In lieu of the recent U.S. election and Ariana Grande’s new music video for Positions, Jackie Kennedy Onassis’s influence on First Lady fashion has cropped up once again.
Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis (née Bouvier) was the wife of President John F. Kennedy. Together, they were the First Couple of the United States from 1961 to 1963 until the President’s assassination.
Jackie Kennedy was known and loved for her style–arguably one of America’s greatest fashion icons. Her eye for French aesthetics and later use of American designers are elegant and perennial, which is why they’re still referenced and reimagined today. Suit sets, pillbox hats, gloves, boat-necks, pearls and mod capes and dresses are all connected to some of Jackie Kennedy’s most notable looks.
Ariana Grande’s new music video Positions was released on October 23, about a week before 2020 U.S. election day on November 3. This was no coincidence as the music video was politically inspired. In the video, Grande is portrayed as the President in the White House but references the style of the former First Lady with her 60s inspired silhouettes and accessories.
Grande clearly has a modern take on Jackie Kennedy’s style: the yellow suit set is cropped and at a mini-length in a more saturated tone. She also adds extra drama with big, multi-layered pearls, which adds a maximalist rather than modest element to her neutral, conservative cream dress and pillbox hat.
Kennedy’s cape and over-the-elbow glove combination was perfect for the fashion-forward First Lady who evidently had to maintain a conservative, elegant aesthetic. Initially, Kennedy was criticised for her love of French style, particularly Chanel, Balenciaga and Givenchy. As such, she commissioned French-born American designer, Oleg Cassini, to create an American-designed First Lady wardrobe for her liking. She also reached out to fashion editor Diana Vreeland to recommend other American designers who could replicate the French couture aesthetic.
Grande’s outfit in front of the fireplace was the most precise recreation of Kennedy out of all the looks in her music video. The all-white cape with distinctive 60s buttons and gloves created the quintessential ‘Jackie’ look. Though Kennedy was not wearing a headpiece in the exact photo above, she was undoubtedly known for turbans, headbands and headscarves as well as pillbox hats. Grande even references Kennedy’s famous bouffant hair with the extra volume at the back of her head.
Again, Grande wears a Jackie-inspired cape and headpiece. This time, the headpiece is a beret, something the former First Lady was probably not allowed to wear as it was too distinctively French. The photo below shows Grande’s signature hairstyle as of late–shorter 60s inspired hair with flicked-out ends and a deep side-part. Grande’s hairstyles are immensely popular and is not too dissimilar to the popularity of Jackie’s signature bouffant hair.
Jackie Kennedy’s fashion influence extends well beyond Ariana Grande. If we take a look back on former First Lady Michelle Obama’s outfits we can see some parallels despite Mrs Obama’s preference for more modern styles. Jackie favoured sleeveless A-line mod dresses paired with pearls: elegant and fresh. Michelle has been seen several times in very similar outfits, most notably in her first official portrait in 2009.
For evening wear, Jackie Kennedy often opted for a strapless dress with a floor-length hem. Obama’s dress clearly references this but maintains a modern feel with the tailored sides, creating a slight flared effect. Obama’s waistband provides more definition, the extra detail at the bust adds more interest, and the matte fabric is more current than Jackie’s satin-sheen finish.
Below, Obama’s preference for a modern silhouette is more evident. Jackie’s tweed suit set has a straighter silhouette and is paired with gloves and a headpiece. Obama kept things more current with a tight silhouette, zipper detail and none of the ‘Jackie’ accessories. However, she’s kept the three-quarter sleeves and interpreted Jackie’s unique collar into more of a boatneck one.
Jackie Kennedy had several monochromatic sets but one of her more well-known ones was the pale, powder-blue look. The colour is now closely associated with the former First Lady, particularly when it’s styled in a more conservative way.
Obama has interpreted this famous look twice with a skirt suit and dress. Again, Obama favours a tighter silhouette with some geometric seams around the bust on the suit set and minimal accessories. The dress is not as obvious in its referencing of Jackie, but the unique, draped mock-neck detail is another reimagining of Jackie’s love of distinct collars and necklines.
Michelle Obama is not the only First Lady to have referenced Kennedy. The contentious Melania Trump drew parallels with Jackie in her powder blue outfit with matching heels and gloves on Donald Trump’s Inauguration Day in 2017. This outfit must have been a deliberate choice as Kennedy’s blue coat and pillbox hat was also worn on her husband’s Inauguration Day in 1961.
Fashion is as much of a tool as it is personal fun. Jackie Kennedy was so well-loved by not only the American people but also others around the world. By evoking her style, Michelle Obama not only acknowledges the history and greatness of her predecessor, but elicits the fondness and respect people had for Jackie unto herself. For Michelle, it was a deliberate decision to remind people of the familiar as well as showing her modern appeal.
For more controversial figures like Melania Trump, it offended some people that she took on the beloved image of Kennedy but for others, it served the same purpose as Michelle’s recreations. Or more simply, for the likes of Ariana Grande, it was an appealing aesthetic choice for her music video that complimented her message that women are versatile–both feminine and powerful in any position.
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