No Hat: The Story Behind the Pink Suit

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Evoking a powerful image of an intelligent, sophisticated and independent woman, the Chanel suit was one of the strongest and sought after fashion items during the late 1950s and early 1960s. The famous pink suit with navy trim was shown in the Autumn/Winter 1969 Coco Chanel collection and it was known to be one of John F. Kennedy’s favorites. Some say the dress worn by Jacqueline is a knockoff created by a New York dress shop called Chez Ninon so she could indulge her French tastes and still buy American to appear patriotic. Most Americans didn’t know the suit was pink given that color TV began to take over our living rooms in the mid 1960’s, after the assassination.

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Chanel Suits, 1961. Time Magazine.

The presidential limousine was passing a grassy knoll on the north side of Elm Street at the moment of the fatal head shot on November 22, 1963 in Dealey Plaza, Dallas, Texas. Immediately after President John F. Kennedy was shot in the head, the suit became spattered with his blood.

Kennedys in Dallas Motorcade

President John F. Kennedy, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, and Texas Governor John Connally ride in a motorcade in Dallas, Texas, on November 22, 1963. Moments later the President and Governor were shot by an assassin. (Walt Sisco / Copyright Bettmann/Corbis / AP Images)

“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

The pillbox hat was secured by a hatpin. Jacqueline took it off somewhere inside the hospital.

“While standing there I was handed Jackie’s pillbox hat and couldn’t help noticing the strands of her hair beneath the hat pin. I could almost visualize her yanking it from her head.” -Mary Gallagher, the first lady’s personal secretary.

Nobody knows where the famous pillbox hat is but Mary Gallagher is the last known person to have had it.

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Mrs. Kennedy was asked to change her clothes but she refused saying, “Let them see what they’ve done.”  She was still wearing the blood-stained suit when Vice President Johnson was sworn in as the 36th President of the United States. It is said she regretted having washed her husband’s blood off her face before President Johnson was sworn in. A composed Mrs. Kennedy let her pink suit do the talking, symbolizing her incredible strength and giving meaning to the feminist slogan, “Behind every great man, there’s a great woman.”

Jackie finally took off her suit the following morning. Her maid, Providencia Paredes took it out of her sight, placed it in a box and sent it to Mrs. Kennedy’s mother. Months later, the box was sent to the National Archives with a note saying “Jackie’s suit and bag worn Nov. 22, 1963.” The hat was not in the box and the suit was never cleaned. It remains out of public view and the precise location is kept secret.

In 2003, a deed of gift was secured from by then the sole surviving heir, Caroline Kennedy . She stipulated that the suit not be displayed for the life of the deed — 100 years. When it runs out in 2103, the right to display it can be renegotiated by the family. The temperature hovers between 65 and 68 °F the humidity is 40 percent; the air is changed six times an hour in the suit’s vault.

Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis died in May, 1994. She was 64 years old. Among the First Ladies of the United States, she remains one of the most popular.

Though the years, Mary Gallagher and Providencia Paredes have posted online several items that belonged to Mrs. Kennedy up for auction but not the pillbox hat.

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