Posted by Edelweiss Patterns on April 20, 2013
~What I Wore to the White House~
As soon as I learned I was traveling to Washington, D.C., my thoughts instantly turned to what I would wear! And since I love to reproduce costumes when I’m visiting historic landmarks, I definitely knew I just had to recreate a First Lady’s dress for the occasion! The first criteria for this project was, “What is a famous dress that people will instantly recognize as a First Lady’s outfit?” Secondly, I asked myself, “How in the world will I fit a First Lady’s dress in my suitcase?” Thankfully there was an easy answer to both these questions!
The most famous First Lady’s dress ever worn was Jacqueline Kennedy’s pink Chanel/Chez Ninon suit which is now stored in a vault in the National Archives. While she wore this dress for numerous occasions during her husband’s administration, it is best remembered for the fateful day in Dallas when his presidency came to an unexpected end.
This suit is so famous, in fact, that it has an entire Wikipedia page devoted entirely to its history! There’s also an excellent website (www.pinkpillbox.com) which contains fascinating information about the details of this outfit. I do wish this costume was associated with a happier event, but I hope you’ll understand that I am sewing this as a tribute to First Lady’s history in general, and not as a remembrance of a president’s funeral.
A Surprise Visit to the White House
I’ll talk all about the dress in a minute, but first I wanted to mention how I was able to have the pictures taken on the South Lawn of the White House! Immediately upon planning our trip, I had applied with our Congressman to take a tour of the White House and get all the necessary preparations done for the visit (background checks, etc.). We were all squared away to go when, (just a few weeks before our trip), all White House tours were canceled! Oh, I was so utterly disappointed! After all, I’ve been to Washington, D.C. something like twenty times, but never once in all my years have I been able to actually go inside this historic building. Each time I’d been in D.C. I’d peered through the iron gates and dreamed of going inside, but never once set foot in America’s most famous house.
Instead, I had to content myself with studying every White House DVD and book I could get my hands on – by the time I was in high school I had the entire White House layout memorized and could tell you which presidential paintings hung in which reception rooms. I knew that the Red Room was Nancy Reagan’s favorite location to entertain guests, while Dolly Madison had been partial to the Blue Room – except that back then it was actually a yellow room! So as you can imagine, I was positively heartbroken when I found out that America could no longer “afford” to let its citizens inside this home! Nevertheless, I continued to sew my Jacqueline Kennedy suit in hopes that I could at least have it photographed at the Capitol building while in D.C.
While in the Denver airport on our first layover, I just happened to check my emails and saw the most unexpected message! It was from our Congressman’s office and read, “Hey Katrina, I know it may not be what you’re looking for, but I can offer you tickets to Spring Garden Event this weekend. The White House Gardens and Grounds will be open Saturday, April 13th and Sunday, April 14th during which time guests will have the opportunity to view firsthand the Jacqueline Kennedy Garden, the Rose Garden, and the South Lawn of the White House. Additionally, the First Lady’s Kitchen Garden and Apiary will be accessible to guests. I know it’s short notice, but our office will be distributing tickets tomorrow in our suite if you’re interested. Let me know! ~Paul“
Oh, great was the rejoicing in the Denver airport! If I couldn’t get in the White House, at least I could get on the grounds! And by golly, I was going to look like a First Lady on this tour!
The Pattern ~ Advance 2858 Pattern Review
This design is straightforward enough, but since the lapels of the 1960s were different than women’s suits of today I absolutely could not find a replica pattern that is currently in print. I finally found a vintage 1960s suit pattern on www.etsy.com that had just what I was looking for – double-breasted jacket, boxy cut, three-quarter length sleeves, and a fitted, knee-length skirt. This particular pattern I used is Advance 2858, and I’m quite pleased with how it turned out. I will say that the jacket has a lot more room than the pattern illustration showed (and consequently more than Jackie’s suit, too). The skirt, as well, looked much slimmer and more tapered on the pattern cover, but of course pattern drawings are just the artist’s rendition of a design and don’t necessarily reflect the real fit.
My Thoughts on 1960s Fashion
I should say that I generally dislike everything about the 1960s just as much as I adore the styles of the 1950s! After all, why in the world should you make a jacket ten inches bigger than your waist measurement when a fitted jacket would look much more becoming? I think it is quite sad that the 1960s styles tended towards unfeminine, almost harsh cuts of dresses and suits when the hourglassy “New Look” from a decade before made women look soooo much prettier! However, I do understand that Jackie Kennedy was either pregnant or post-partum for a large portion of her time in the White House, so it would have been much easier to conceal the “expectant mother” look in a more non-descript sort of jacket.
Jackie’s Pillbox Hats
What she lacked in ruffles and frills, she made up for in fabulous pillbox hats! Oh, but her hats were gorgeous! No one knows what happened to the particular pink hat she was wearing on that fateful day in Dallas, but we do have some excellent photos of it. I whipped this hat out at 4:00 am the same morning that I flew out of town, so I had to just go with my first draft of the pattern! I ran out of navy trim to wrap around the top of the hat, but I think it still has that definitive “Jackie” look to it!
The Fabric & Materials
Jacqueline Kennedy’s original suit was made of a pink wool boucle. First Lady Jackie described this shade of pink as “raspberry”. Honestly, it has been hard for me to determine exactly what shade the dress would have been in real life, because various pictures of this outfit can look fuschia pink, baby pink, or almost coral pink depending on the lighting and setting the photos were taken in. When it came to finding the fabric, I had a remarkably challenging time! I looked online and in a local fabric store for literally months, but I never did find something which seemed the exact same color of pink. In the end, I had to settle for something which was fairly close but not exact. I was able to find nearly exact replicas of the buttons, though! They are gold in the center with a narrow rim of navy blue along the outside.
The only downside of the White House Spring Garden tour was that somewhere along the way people started asking to get their pictures taken with me. Of course I was very polite about it and posed for lots of photos with a variety of tourists, but it was kind of strange to be in pictures with people you’d never met before! One of the White House park rangers asked to take my picture, and a number of people thought I was a hostess on hand to greet the guests. On my way out of the White House and through D.C. one woman came dashing out of her vehicle saying, “I know who you are! You’re Jackie! I need to get my picture with you!” Needless to say, I promptly changed back into a “normal” dress back at my hotel!
But I was, I’ll admit, very excited when people instantly recognized the outfit and hairdo. As soon as I was going through security to enter the White House premises, one of the guards said, “You’re Jackie, right?” For months I’d had no worries about the outcome of the dress, but the real victory of the day was pulling off a Jacqueline Kennedy hairstyle. It was well worth getting several inches cut off and using half the hairspray in Washington, D.C.! My hair still smelled like mousse for a few days afterwards, but I will always have fond memories of that “Jackie” hairdo and the remarkable time at the White House.
I would like to end this post with a tribute to the brave men who have fought for our country over the years. Since I have relatives in the military myself, it means so much more when I see the Iwo Jima memorial and the Arlington Cemetery. To all the men who have served America and fought to defend our freedoms, I would like to give the greatest thanks! May we live lives worthy of the sacrifices they’ve made.
I hope you all enjoy the pictures, and I will be sharing some more photos of the Edwardian gowns and First Ladies’ dresses I studied in D.C. soon!