home in Georgetown, but she is confident Mrs. Kennedy would have made the decision on where to send it. “Nobody would have made that decision for her,” she said.

The Kennedy family never advised the archives about cleaning the suit, Ms. Murphy said, although leaving blood and other residue on garments is a standard conservation practice. “It’s part of the history of the object,” said Phyllis Magidson, curator of costume and textiles at the Museum of the City of New York. Ms. Murphy, who has seen the suit, said it essentially looks brand-new.

For all Mrs. Kennedy’s visibility, it seems fitting that her pink suit should be hidden from view.

“She certainly understood invisibility and disappearance very deeply, as well as staged appearance,” said the cultural critic Wayne Koestenbaum, author of “Jackie Under My Skin: Interpreting an Icon.” “So the unseen suit is a very poignant and accurate emblem of her contradiction.”

And noting that Mrs. Kennedy’s interest in historic preservation adds another facet to the suit’s status, Ms. Magidson said, “It has everything encapsulated within it.”

Curators cannot think of another historical garment imbued with more meaning, and also deemed too sensitive to be shown. Among items of apparel with similar resonance are garments worn in concentration camps and the tatters that remained after the atomic blasts in Japan. But these objects, while deeply affecting, are displayed in museums. Other examples mentioned by curators include Napoleon’s death coat, a shoe dropped by Marie Antoinette on the way to the guillotine and the suit and cloak Abraham Lincoln was wearing when he was assassinated. Mrs. Lincoln gave these items to a family friend. That man’s family kept them until the 1950s, when the American Trucking Association raised money to buy and donate them to the government. Since the ‘60s, they have been on display at Ford’s Theater, though the cloak was put away because of wear.

But when Lincoln was alive, relatively few Americans knew what he looked like. Besides, his image, even if it had been familiar, would hardly have compared to Mrs. Kennedy’s riveting beauty and pop culture celebrity. She was, as Norman Mailer said in a 1962 essay critical of her televised tour of the White House, “an institution being put together before our eyes.”

For that reason, combined with the fixation on President Kennedy’s assassination and a charged media culture, most experts believe that displaying her suit would be problematic. “It would produce hysteria if it were placed on view,” Ms. Magidson said.

Those who knew her say it is almost certain that Mrs. Kennedy played a role in nearly every step of the suit’s journey from Manhattan dress shop to Dallas, and eventually to the vault.

She was a woman of meticulous organizational skills, who dictated to her White House secretary, Mary Barelli Gallagher, from her bed, and who dogged people with her morning memos. (Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. once likened them to Churchill’s “Action This Day”memos during World War II.)

Ms. Gallagher’s 1969 memoir, “My Life with Jacqueline Kennedy” makes a good companion to “The Death of a President,” by William Manchester, the one book on the assassination commissioned by the Kennedys. Loaded with details about Mrs. Kennedy’s work and personal habits, Ms. Gallagher’s memoir is sort of a backstairs view of the noble purposes that Mr. Manchester ascribes to her.

For instance, he referred to Mrs. Kennedy as a “retiring” socialite who was transformed by loss, “a new Jackie.” But he did not consider that maybe the skills and determination that she used to hunt down clothes and furniture were the same qualities she magisterially deployed after the assassination.

And what about her stony refusal to change her clothes? Though describing White House duties, Ms. Gallagher offered many instances where Mrs. Kennedy had no compunction about saying no. She wrote, “If she didn’t want to participate in some activity, nothing could drive her to it.”

The Manchester book described President Kennedy taking an unusual interest in what his wife planned to wear on the Texas trip, something he had never done in their marriage. He said to her, Mr. Manchester reported, “Be simple — show these Texans what good taste really is.”

Ms. Paredes, though not disputing the account, gives less significance to it: “Maybe the president told her to wear the suit. I don’t think she gave it a thought. It was a practical suit to travel in.”

She added, “I did pack a lot of clothes for her, because you never know about the weather. The president called me on the phone. It was the last time I spoke to him. He said, ‘You know, it’s going to be hot in Texas.’ ”

Exhibition | Club to Catwalk: London Fashion in the 1980s

Fashion, Textile & Costume Librarians

Exhibition – Club to Catwalk: London Fashion in the 1980s

Place:  Victoria & Albert Museum, London

Dates:  10 July 2013 – 16 February 2014

Description:  “Discover the creative explosion of London fashion in the 1980s in a major exhibition at the V&A. Through more than 85 outfits, Club to Catwalk: London Fashion in the 1980s showcases the bold and exciting new looks by the most experimental young designers of the decade, including Betty Jackson, Katharine Hamnett, Wendy Dagworthy and John Galliano.”

View original post

Exhibition | ‘Hello, My Name Is Paul Smith’

Fashion, Textile & Costume Librarians

Exhibition:  ‘Hello, My Name Is Paul Smith’        PaulSmith

Location:  The Design Museum, London

Dates:  15 November 2013 – 09 March 2014

Description:  “The Design Museum takes you into the world of fashion designer Paul Smith, a world of creation, inspiration, collaboration, wit and beauty.  Celebrating his career to date and exploring future developments, the exhibition references Paul Smith’s influences and fashion designs, charting the rise of this quintessentially British label which has become one of the leading fashion brands in the world.”


