By Steve Brawley
Jackie's famous pink suit will forever be embedded in America's historical conscience. However, the history of the outfit did not begin in Dallas. It also holds many happy memories from the Kennedy administration.
It truly took a village to create the suit.
The suit was made or "assembled" in 1961 by the New York dress salon of Chez Ninon. The dress is a Chez Ninon built exact copy of a Chanel pink boucle wool suit trimmed with a navy blue collar. Estimated cost was $800 to $1,000.
In a 2010 Coco Chanel biography, it is recorded that Chanel provided the material for the suit, and that Chez Ninon merely "assembled it." So the mystery continues somewhat. We do know that both salons had roles in the making of the suit.
We also know that her father-in-law Joe Kennedy preferred for her to buy "American" made outfits, and by using Chez Ninon in New York, she could claim that she was buying "American-made" clothes.
During her White House years, she would wear several Chez Ninon originals, along with her Oleg Cassini outifts, and would be a lifelong Chanel shopper.
The famous pink suit ironically made its debut in a photo essay about Chanel in the Sept. 1, 1961 issue of LIFE magazine that featured Jackie on the cover wearing another designer - Oleg Cassini.
According to LIFE, the new fall 1961 Chanel line of wool suits had “a more crisply tailored figure-fitting shape with
small shoulders and narrow set-in sleeves compared to the soft-shoulder,
boxier version that was introduced the previous season."
Jackie wore her pink suit several times from 1961-63. She sometimes wore a matching blouse underneath the jacket, or just open with her famous pearls.
It was at President Kennedy's request that she wear the outfit in Dallas. He said she looked "ravishing in it." (Susan Mary Alsop, 1963)
See pink suit timeline photo gallery with links below:
Other Jackie Fashion Files
Suit design (worn by model) was part of the
Chanel 1961 fall collection (Paul Schutzer-
Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images)
St. Stephen's Church (Nov. 12, 1961)
White House (Nov. 14, 1961)
Washington DC (Sept. 26,1962)
Pink Suit Photo Galleries:
History of Jackie's Pillbox Hats
She also chose this particular suit because she thought it was going to be cool in Dallas. It, of course, wasn't. At 12:30 on November 22, 1963, Dallas was enjoying an unseasonably warm day.
That morning, JFK was beaming with pride in his wife, announcing that "nobody wonders what Lyndon and I wear." The trip was an unofficial kick off to the 1964 campaign with the Kennedy's and Johnson's touring Texas. They had planned to spend the weekend together at the LBJ ranch.
After the assassination and aboard Air Force One, LBJ awaited the arrival of Judge Hughes to swear him in. Jackie's secretary (Mary Gallagher) in Jackie's cabin had laid out a fresh dress for her to wear. She refused to put it on.
"Let them see what they've done," she insisted.
Jackie continued to wear the outfit when the plane landed in Washington and the President's coffin was removed. She returned to the White House shortly before 5 am on the 23rd. It was then that she changed clothes.
Jackie's maid (Provi) folded the suit and placed it in a box. A few days later, the maid passed the box on to Jackie's mother, who wrote "November 22, 1963" on the top of the box, and stored it in the attic of her O Street home in Georgetown - beside Jackie's ivory silk taffeta wedding dress. Jackie would never touch or see the blood-stained pink suit again.
Jackie's pink wool suit was subsequently given to the National Archives - where it remains today. Out of public view.
Many of Jackie's other dresses have been seen. Jackie's White House Year's Dress Tour was a big hit in 2002-2004. Thousands flocked to see her dresses and other personal items. People were often heard commenting on the vibrant colors of her dresses - which were often only seen in black and white photos in the early 1960s.
Janet Auchincloss' former house on O Street in Georgetown. Jackie's pink suit (minus the pillbox hat) was stored in a simple box in the attic of this house prior to being donated
to the National Archives.
Original Pink Suit Design by Chanel (Fall 1961)
Sept. 1, 1961, pages 86-87
(Top left model)
Chez Ninon ("Assembled" Pink Suit in America)
March 23, 1962
"Sophie & Nona"
Graphic by Steven L. Brawley, www.pinkpillbox.com
"In the back room of a suite in a Park Avenue office building stands a figure that looks just like Jacqueline Kennedy. More precisely, it looks like Jackie only in the sense that whatever fits the figure also fits the wife of the President of the U.S. It is Jackie's own ladykin, a dressmaker's dummy that has all of her dimensions. To this dummy, whenever the call comes through, flock busy seamstresses with costly fabrics and a sense of dedication and flair that is not often seen, say, at quilting bees. They fit and they pin, they cut and they stitch, and when they are all finished, the result gets its picture in the papers, filled out this time by Jackie herself.
