Style Icon: John F Kennedy

Monday, November 21, 2011
The timing of this post is actually somewhat of a coincidence. I was inspired to write it only after a recent trip to Washington, and after reading Stephen King's excellent new book, 11/22/63.Still, I obviously have to note that tomorrow is the anniversary of Kennedy's death. I can't comment in detail on Kennedy's politics, or what he was like personally, but that's not especially important. It is tragic that a young man, who put himself in harms way to serve his country, had what would likely have been a remarkable Presidency, and life, cut short by the actions of a deluded individual. Perhaps its a good moment to remember that behind all the political rhetoric, disagreement, and occasionally vicious arguments, are real people with families trying to make the world a better place as best they can.

It might seem odd me choosing JFK for this post. For one thing, he's credited with beginning the decline in men wearing formal hats after he appeared bare-headed at his inauguration speech.

That, fortunately, is as much a myth as him accidentally calling himself a donut. He did not wear a hat to give his speech, it is true, but he arrived looking splendid in full morning dress including a formal overcoat and a very lovely top hat.

Sartorial fault can be found elsewhere, though, in his unusual tendency to do up the bottom button on his jackets, a fundamental error in dressing.

However, this was a deliberate choice, an example of Kennedy's very personal, individual and almost careless style and elegance. Indeed, he actually had his suits tailored specifically to allow him to do this. The above photo illustrates the fastened bottom button, but more importantly shows off a terrific example of relaxed summer style. Like much of Kennedy's dress, it is classic Ivy League, with the white trousers, loafers, and brass buttons on the blazer.

Of course, like any great man, Kennedy knew when to stick more closely to convention and don proper formal wear, something that the current President could probably learn from. His evening dress in the picture below is absolutely flawless, and a great example of how to really pull off white tie. Note the rigidly starched shirts, which are very difficult to achieve nowadays, except at a very few specialist laundries.

I've bemoaned before the utterly bland dress sense of most modern politicians, terrified to be caught in anything but a plain charcoal or navy suit and, increasingly, reluctant to even wear a tie. Kennedy, managed to take pride in his appearance without it ever seeming to affect his ability to run the world's most powerful nation.

(I have never yet censored any non-spam comments on this, but I'll make it clear now that any discussion of conspiracy theories on this thread will be deleted without reply. It's not the place, and I'm not interested.)