Original sketches of Jackie Kennedy’s personal wardrobe emerge

… along with handwritten notes from the First Lady herself. Steal some of her style tips here.

Jacqueline Kennedy in the living room of her Washington, D.C., residence, Mars 1960. Uncredited | AP | REX | Shutterstock. Drawing for Jackie Kennedy's dress, signed Oleg Cassini, 1961 and Irwin Karabell, 2014. Photo courtesy of Irwin Karabell

There is a very good reason that Jackie Kennedy’s outfits is still emulated around the globe today. (Even designer Ralph Lauren tried to channel her look for another First Lady, Melania Trump at this year’s inauguration.) “Jackie O,” as she is often affectionately called, was simply the epitome of style, grace, and elegance, and the fact that her wardrobe choices live on decades after her is a testimony to her iconic status. Yet what many of her admirers might not know is the extent to which she was involved in making her outfits as classy and feminine as they were.

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Recently Irwin Karabell, former assistant to the late fashion designer Oleg Cassini who helped style Kennedy, put up for auction some of the design sketches he worked on. (Though, the auction is currently on hold due to a legal battle.) Perhaps what is even better than the beautiful hand-sketched drawings of some of Jackie’s most celebrated outfits, though, are the delicate, handwritten directions that are still visible on each paper–written by Jackie herself. And the jotted notations are very clear; her main concern seemed to be in keeping the outfits suitable for a lady, especially America’s First Lady.

These directions were no doubt partly responsible for giving Jackie the poise and tasteful sophistication that so many remember her by. So at For Her we’ve compiled a few Jackie O rules based on these very directions and her iconic style to look like a true lady:

Skim not cling:

On a sketch for a yellow suit Jackie wrote: “Make sure the skirt is not too slinky.” Keep things elegant with clothes that highlight your feminine contour, not show every lump or bump.

Don’t confuse undergarments for outerwear:

In another pencil sketch of an evening dress Kennedy points to the shoulder strap explaining: “wider not to look as straps.” The thicker-style she requested would give the dress more substance, making it less bra-like and more star-like.

Material is key:

Fabric really makes or breaks a design. For one request Kennedy enthusiastically said: “Adore the material, must have it for dinner theatre costume like this,” adding “Embroidery is so beautiful – all ruched gold – perhaps we should skip beading unless we can have the best – you can think of something to replace it.” For those special occasions if the fabric or embellishments aren’t making your heart skip a beat (or they look a little too cheap to be “the best”) it’s a good idea to look for something else.

Stay true to your ethics:

In one direction America’s fashion icon stated “no mink” should be added to an outfit. If you are anti-fur, leather, or any other animal material you should stick to your principles—even if you’re told it would add a touch of “je ne sais quoi” to an ensemble!

 

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And finally a few of our own Jackie O-inspired rules:

Clean lines work best:

The beauty of Jackie’s style was in her love of clean, defined lines that created a simple, but of course still elegant look. Keeping her color palette to a minimum the focus was on a flattering cut, accessorized with simple but charming pieces.

It’s all in the reveal:

It seems to be the fashion among some celebrities to reveal as much of their bodies to get as much (positive or negative) attention as possible but Kennedy always kept it classy. Although the sixties saw the rise of the hemline, Jackie O made sure that if her dresses were short she maintained a ladylike balance, ensuring her top-half was covered. In her elegant floor-reaching gowns that showed off her back (often with a little bow tied at the base), the front of her dress remained demure.

Jackie Kennedy’s contribution to the fashion world will never be forgotten, but more importantly, her ability to look effortlessly feminine while maintaining her strong sense of dignity is something that’s even more impressive.

Cerith Gardiner
Cerith Gardiner
Cerith Gardiner was born in London and has been living in Paris for 14 years. She spends her time working as an English consultant, acting as taxi driver to her four children, and wondering if she'll ever be as stylish as the French.

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