Jackie Kennedy’s Nasty Response To Her Wedding Dress Left The Designer Shaken

Jackie Kennedy

When the future first lady arrived at St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church in Newport, Rhode Island, to marry Senator John Fitzgerald Kennedy, every pair of eyes in the house was glued to her absolutely stunning wedding dress. It was the work of a famed designer named Ann Lowe, and it had everyone buzzing. However, the bride had an opinion that drastically differed from the thousands of fans gazing in awe at her beauty. And had she known the incredible story behind her dress, she might’ve held her tongue.

John And Jackie

At the time, Jackie and John F. Kennedy seemed like the perfect couple to grace the White House. Both were good-looking, charming, and incredibly charismatic, and the world was ready to have them take the political stage once JFK was sworn into office in 1961. However, few people at the time realized the young couple had some major skeletons in their closets.

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A Certain Magnetism

Although a deep dive into the couple’s life does reveal the President wasn’t exactly the loyal and honest husband he should have been, there’s no denying the Kennedys had a magnetism about them the media adored. And, no one could forget the magical day eight years earlier when they wed.

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The Big Day

The ceremony took place at St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church in Newport, Rhode Island. It was one of the most illustrious churches in the country, and over 800 people crammed inside to watch the newlyweds exchange vows and make a lifelong commitment to each other. Of course, this was a little more complicated than your typical ceremony.

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A Fairytale Celebration

Both the bride and groom were all smiles as they gave their vows and walked through crowds of cheering friends and family. Just imagine 800 pairs of eyes all gawking at you in wonderment as you slowly walk arm-in-arm down the aisle! As overwhelming as it was for John and Jackie, they both exuded confidence.

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Oodles Of Guests

After nearly 1,000 people watched the bride glide through the church’s aisle with her new hubby, 400 more were ready to mingle with them at the reception. But, even those numbers combined paled in comparison to the amount of fans standing outside clamoring to get a glimpse of the high-profile couple.

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Breaking Through

In an effort to get a look at the beaming bride and groom, about 3,000 fans forced their way through the police barricades surrounding the church. Although it was chaotic, everyone, including the fans who managed to finagle themselves past law enforcement, were all cheers and smiles. People throughout the rest of the country were also privy to the ceremony as it was aired on television.

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Garnering The Attention

Even though both the bride and groom were looking elegant, it was Jackie who garnered most of the attention. No offense to the groom’s spiffy tuxedo, but it’s always the bride’s dress that has everyone talking. And someone in the upper echelon of society like Jackie did not disappoint.

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The Dress Speaks Volumes

The television broadcast didn’t do the dress much justice, but anyone who was in attendance knew just how extraordinary the flowing white fabric looked draped over Jackie. The bouffant skirt layered with silk and scallop pintucks was a perfect choice for a woman who would eventually land herself the role of First Lady. Spectators wanted to know the designer behind the fashion.

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The Work Of Ann Lowe

It was a Black woman from Alabama named Ann Lowe. Lowe’s grandmother was born into slavery, but her mother owned a dressmaking business that catered exclusively to the elite. At 16 years of age, Lowe assumed control of the business and soon built a reputation for lavish designs. She eventually made her way to Manhattan and opened up her own business.

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“Decades Of Experience”

Elizabeth Way, an assistant curator at The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology, shed more light on Lowe’s experience. “She had been working in dressmaking since she was a little girl, so she really had decades of experience by the time we get to the making of these ballgowns, these wedding gowns, these debutante gowns in the 1950s.”

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Only The Rich Welcomed

You might think someone so talented at making dresses would open her doors to people everywhere so she could earn a profit and keep her business afloat. However, because of her upbringing around rich customers, Lowe only worked with clients who came from immense wealth.

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“I’m Particular”

In an Ebony magazine interview, Lowe explained her mentality towards her clientele. “I love my clothes and I’m particular about who wears them. I’m not interested in sewing for cafe society or social climbers. I do not cater to Mary and Sue. I sew for the families of the Social Register.” And, when it came to her posh customers, she would do whatever necessary to make them happy.

