Noelle McCarthy: Let us see what they did

By Noelle McCarthy

Lyndon B. Johnson is sworn in as president as Jacqueline Kennedy stands at his side, in her famous bloodstained pink suit. Photo / AP Images
Lyndon B. Johnson is sworn in as president as Jacqueline Kennedy stands at his side, in her famous bloodstained pink suit. Photo / AP Images

Do I want to see the suit Jacqueline Kennedy was wearing the day her husband was assassinated? It's not a question I have ever asked myself, until I found out I don't have the option. None of us do.

Last week was the 50th anniversary of the shooting of JFK. Amid the tributes, the re-enactments the think pieces and the conspiracies came the news that the outfit the First Lady wore on November 22, 1964, a strawberry pink Chanel design copied by the Park Ave tailors Jackie favoured, will stay locked in the National Archives of the United States until 2103.

I'd like to know the rationale for that decision. The idea that any piece of clothing is best kept under wraps is interesting, especially such a piece as Jackie's suit, which has already taken its place in the terrible mythology of that day in Dallas.

The photo of the First Lady, head bowed and slack-jawed from the shock of seeing her husband murdered in front of her, standing beside Vice-President Lyndon Baines Johnson as he was sworn in as President, is one of the most famous in American history.

The bloodstains that streak the front of Jackie Kennedy's skirt are no small part of the awful power of the image.

Photographs from earlier that morning in Dallas show her resplendent in her pink suit, the colour of it as bright as the smile on her face, and the bunch of flowers she is holding.

The photos taken later on at that grim swearing-in aboard Airforce One are not in colour. In these, the smears of John F Kennedy's blood appear black against the grey of the skirt. The dark trails are blood from the President's wounds when he fell against her after being shot in the head. Can you imagine how horrible it must be to walk around for hours with your dead husband's blood still on you? But Jackie didn't change out of those clothes on purpose. She refused when they asked her if she wanted to take her suit off.

"Let them see what they've done," she said.

Show that photo to anyone who says what you wear isn't important.

Half a century later, the suit cannot be shown publicly, because it would cause hysteria. That's the official word on it. That's rubbish.

Sure, it'll attract the usual rubber-neckers and fetishists of morbidity, but that is no reason to deprive people of the opportunity to engage with history. History is not dates and places, history is people. History, in this case, is bloodstained boucle, the story of a country whose president was assassinated, and the story of a wife whose husband was killed in front of her.

The personal is political, goes the slogan, and it doesn't get more personal than the clothes you stand up in.

Jackie knew this. She could have taken that suit off, but she didn't. What more proof is needed that she wished the world to see it?


* Follow Noelle on Twitter here.

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