It certainly isn’t just a dress. First of all, it was created by Coco Chanel for her 1961 autumn/winter collection. Secondly, it was worn by the former First Lady (1961-1963) of the US – Jacqueline Kennedy. And the saddest and most well-known fact: it is stained with the President’s blood from the day he was assassinated. The suit has never been cleaned and is kept out of public view in a temperature and humidity-controlled room.
The suit is made of wool bouclé, the double-breasted, strawberry pink and navy trim collared suit was accompanied by a trademark matching pink pillbox hat. After President Kennedy had been assassinated, Jackie Kennedy insisted on wearing the suit, stained with his blood, during the swearing-in of Lyndon B. Johnson and for the flight back to Washington, D.C. with the President’s body.
Jackie Kennedy was a fashion icon, and this outfit is arguably the most referenced and revisited of all of her items of clothing and her trademark.
There was long a question among fashion historians and experts whether the suit was a genuine Chanel or a quality copy purchased from New York’s semiannual Karl Lagerfeld or Chez Ninon collections.
As the art historian, David Lubin explains -in the late 1950s and early 1960s, the Chanel suit was one of the strongest symbols of bourgeois female chic that could be found anywhere in the Western world, evoking a powerful image of a sophisticated, intelligent, and independent modern woman. Although women wearing pink in the 21st century is common, pink was new to fashion in the 1950s and was a color loved and even popularized to an extent in American fashion by Mamie Eisenhower, who endorsed a color which, according to cultural historian Karal Ann Marling, was called “Mamie Pink.” Given that the Chanel suit was a strong statement of an independent woman, the color pink has an element of traditional femininity, perhaps evading the foreign and feminist attributes associated with the Chanel suit in a conservative American society.
Before John F. Kennedy departed for Dallas, he asked his wife what she planned to wear. In an interview with William Manchester after the event, Kennedy said that her husband had told her:
“There are going to be all these rich, Republican women at that lunch … wearing mink coats and diamond bracelets. And you’ve got to look as marvelous as any of them. Be simple – show these Texans what good taste really is.” So she tramped in and out of his room, holding dresses in front of her. The outfits finally chosen – weather permitting – were all veterans of her wardrobe: beige and white dresses, blue and yellow suits, and, for Dallas, a pink suit with a navy blue collar and a matching pink pillbox hat.
The pink suit, it was said, was one of her husband’s “particular favorites.” Jacqueline was seated in the back seat of the open-top presidential limousine to the left side of President John F. Kennedy as it traveled through Dallas. Immediately after he was shot in the head, the suit became spattered with his blood.
Despite the advice of John F. Kennedy’s physician, Admiral George Burkley, who “gently tried to persuade her to change out of her gore-soaked pink Chanel suit,” she wore the suit alongside Vice President Johnson as he was sworn in on Air Force One as the 36th President of the United States. Kennedy had no regrets about refusing to take the blood-stained suit off; her only regret was that she had washed the blood off her face before Johnson was sworn in.
Kennedy’s Chanel suit has been variously described as “a famous pink suit which will forever be embedded in America’s historical conscience”. The garment is now stored out of public view in the National Archives. It will not be seen by the public until at least 2103, according to a deed of Caroline Kennedy, Kennedy’s sole surviving heir. At that time, when the 100-year deed expires, the Kennedy family descendants will renegotiate the matter.