All-Time Great Fashion Icons: Jacqueline Kennedy & Diana, Princess of Wales
by David Wolfe
“Two of the 20th Century’s most important women were idolized and imitated by millions of women everywhere. An American First Lady and a Royal Princess of Wales were the most famous celebrities of their time. Though decades apart, their lives were oddly parallel, both born into privilege and yet they were driven. Even though they were initially shy, each created a powerful self-image that generated not only admiration but also intrusive, insatiable curiosity. They both set out with romantic dreams and each found her Prince Charming (one was really Royal), only to have harsh reality shatter the dream. Both women understood that fashion was not only a feminine passion, but also a tool to be used to glorify, to turn a mortal woman into a media goddess whose every moment was lived, spotlighted, in the public arena, even in the midst of tragedy. Coincidentally, during the peak of their fame and glory, decades apart, they shared the same sort of style. Simple and stunning.
Jackie, an intellectual, was born with an appreciation of purified elegance, a refined taste level. Diana had to learn it. She was transformed from a ruffled and flounced, overdone, girlish sweetheart into a sleek, supreme superstar. My intention in creating the book is to show the similarities in their wardrobes as they played their starring roles on the world’s stage.
Both Jacqueline Kennedy and Princess Diana were in the intense glare of the public eye, and though decades apart, they shared both the positives and negatives of high profile fame. Each of them loved fashion and while they were universally admired, they were also criticized for the attention devoted to their lavish (and expensive) wardrobes. Tracking their fashion lives reveals many similarities. Before marriage, each was simply a young working woman with appropriately workaday clothes. Jacqueline Bouvier was a photographer for a newspaper and Diana Spencer taught kindergarten children. There were some differences. Jackie always wore gloves, Diana seldom did. Jackie favored solid colors while Diana often wore prints, polka dots or plaids in the early years, but later she chose solid hues. Both were surprisingly practical, wore outfits repeatedly and sometimes even had garments re-made with dramatic alterations.
Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, wife of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, was credited with raising the taste level of America during her reign as First Lady from 1961 to 1963. Reign, she did, unofficially crowned the Queen of America, bringing high culture to the White House and high fashion to the masses.
As a young, fashion-conscious First Lady, Jacqueline Kennedy knew exactly what she liked…French fashion, especially by Hubert de Givenchy. Forced to be politically correct, she switched to American designer Oleg Cassini, but he obviously provided her with the French haute couture look she really wanted; sculpted silhouettes sans fussy details, cut in expensive fabrics and exquisitely tailored. Her stylish bouffant hair-do was criticized at first but became the rage. Soon the politicians who thought she was too chic realized her high style was a political asset.
From the day of JFK’s inauguration in 1961, Mrs. Kennedy’s style was reported in minute detail. She wore a beige pillbox hat by Halston to match a cloth coat with a sable muff. For the gala Inaugural evenings, she chose ceremonial grandeur in ivory silk. Following such a fashion debut, every outfit she donned, for daytime or evening was understated, elegant and widely copied. A dedicated historian, she spearheaded the transformation of the then-shabby White House into a national treasure and hosted a TV Special, acting as chic tour guide. She was the perfect hostess at high culture evenings, setting the tone in stunningly simple gowns. The end of the years later likened to Camelot came suddenly and tragically. On November 22, 1963, the President was shot in Dallas, Texas when riding in an open car. Next to him was the first lady wearing a hot pink Chanel-style tweed suit that now is stored in the Smithsonian Museum
Lady Diana Spencer wed Charles, Prince of Wales in a fairy tale wedding that was seen on TV by millions of people the world over. She began her Royal life as a sweetly naïve young woman whose marriage was not a happy one and as it ultimately crumbled she won the hearts of the public by embracing charitable causes. Along the way she was transformed into a sleekly glamorous goddess, the most photographed woman in all history. Initially, she was badly advised, fashion-wise. The tall blonde beauty was often over-dressed as a doll in fussy, frilly, frumpy outfits more befitting a Ruritanian storybook princess. As her marriage crumbled, she emerged as a strong persona in her own right and her style changed dramatically. Her look became sleek and simple, allowing her natural glamour to make a strong statement. The public’s voracious appetite for news about the divorced Princess ultimately led to her tragic 1997 death in a reckless car chase, hotly pursued by paparazzi through a tunnel in Paris.
The iconic images of both extraordinary women began with wedding gowns not dissimilar in intent and execution. Both were wed in overly romantic confections quite unlike the sophistication they would later project. The new Mrs. Kennedy said her frothy gown was chosen “to please Jack.” Diana’s instantly famous gown by was a little girl’s dream dress fit for an enchanted princess, an enormous cloud of billowing silk, dripping lace. It was designed by Elizabeth and David Emanuel, the first of a long list of designers who rose to fame because they dressed Diana.
Both Jacqueline Kennedy and Diana, Princess of Wales were iconic paragons of style, women who used the attention they garnered to benefit the public. Mrs. Kennedy embraced high culture and raised the level of American style while Diana’s empathy for the sick and under-privileged won her the public’s adoration and the title, “The People’s Princess.” This paper doll book is a tribute to the style of both women…truly the greatest fashion icons of the 20th Century.