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No Roadblock Too Big

For example, when it came to Jackie’s dress, a huge flood ravaged Lowe’s Manhattan studio just 10 days prior to the wedding ceremony — not that the bride-to-be ever knew about it. Instead of telling anyone about the disaster, Lowe and her small team worked their hands to the bone to finish a whole new set. She also absorbed the entire cost of the damage too.

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Generosity Equals Profit Loss

Oftentimes, Lowe’s extreme generosity hurt her business. Fashion columnist Eugenia Sheppard compared Lowe’s mentality to another fashion designer at the time, Main Bocher. “She (Lowe) does the same amazing kind of job that Main Bocher does. The difference is that Main Bocher is a businessman as well as a designer, and he charges what he has to, to stay in business.” But surely such a golden opportunity would be worth the trouble, right?

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Influence On American Culture

These were high stakes, after all. FIT’s Elizabeth Way spoke to the gown’s importance in African-American society: “The fact that (the dress) came from the creativity of a Black woman really speaks to how instrumental Black people have been in shaping American culture.” But, despite the cultural significance and intricate design, Jackie herself had an issue.

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“Not What She Wanted”

She didn’t like it at all! Fashion historian Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell explained the issue: “Even though it’s a beautiful dress, it was not what she wanted, and she actually compared it to a lampshade.” Yikes! You’d think a bride would have the final say in what they wore at their own wedding, but in this circumstance, Jackie didn’t.

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Not The Bride’s Decision

“It was chosen by her father-in-law-to-be, who wanted to create an American royalty moment and really set up his son as the heir to the family dynasty,” continued Chrisman-Campbell. Regardless of Jackie’s opinion, Lowe’s dress was lavish and expensive, just the way the designer intended. So did she reap the benefits of her hard work?

Twitter: @JFKLibrary

Prominent Cultural Impact

Not quite. Lowe’s propensity to lower dress costs due to client requests eventually left her bankrupt. She finally retired in 1972 with almost no money to her name. However, her cultural impact still remains prominent today. “Black people’s participation in fashion didn’t start at the beginning of the 2000s. Black designers have always been working in the industry. There is a legacy there,” said Way.

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Paving A Vital Path

Ann Lowe isn’t a well-known name outside the world of fashion, but her work will always be admired for the path it helped pave for other African Americans in the industry. Her work was celebrated at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, as well as FIT’s “Black Fashion Designers” exhibition in 2017.

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A Gown To Remember

Despite Jackie Kennedy’s negative opinion of her wedding attire, the fact was that nearly all of the people who saw it — whether on television or in person — thought it fit both her and the momentous occasion perfectly. The future First Lady would go on to dazzle crowds with all kinds of chic clothing in the coming years. Perhaps she was overly critical toward Lowe, but Jackie was aware of how much of an impact her style choices had on the United States.

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Washington Superstar

As Life noted at the time, “The candidate’s striking wife, Jackie, who sticks close to her husband, has attracted almost as much attention as he has.” Some women had already begun to look toward the immaculately-turned-out Onassis for inspiration. But few treated her role as a political one. Instead, she was subjected to lines of questioning and scrutiny that a Hollywood actress might face. And she transformed the part of First Lady into one of a superstar.

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First Lady Icon

Aged just 31 when her husband entered office, Onassis was younger than many of the notable First Ladies before her. She was well educated and could talk effortlessly about the arts and fashion. Furthermore, she was well cultured and proficient in multiple languages. And with TV becoming increasingly common in U.S. homes, Onassis became a popular onscreen figure.

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Setting The Standard

Of course, Onassis was a household name on the world stage too. Her personality and sense of style set the standard for all First Ladies who followed her. But, more than that, her iconic wardrobe and beauty endured for decades. However, she didn’t just roll out of bed like that. She had to work at it. And some of her methods were fairly unusual.