View original post

Exhibition | Isabella Blow: Fashion Galore!

Fashion, Textile & Costume Librarians

Exhibition – Isabella Blow:  Fashion Galore!    

Place:  Somerset House, London    IsabellaBlow1

Dates:  20 November 2013 – 2 March 2014

Description:  “This autumn, Somerset House, in partnership with the Isabella Blow Foundation and Central Saint Martins, is proud to present Isabella Blow: Fashion Galore!, a major fashion exhibition celebrating the extraordinary life and wardrobe of the late British patron of fashion and art.”

View original post

Jean Paul Gaultier, ‘From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk ’

Linda Rosier for The New York Times

Jean Paul Gaultier — well, a mannequin with a projection of his face — greets visitors at the exhibition of his work in Brooklyn.

Published: November 7, 2013 http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/08/arts/design/jean-paul-gaultier-from-the-sidewalk-to-the-catwalk.html

Jean Paul Gaultier ’s contribution to late-20th-century fashion might be summed up in two garments: the corset and the men’s skirt. Stepping back a bit, however, Mr. Gaultier accomplished much more than that. He was one of the first openly gay designers, and in an era ruled by street fashion, he made being a high-fashion designer seem cool. The army of pop stars who followed in his wake, becoming designers themselves, is evidence of this, as well as the popularity of television shows like “Project Runway” and the smaller contingent of artists who have used fashion collections and runway shows as models for performance-based art works. (Just this week, Rainer Ganahl’s “Comme des Marxists,” an obvious play on Comme des Garçons, appeared at White Columns as part of Performa 13 .)

But first, the corset and the skirt. Quoted in the colossus of a catalog accompanying the exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum , the fashion historian Valerie Steele, who has written a book on the history of the corset, says that it was traditionally viewed as “an instrument of female oppression and a cause of ill health, even death,” but that Mr. Gaultier transformed it into an emblem of women’s “liberation” and “sexual power.” Although, as Ms. Steele points out, one particular woman helped Mr. Gaultier achieve this feat: Madonna.

Mr. Gaultier began working with the Material Girl in the 1980s and has designed costumes for several of her tours — pieces of which are on view here — including as recently as 2011. But the ones he created for her “Blond Ambition” tour in 1990 became a cultural milestone.

Gaultier’s corset was created during the AIDS crisis, the culture wars and the heyday of postfeminist theory, with Judith Butler describing “Gender Trouble” in her book of that name in 1990 and Donna Haraway’s writing “A Cyborg Manifesto” (1991) about hybrid, posthuman bodies. Madonna’s male dancers wearing Gaultier bras with large, conical breasts onstage were a radical pop illustration. (Lady Gaga as heir to both Madonna and Gaultier is mentioned frequently throughout the catalog.)

Regarding the male skirt, which he introduced in 1983, Mr. Gaultier has argued that they have been worn by men throughout history: think Scottish kilts, or the skirts worn by Japanese samurai, or the Parisian bistro waiter’s long aprons. A mannequin at the current show, with Mr. Gaultier’s face projected onto it like a Tony Oursler artwork and offering a somewhat unsettling soundtrack greeting, is clad in a long skirt, suggesting that this is Mr. Gaultier’s most personal and signature contribution.

The exhibition is divided primarily by collection and period, but sometimes these are mixed up. There are collections influenced by art, like “Dada” (1983), “The Surrealists” (2006-07), “Constructivist (Russian)” (1986-87) and “Tribute to Frida Kahlo” (1998); and more tongue-in-check art-themed ones like “Japanese Tourists at the Louvre” (1999) and “Good-Time Gauguin” (2000).

What is emphasized early in the show, organized by the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and Jean Paul Gaultier (with the Brooklyn edition organized by Lisa Small, a curator at that museum), is that Mr. Gaultier came of age witnessing the rise of punk, New Wave and cultural and identity politics, and watching television. (“TV was my Bible,” he says in the catalog.) Pieces from his first collection, “Punks” (1977), combine bustier tops with biker-style jackets. For decades Mr. Gaultier sported a spiky dyed-blond hairstyle that made him look like a member of an ’80s New Wave band. And following in the repurposing nature of street-punk fashion, many garments here are made from nonfashion materials: garbage bags, neoprene used for wetsuits, distressed denim or humble wool knits.

In terms of “alternative” identities (that is, alternative to the fashion world), Mr. Gaultier has made clothing for women in sizes that deviate from the matchstick-thin supermodel. He has also held unusual posts — he worked for Pierre Cardin in the Philippines, where he dressed Imelda Marcos, whom he calls a “horror” — and created collections inspired by Africa, India and the Black Power movement (with varying degrees of success).