The workroom belongs to two sprightly grandes dames who are known collectively as Chez Ninon, a small and very expensive dress salon that was costly and exclusive long before it became famous as one of Mrs. Kennedy's favorite dress shops. The only difference now is that Proprietresses Nona McAdoo Park and Sophie Meldrim Shonnard, who would be wows in Auntie Mame, are so pleased to have Jackie's business that they flutter and worry that too much public notice will drive Mrs. Kennedy away. There is little chance of that; Chez Ninon has just what Mrs. Kennedy likes: custom-made copies of the best of Paris.
Desperation & Success. Nona and Sophie got into the dress business in 1928, the year before Jackie was born. Sophie's father was a prominent judge in Savannah, Ga.; her first husband was Edward (Ted) Coy, Yale '10, an All-America fullback. Nona, as the daughter of William Gibbs McAdoo, U.S. Secretary of the Treasury under Wilson, was once known as "the Cabinet beauty." "One day," says Sophie, "Nona called me up. Her husband had died recently. She said, 'I'm desperate. We must do something to keep busy.' Well, in those days women didn't work and we didn't know what to do with ourselves. We thought of a dress shop."
After the war, Fifth Avenue's Bonwit Teller invited them in to set up their own custom-order salon; with their family connections and friends in New York and Washington, Nona and Sophie found it easy to build a clientele. It was at Bonwit's in the early '50s that the wife of Senator Jack Kennedy began buying some of their clothes. Two years ago, they moved out to a new place of their own on Park Avenue. Jackie moved with them, and so did such customers as Mrs. William Paley, Mrs. Harry Payne Bingham, Mrs. Charles Wrightsman, Mrs. Douglas Dillon and Mrs. John Sherman Cooper.
Good Sport. To suit them, Nona and Sophie still go to Paris twice a year. On their last trip a few weeks ago, they bought "a little of each," says Sophie. "Some customers adore Lanvin. Others like Nina Ricci and Cardin, Givenchy and Balenciaga." After ordering the originals, the ladies buy fabrics, buttons and other necessary materials. Back at the workshop, their custom seamstresses make up duplicates, and Chez Ninon announces a showing. A private one is held for important customers, such as Jackie and Mrs. Dillon; Jackie herself gets the first look at new clothes, if she requests it.
Suits start at $850 and go up; gowns can run into the thousands. If a customer orders a dress or a suit that has already been bought by another, Nona and Sophie mention the fact. If the customer still wants it (and if the earlier buyer is Jackie, she nearly always does), she can have it. Nona and Sophie still cluck with dismay about the time last fall when Mrs. Paley, a woman who should know better, swept into the White House dressed in a Chez Ninon special, and then suffered the supreme embarrassment: there was Jackie in the identical dress. Sighs Sophie: "Jackie was a good sport about the whole thing."
Jackie's Other Chez Ninon Dresses:
- Red Suit for CBS TV's White House Tour
- Black and Gold Gown for Peru State Dinner at White House
- Red/Cream Gown for Indian Embassy Dinner in DC
- Navy Suit for Paris Trip
- Grey Suit for Paris Trip
- Ice Blue Silk Gown for Dinner at Buckingham Palace
Gallery of Jackie's Chez Ninon Dresses:
CBS TV Tour 1962
Paris Trip 1961
Paris Trip 1961
Peru State Dinner 1961
Indian Embassy Dinner 1962
Buckingham Palace Dinner 1961
A Personal Story About Chez Ninon by Mike Naughton:
"This is a little information on Jackie Kennedy's pink suit, Aunt Kate did the finishing alterations and stitching on the sleeves and hems.
Aunt Kate was a seamstress of note, fine fingers like delicate pieces of spun glass, she worked for Chez Ninon, a boutique that made clothes for the high and mighty.
Her employer, Miss Sophie, was with the couture section of Bon Wit Teller prior to opening her own shop.
When I was 5 or 6 years old, I was brought "downtown" one day to visit the "girls in the workshop"; when we arrived the sewing machines became still and everyone jumped up to meet Aunt Kate who in turned showed me off to the "girls". The girls called her Kitty. I could not imagine Jackie Kennedy getting a finer reception than Aunt Kate.
I remember meeting a gentleman, possible Mr. Anthony, a designer who was very fond of Aunt Kate, but weren't we all.
I know I met Miss Sophie, but I don't know if I met another seamstress who Aunt Kate always referred to as, "Marie, she takes care of her mother and they live in the parish." I was always relieved when I met Marie on many future occasions and Aunt Kate confirmed her membership in Good Shepherd; I would feel sad if she defected to another parish.
The girls called her "Kitty."