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Fashion Genius

In any case, Onassis’ chic wardrobe was a staple before she stepped into the world’s spotlight. For instance, there’s a portrait of an 18-year-old Jacqueline Bouvier, daughter of a stock speculator, taken by fashion magazine Vogue in 1948. It shows the future First Lady wearing a sophisticated white gown with a lace apron and embroidery detail.

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Making Motherhood Stylish

Even as a new mother, Onassis maintained a stylish and polished appearance. For instance, in a photo taken in 1958 with newborn daughter Caroline Kennedy, she wore a silk dress with floral motifs. And tailored dresses were a staple of the First Lady’s wardrobe, with shifts and boat necks among her signature looks.

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French Inspiration

Interestingly, Onassis’ style choices back then were heavily influenced by the big-name fashion houses in Paris. Two labels she particularly favored were Chanel and Givenchy. Outfits were often topped with a smart jacket, gloves and a pearl necklace for a sophisticated edge. However, the then-First Lady would regularly complete her look with another accessory that she wasn’t particularly a fan of.

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Campaigning For Fashion

You see, while the pillbox hat became a part of Onassis’ signature look, she wasn’t fond of the adornment. According to the book Vintage Fashion Accessories by Stacy Loalbo, the former First Lady took her role very seriously. Dressing well, then, came with the territory of being a leading politician’s wife, and she wore hats out of respect to her husband’s career.

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Influencing America

What’s more, Onassis’ style was a big influence on U.S. fashion trends in the 1960s. Indeed, retailers would often look to the then-First Lady’s wardrobe and recreate their own off-the-rack versions, calling it the “Jackie Look.” However, with the icon’s love of French couture, direct emulation of her wardrobe was an indulgence few could afford.

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Skin Care Regime

But there are other aspects of Onassis’ style playbook that are far more attainable for her fans, even today. You see, the former First Lady paid regular visits to dermatologist Dr. Erno Laszlo. And it just so happens that her consultation notes have been unearthed by staff at the skin care experts’ New York office.

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Bizarre Advice

The documents are from Onassis’ consultation that took place on May 1, 1963, six months before then-husband, President Kennedy, was assassinated. And some of the instructions given to her may seem bizarre today. However, the advice was specific to the First Lady and was based on her circumstances at that particular time.

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Acne-Prone

For instance, Onassis’ skin care routine was tailored to her skin type. Interestingly, few realized that she suffered from breakouts of pimples and blackheads. Moreover, she was due to go on vacation with her then-husband to Cape Cod, Massachusetts – the couple’s last getaway. So the consultation was focused on the weather anticipated during their break.

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Tone The Pits

Nevertheless, Dr. Laszlo’s methods may seem unconventional to many. For instance, the Hungarian-born dermatologist suggested that Onassis apply facial toner to her underarm area. The brand she used was Laszlo’s own Light Controlling Lotion, which retails on the company’s website today for $68. However, the trade name is irrelevant to the product’s function.

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Misguided Beliefs

You see, it’s thought that applying toner to the armpits helps to reduce unwanted odors. Actually, the idea that underarm smells come from sweat are misguided. It’s the bacteria that lives on the body that creates an unpleasant whiff. So using a toner in that area will lift any dirt or germs that soap won’t shift.

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Leading Dermatologist

Incidentally, Dr. Laszlo was a highly reputable dermatologist who made some pioneering advances in the skincare field. Furthermore, his client roster included Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn, Greta Garbo, Katharine Hepburn and Princess Stephanie of Hungary. What’s more, he was the first to develop skincare products containing SPF and acne treatments.

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Keep It Simple

Now, the dermatologist stressed that Onassis shouldn’t use more skincare products than he recommended. Because of her breakout-prone skin, Dr. Laszlo suggested that using excessive creams and oils would do nothing to solve the problem. However, despite her widely-recognized beauty, pimples and blackheads weren’t the only issue that the ex-First Lady had.

