Monday, November 25, 2013

Interview: My Mom Remembers Jacqueline Kennedy’s Influence on American Fashion

By Randi Reed

On November 22, 1963 my mother was the twenty-three year-old Assistant Manager of Ladies’ Ready to Wear at an upscale department store called The Wm. H. Block Co., known in the fashion world as “Block’s.”*  Her department was next to the Television department, and she was making a display with hats and gloves when she heard the news of President Kennedy’s assassination. When I interviewed her recently about that day,  we needed something to lighten the mood, so I asked her about Jacqueline Kennedy’s impact on American fashion, from the perspective of someone who worked in fashion retail at the time. While this article focuses more on fashion than cosmetics, I can’t think of a better subject for Cosme-Haul’s first Icon post than Jacqueline Kennedy, known simply to my mother and her peers as “Jackie.” 

RR: Let’s talk about Jacqueline Kennedy. Did you know of Jackie before JFK became President?

RR’s Mom: No. I wasn’t familiar with Kennedy before he announced he was going to run for President…But like they say, he was the first television president, so you had an opportunity to follow it closer.

RR: What did you think of Jackie?

RR’s Mom: She was conservative, meaning she didn’t dress flamboyantly. She reminded me a lot of Coco Chanel. She was very sophisticated. She didn’t go overboard with the way she dressed. It appealed to me. I never thought she was beautiful, but she was attractive.

RR: When she gave the televised tour of the White House, was that the first time you had seen that much of her?

RR’s Mom: Yes. She was very impressive.

My favorite photo of Jacqueline Kennedy. Photo: (Staff/AFP/Getty)

RR: Working in Ladies’ Ready to Wear, did you notice the Jackie Kennedy effect happening at your store?

RR’s Mom: Yes! Yes! Most of the clothes you bought at that time were influenced by her.

 RR: Did it happen fast? [The influence of people wanting to dress like Jackie] Or was it more gradual?

RR’s Mom: I think it happened fairly fast.

RR: Did you see the shift in what items were selling?

RR’s Mom: The styles sure changed. You know, before, everything had full skirts. The shirtwaist [dress] was full skirt. And then all of a sudden it was more tailored. Everything was a lot more tailored.

RR: Were people showing bare arms on dresses in the ‘50’s and 60’s before Jackie?

RR’s Mom: Yes.

RR: I always think of her in sleeveless sheath dresses in her casual life.

RR’s Mom: Yes, the bare arm was before.

RR: Did you notice an immediate difference in the sales of hats and gloves?

RR’s Mom: Not really…But, you have to remember that back then, women wore hats to church. In the ‘50’s and early ‘60’s you wore hats to church. If you went shopping, you went to downtown-wherever, and you wore your gloves and your hat. You dressed up. But not so much after they put the shopping centers in. Then everything was a lot more casual.

RR: Because they were so close, it wasn’t an event.

RR’s Mom: Yes.

RR: Did Jackie change your personal style of dress?

RR’s Mom: I don’t think so. It was more that they styles changed in the stores, and I bought what was in the stores. You went from the full skirt to more tailored, which I preferred anyway.

RR: Plus, you and Jackie had a very similar frame, so what flattered her would flatter you.

RR’s Mom: I guess. [Long pause.] Another thing was, she didn’t wear stiletto heels, or very high heels. Just regular pumps. She was so classic. Those pillbox hats—we started getting those in.

RR: She really was the one who started that?

RR’s Mom: Yes
RR: Did you ever wear a pillbox hat?

RR: No, I didn’t like to wear a hat.

RR: I don’t remember ever seeing pictures of you in a hat.

RR’s Mom: There may be one or two when I was in high school.

RR: Actually I do remember one of you with a hat and pearl button earrings. I think that’s the only one.

RR’s Mom: Probably. We wore a lot of button earrings.

RR: Who else would you say at the time—because Jackie’s the one who’s lasted—but during that time, who else were the icons?

RR’s Mom: Of course naturally there was still Marilyn. And Grace Kelly.

RR: Did you have a favorite designer at the time, or a favorite line?

RR’s Mom: Well, like I said, I liked tailored clothes.

RR: At that time who did that really well?

RR’s Mom: You couldn’t beat a Chanel suit or coat.

RR: What was your favorite Jackie look?

[RR’s Mom chuckles.] Well…

RR: Or a couple, if you can’t pick just one. Or what stood out to you?

RR’s Mom: I think it was the way she accessorized. It was very simple. You know, she would just have a pin on her shoulder. Or sometimes it was just earrings. Or earrings and a pin.  She didn’t wear five or six bracelets, or four or five necklaces.

RR: Or maybe just pearls?

RR’s Mom: Not so much the pearls. She wore other things besides pearls. She wasn’t like Barbara Bush.

RR: That’s an interesting take. You rarely hear someone mention the accessories aspect of her look.

RR’s Mom: Like Grace Kelly. It’s just that look. Grace Kelly was the same way.

RR: Do you think Jackie influenced women’s makeup at all?

RR’s Mom [Long pause]: I never even thought about her makeup.

RR: I was looking at some footage the other day and was surprised to see she was wearing more than I thought. It was expertly done and it looked so beautiful on her, you don’t even notice it, but when you’re really studying a picture of her, even mid-Presidency, you see she was wearing a fair amount of  mascara and black eyeliner--under the bottom lashes too. It looked like pencil, not the heavy liquid. The level of her makeup matched the level of her clothing and hair so well, it didn’t stand out.

RR’s Mom: I never thought about it. I’ll have to look.

RR: Would you say Jackie’s fashion influence stayed in the forefront after she left the White House?

RR’s Mom: Yes. I think so, because she was in the news all the time. Or she was in magazines.

RR: Anything else you’d like to add?

RR’s Mom: She was just classic.

We agree.

Mrs. Kennedy's 1961 Official White House Portrait. (Photographer: Mark Shaw.) Please forgive us, Shaw Copyright holders; the makeup is too perfect not to borrow this for purposes of discussion or education under  Fair Use. We'll take it down if you object.

*Although the Block’s chain of department stores no longer exists (having closed in the ‘80’s), at one time it was mentioned in the same breath as Saks, Nordstrom, and Bullock's Wilshire. In the 1939 film The Women, Joan Crawford's character "Crystal Allen" worked at the perfume counter at “Blacks” department store--an amalgamation of Block’s and Sak’s. In the film the Black’s logo was strikingly similar to a Block’s logo used in the late ‘30’s and early ‘40’s.

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©2013 Randi Reed and Cosme-Haul.  Images copyright the entities mentioned in their respective captions and are included in this blog solely for purposes of education and discussion under the Fair Use provision of US Copyright law. No infringement is intended, and take down requests will be honored if issued in writing by the copyright holder. If you feel your copyright has been violated, contact us in writing at Cosme-Haul 2219 West Olive Avenue Suite 136, Burbank CA 91506 or via email at cosmehaul (at) gmail (dot)com.