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Why Jackie Kennedy Refused To Remove Her Blood-Stained Pink Chanel Suit

Culture | March 14, 2018

November 22, 1963: President John F. Kennedy and his wife Jackie, who is holding a bouquet of roses, just after their arrival at the airport for the fateful drive through Dallas. (Photo by Art Rickerby/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)

On November 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated as he rode through Dallas in a convertible, with his wife Jacqueline Kennedy by his side. Jackie Kennedy wore a famous pink Chanel suit that day, one she had worn before, and when the president took that fateful bullet to the head, his wife's suit was spattered with blood. Jackie Kennedy wore her famous suit the rest of the day, including during the swearing-in of Lyndon Johnson as the new president.

Jackie Kennedy Was A Style Icon From Day One

President Kennedy and the First Lady arriving in Dallas on Nov. 22. Photo by Cecil W. Stoughton, source: Wikimedia Commons

These days, first ladies seem to set the fashion trend, rather than conform to it. When John Fitzgerald Kennedy took the oath of office to become the nation's 35th president, Jacqueline Kennedy became the first lady. With her good taste and personal style, she worked hard to be worthy of her new role. She had a deep sense of obligation to her country, but her first priorities were her husband and mother to her children. She told a reporter that "if you bungle raising your children, I don't think whatever else you do well matters very much."

Mrs. Kennedy greatly influenced the world of fashion. Her unique and refined sense of style made her a trendsetter, although she did not encourage the newspapers, magazines and general public to focus on her appearance. 

The Pink Chanel Suit Was A Favorite Of JFK's

President Kennedy and Jackie Kennedy in the motorcade proceeding through Dallas. Photo by Walter Cisco, source: Wikimedia Commons

In November 1963, then President John F. Kennedy asked his beautiful and sophisticated wife, Jacqueline Kennedy, what she planned to wear to the upcoming presidential event. Later, William Manchester would interview Jackie about that day -- here's what she recalled her husband saying:

There are going to be all these rich, Republican women at that lunch … wearing mink coats and diamond bracelets. And you’ve got to look as marvelous as any of them. Be simple – show these Texans what good taste really is.

The First Lady considered the weather conditions when weighing her options. She then commenced marching right into and out of the room, where her husband was, holding up various dresses for his opinion and ultimate approval. None of the potential options were new to her wardrobe.

As a final decision, Jacqueline Kennedy had chosen the now-famous pink wool-bouclé double-breasted Chanel suit with the fashionable matching pillbox hat. After all, it had been one of President Kennedy’s "particular favorites."

Jackie Kennedy Was Right Next To JFK When He Was Shot

Photo by Victor Hugo King, source: Wikimedia Commons

Jackie Kennedy was seated to the left side of her beloved and famous husband, President John F. Kennedy. They were in the back seat of the presidential, “open-top” limousine as it traveled through Dallas, Texas. The events that followed would go down in history as one of the most heartbreaking events in America.

Following the assassination of the President of the United States, his devoted wife, still wearing the blood-stained Chanel suit, rushed to Parkland Hospital to be with her husband.

Lady Bird Johnson Recorded What Happened Next

Source: Wikimedia Commons

I cast one last look over my shoulder and saw in the President’s car a bundle of pink, just like a drift of blossoms, lying in the back seat. It was Mrs. Kennedy lying over the President’s body.

--Lady Bird Johnson, writing in her diary

Manchester's account of the events following the shooting includes a mention of the pink had Jackie was wearing:

The Lincoln flew down the boulevard’s central lane; her pillbox hat, caught in an eddy of whipping the wind, slid down over her forehead, and with a violent movement she yanked it off and flung it down. The hatpin tore out a hank of her own hair. She didn’t even feel the pain.

Soon after Jacqueline Kennedy arrived at the hospital, her husband was pronounced dead.

'I want them to see what they have done to Jack'

Lyndon Johnson is sworn in as the 36th President of the United States. Photo by Cecil W. Stoughton, source: Wikimedia Commons

Despite all of the efforts that were made to convince the grieving new widow to take off her blood-stained clothing, Mrs. Kennedy continued to wear the pink Chanel suit. In her diary, Lady Bird Johnson documented the bizarre flight back to Andrews Air Force Base:

Mrs. Kennedy had arrived by this time, as had the coffin. There, in the very narrow confines of the plane - with Jackie standing by Lyndon, her hair falling in her face but very composed, with me beside him, Judge Hughes in front of him, and a cluster of Secret Service people, staff, and Congressmen we had known for a long time around him - Lyndon took the oath of office.

The scene was awkward, but Jackie Kennedy handled it with immense poise: 

We all sat around the plane. The casket was in the corridor. I went in the small private room to see Mrs. Kennedy, and though it was a very hard thing to do, she made it as easy as possible. She said things like, "Oh, Lady Bird, we've liked you two so much… Oh, what if I had not been there. I'm so glad I was there."

The sight of blood on the suit was shocking to Mrs. Johnson -- which Jackie knew all too well. In fact, her refusal to change out of it wasn't a symptom of her grief, it was a statement:

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. Somehow that was the one of the most poignant sights - that immaculate woman, exquisitely dressed, and caked in blood.
I asked her if I couldn't get someone in to help her change and she said, "Oh, no. Perhaps later I'll ask Mary Gallagher but not right now." And then with almost an element of fierceness - if a person that gentle, that dignified, can be said to have such a quality - she said, "I want them to see what they have done to Jack."

Jackie reportedly went so far as to say that she regretted washing the blood off of her face.

The Hat Has Gone Missing

Photo by Cecil W. Stoughton, source: Wikimedia Commons

Somewhere along the line, the pink pillbox hat that matched Mrs. Kennedy’s Chanel suit, got lost. To this day, its whereabouts remain unknown, Jackie Kennedy eventually removed the blood-stained suit the next morning. Without cleaning the blood off the suit, her assistant folded it and stored it in a box.

The box containing the suit was later sent to Jackie Kennedy’s mother who wrote and included a note that read, “November 22nd, 1963,” and placed in the attic. The box was eventually donated to the National Archives in Maryland. There, it is kept out of public view in an acid-free container in a windowless room. Beautiful first lady Jackie Kennedy, in that pink Chanel suit, was the President Kennedy’s last sight before he was fatally shot in the head.

Jackie Kennedy’s blood-stained Chanel suit has been described as “emblematic of the ending of innocence.” Although the assassination of JFK has been called the end of innocence, we know it certainly was just the beginning of the end. As time marches on, we never cease to be amazed at the turn of current events. Unfortunately, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated during a trying time, but he wasn’t the first American President to have been assassinated. Fortunately, though, he has been the last one, to date.

Kennedy Was The Fourth U.S. President To Be Assassinated

President John F. Kennedy is the latest American President to have been assassinated in the United States of America. In our history, there have been only three other Presidents that have met the same demise; four in total counting President JFK. They are Abraham Lincoln, James Garfield, and William McKinley. Hopefully, there will be no others in our future.

Tags: 1963 | Chanel | Jackie Kennedy Onassis | JFK | The 1960s | US Presidents | What They Are Known For

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Rebeka Knott

Writer

Rebeka grew up in the 1960’s & 1970’s and has always subscribed to the theory that a positive attitude will take you far! She is a wife and mother of 3 with a fun-loving spirit, believing that family and relationships are invaluable.