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Heavy Smoker

What was rarely reflected on camera was that Onassis was a heavy smoker. And the power she wielded meant she could insist that no one write about or photograph her secret habit in the media. However, friends knew that she would smoke around three packs of Salems a day, and she only quit in 1994, shortly before she passed away from non-Hodgkin’s’ lymphoma.

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Combating The Damage

Although smoking was apparently unrelated to her death, Onassis’ skin nevertheless suffered from 40 years of the heavy habit. To combat damage, Dr. Laszlo prescribed his own Phormula 3-9 Repair Cream, an intensive moisturizer that is said to “protect skin from free radical damage and oxidative stress.” And, although still available, it’ll cost you $290.

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Couture Perfume

However, moisturizer wasn’t the only luxury product Onassis indulged in. As well as using toner on her underarms, the former First Lady had a favorite perfume, too. Her scent of choice was Lovely Patchouli 55 by the luxury French marque House of Krigler. A bottle today will set you back $365.

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Laszlo’s Soap

Onassis’ worldliness inspired her more rudimentary beauty products. For instance, her soap of choice was another in Laszlo’s line, the Dead Sea Mud Soap. It’s packed with minerals, such as magnesium, calcium and potassium, which invigorates the skin and heals ailments. The salt contained in the mud gently exfoliates while preserving the body’s natural oils.

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Peroxide Whitner

According to authors Nancy Schoenberger and Sam Kashner, Onassis started using a peroxide treatment on her teeth while serving as First Lady. The bleach would dull the nicotine stains to help disguise the signs of her heavy smoking habit. And the writers revealed the icon’s early beauty secrets in their book, The Fabulous Bouvier Sisters: The Tragic and Glamorous Lives of Jackie and Lee.

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Rigorous Face Wash

Furthermore, the book detailed Onassis’ face-washing ritual. Its authors wrote, “Wash your face with hot water and a rough washcloth and really rub, with upward strokes on the cheeks and forehead… Rinse with cold water: the shock will stimulate circulation and leave it tingling. With the same upward motions, massage in a rich cream before retiring. Do this for about two minutes and wipe off what is left so you won’t find it on your pillow the next morning.”

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Silk Pillow

Moreover, Onassis’ pillowcase of choice was made of silk. In recent years, they have been lauded for their anti-creasing and anti-aging properties. However, the then-First Lady’s purported reasons for using one concerned her hair. According to Onassis’ one time makeup artist, Peter Lamas, she would sleep wearing a silk scarf on a silk pillowcase to keep her immaculate blowouts fresh.

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Bad Hair Days

Funnily enough, the silk scarves sometimes made a public appearance too. As hard as it may be to believe, even Onassis wasn’t immune to the occasional bad hair day. And when her tresses refused to cooperate, she simply swaddled the offending ’do in a scarf until it learned to behave itself. So even the off-days were deceptively sophisticated.

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Lavender Hair Oil

However, after rigorous styling hair can be left fried. Overuse of hairspray, hair dryers and other products and tools can cause hair to become dry, brittle and prone to breakage. Therefore, Lamas suggested the First Lady apply an oil to her locks for extra defense and moisture. Her favorite was lavender oil.

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Get Some Sun

Though Onassis was often seen wearing hats in public, her dermatologist actually advised against it. Indeed, Dr. Laszlo insisted that sunshine was “good for her,” and that he could “make [brown spots] fade in the fall,” so the First Lady shouldn’t fear sun damage. Of course, there was a quick fix for blemishes in the meantime.

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Great Lengths For Beauty

The lengths Jackie Kennedy Onassis undertook to maintain her public image mean that today she is among the most iconic beauties of the 20th century. Mind you, her efforts weren’t lost on her late husband. For you see, when the couple were driven through the streets of Dallas on November 22, 1963, Onassis was wearing her famous pink Chanel-style suit. And President Kennedy’s last words to his wife that fateful day were that she looked “smashing.”

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