Throughout November, KERA will mark the 50th anniversary of the John F. Kennedy assassination by taking a closer look at that fateful day, what it meant to the country, how it changed Dallas, and more.
Today, we look back at what Jackie Kennedy wore when she was in Dallas with her husband on Nov. 22, 1963.
Fifty years ago this month, Jackie Kennedy arrived in Dallas as stylish as ever, wearing a pink dress with pink pillbox hat.
First, we saw her in the pink dress holding red roses and greeting the crowds at Dallas Love Field. Next, we saw her in the pink dress in the presidential limousine as it traveled through downtown Dallas. Then, we saw her in the pink dress as she tried to lunge out of the back of the limo after her husband had been shot.
Later in the day, we saw her in the pink dress as she stood next to Lyndon Johnson as he was being sworn in on Air Force One. Then, it was covered with her husband’s blood.
Jackie Kennedy was asked to “clean up her appearance,” but she refused, according to William Manchester’s “The Death of a President.”
"Why not change?" one aide prompted.
"Another dress?" the president's personal physician suggested.
Mrs. Kennedy shook her head hard. "No, let them see what they've done."
But whatever happened to the dress?
It sits inside the National Archives and Records Administration in Maryland. In 2011, The Los Angeles Times reported on the dress and how it ended up in the archives.
It sits unfolded and shielded from light in an acid-free container in a windowless room, the L.A. Times reported.
"It looks like it's brand-new, except for the blood," senior archivist Steven Tilley, one of a handful of people to see the suit, told the Times.
Pictures of Jackie Kennedy visiting Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963:
How did the dress get to the National Archives?
The Times explains:
Sometime in the next six months [after the assassination], a box arrived at the National Archives' downtown headquarters, where such treasures as the Constitution and Bill of Rights are kept. In it was the suit, blouse, handbag and shoes, even her stockings, along with an unsigned note on the letterhead stationery of Janet Auchincloss, Mrs. Kennedy's mother: "Jackie's suit and bag worn Nov. 22, 1963."
Why does the dress matter?
The outfit that Kennedy wore would come to "epitomize the essence of Camelot and the death of it," the Times reported.
"The single symbol of that event and of her as a persona is that pink suit," said Carl Sferrazza Anthony, a first ladies historian. "It's all anyone need see and, in an instant, people know what it is in reference to."
A Chanel knockoff
Jackie Kennedy didn't want to upstage the president as she had on a trip to Paris, the Times said. She brought two suits with her to Texas, including the pink Chanel knockoff "created by a New York dress shop so she could indulge her French tastes and still buy American."
The history of the pink dress
Author Nicole Mary Kelby has studied the history of Kennedy’s pink dress. Her novel, “The Pink Suit,” is based on the true story of the dress and will be published in April by Little, Brown and Company.
Kelby told KERA that the Chanel knockoff was made at the Chez Ninon dress shop in New York. Chez Ninon made clothes for Jackie Kennedy’s mother.
The pink suit was John Kennedy’s favorite, Kelby said. It was made by an Irish immigrant named Kate.
The hand-woven dress took nearly 90 hours to make. And it wasn’t just pink – it included many shades, including raspberry, cherry, rose and blush.
“This type of Chanel suit was what every country club woman wanted,” Kelby said. “The suit looked sturdy but it wasn't. The pink suit's silk lining was too fragile to wear often. The bouclé fabric was handmade and was given to shedding. It was an impossible suit but breathtaking.”
Kennedy often wore the pink suit, and was photographed in it many times.
“The public was used to seeing her in it,” Kelby said. “One of the reasons why there is still such fascination with this garment is that all of us could relate to the idea of having a favorite suit. And to have that suit ruined in such a horrible, public way still strikes us to the core.”
Kate, the suitmaker, never got over it, Kelby said.
“And neither did we.”
Observations from Lady Bird
Lady Bird Johnson stood near Jackie Kennedy on Air Force One as her husband was sworn in as president. Lady Bird later wrote in her diary:
"I looked at her. Mrs. Kennedy's dress was stained with blood. One leg was almost entirely covered with it and her right glove was caked, it was caked with blood - her husband's blood," Lady Bird wrote. "Somehow that was one of the most poignant sights - that immaculate woman exquisitely dressed, and caked in blood."
But what about the pillbox hat?
The secret service agent who climbed onto the back of the limousine to protect the first lady said he gave it to Mary Gallagher, Kennedy’s personal secretary.
Gallagher refused to discuss the hat’s whereabouts with the Times.
Just like many things regarding the Kennedy assassination, it remains a mystery.
KERA wants to hear your JFK stories and memories. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We may contact you or use your memory in an upcoming story.
Learn more about the dress and hat
- Lady Bird Johnson reflects on the assassination – and Jackie Kennedy.
- Read The Los Angeles Times story.
- Newhouse News Service recently explored the dress, too.