“Chic Rabbis” (1993-94) was inspired by Mr. Gaultier seeing a bunch of dapper clerics leaving the New York Public Library on 42nd Street. Kurt Cobain even wore one of these garments in a music video, and seeing photographs of him in Gaultier garb is both kind of sweet and sad. (Cobain, who was punk in the original sense — that is, resistant to mass culture and commercialization — committed suicide not long after.)

What becomes clear throughout this show, however, is that Mr. Gaultier is very, very French. Lurking behind every garment is the rigorous history of French couture — in addition to working for Mr. Cardin, Mr. Gaultier cites Yves Saint Laurent and Courrèges as major influences — but also French clichés, like his numerous plays on the striped French sailors’ sweater that his mother dressed him in as a boy, or the Folies-Bergère, another early inspiration. There are even nods to French philosophy in collections like “The Existentialists” and a sound recording accompanying a mannequin in a camouflage-effect ruffled tulle gown (worn by Sarah Jessica Parker at the MTV Video Music Awards in 2000) that quotes Roland Barthes’s structuralist text “The Fashion System” (1967).

Perhaps this is why Mr. Gaultier’s description of Madonna in a wall text is so interesting: “Madonna represents the essence of the American dream, American professionalism, American perfection, American obsession, and American business ambition. But she’s open to the whole world.”

Mr. Gaultier is the consummate Frenchman — what could be more Gallic than a fashion designer? But he too is open to the whole world, even if, like Madonna, Mr. Gaultier’s relevance has waned since the 1990s.

This exhibition follows the blockbuster Alexander McQueen show at the Metropolitan Museum and seems designed to accommodate the same volume of crowds, although it is not as mesmerizing as the McQueen exhibition; not as persuasive in illustrating how everything from accessories to runway shows can be turned into art. Nonetheless, Mr. Gaultier has contributed a great deal not only to democratizing fashion but to promoting ideas of beauty, gender, race and class that challenged mainstream mores. For this reason, it is particularly nice to encounter his subversively but exquisitely crafted objects in an art museum.

“The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk” runs through Feb. 23 at the Brooklyn Museum, 200 Eastern Parkway, at Prospect Park; 718-638-5000, brooklynmuseum.org.

Anatomy of a restaurateur: Romany Marie

This post, courtesy of Karli Wurzelbacher, provides some background on Romany Marie in Greenwich Village, touching on her clothing, cooking, and interiors.

Restaurant-ing through history

Marie Marchand, whose business name was Romany Marie, was taken aback in the 1950s when a Greenwich Village restaurateur declined to host a dinner for Marie’s artist friends on the grounds they would occupy the tables too long. In a 1960 interview recorded in Romany Marie, Queen of Greenwich Village by Robert Schulman, Marie reflected, “It was a little shock to me. Poor dear, she felt she had to have turnover, she was in the restaurant business, not in the venture of maintaining a center for lingering tempo.”

For someone such as Marie who had herself been in the restaurant business for over 30 years, this would seem to be an odd reaction. But hers were odd restaurants – she preferred to call them centers – where patrons were encouraged to linger. If they lacked money for a meal, and they fit her criteria as creative spirits, she let them…

View original post 532 more words

Exhibition | “All Dressed Up: Fashions for Children & Their Families

Fashion, Textile & Costume Librarians

Exhibition:  “All Dressed Up:  Fashions for Children & Their Families

Where:  Philadelphia Museum of Art, Pennsylvania

When:  Through December 1, 2013

All Dressed Up: Fashions for Children and Their Families focuses on clothing from the late  eighteenth through mid-twentieth centuries, comparing and contrasting adults’ apparel with  children’s smaller styles. Garments and accessories from the Museum’s collection explore how  evolving concepts of childhood have shaped what was considered appropriate in the past, and  the relationship of young styles to those of adults; why girls and small boys both wore skirts;  the reason for extreme fashions like hoopskirts; who wore fancy clothes; and how children were  expected to behave where these clothes.”


View original post

Exhibition | Dior, Balmain, Saint Laurent: Elegance & Ease”

Fashion, Textile & Costume Librarians

Exhibition:  Dior, Balmain, Saint Laurent:  Elegance & Ease

Cocktail Dress:  Christian Dior, 1948. Gift of the Mint Museum Auxiliary, donated by Mrs. Celia May Brumm. 1987.22.9A-C. The Mint Museum

Where:  The Mint Museum, Charlotte, N. Carolina

When:  Through Jan. 12, 2014

“This special exhibition, drawn entirely from the Mint’s Fashion Collection, features thirty exquisite designs by these three French Masters and the unique approach each brought to the fashion world. Curator tours will be presented throughout the run of the exhibition. Organized by The Mint Museum.”

View original post


CONFERENCE: Fashioning Identities: Types, Customs, and Dress in a Global Context, CUNY Hunter College, October 17 – 19th, 2013


Clothes Tell Stories

Clothes Tell Stories

This website is a bit outside of the scope of the course, since it deals with the materiality and display of clothes as objects, but it is a valuable resource for understanding and identifying the constituent parts of dress.