Skip To Content
JFK | Clip

Jackie's Culture of Elegance

Politics unnerved Jackie Kennedy so she found respite in creating a new culture of elegance in the White House. She set out to honor writers and performers, creating what her dress designer dubbed a "Versailles in Washington."


Narrator: She didn't talk much, or give speeches; politics unnerved her. She was shy to begin with, and unsure how to find common ground with most of her fellow Americans. But once Jacqueline Kennedy settled in as First Lady, she came to appreciate the singular advantage of life in the White House: she could be walled away from the general run of voters and still satisfy their hunger for her.

Sally Bedell-Smith, Writer: Jackie was a great student of 18th and 19th century Europe. And she really set out to create a kind of court in the White House. Her dress designer, Oleg Cassini, even said that she wanted to create a Versailles in Washington, and part of that was not only to project elegance, but it was also to kind of raise the game and put a premium on celebrating beauty, first of all, and a level of intellectual engagement, and celebrating artists and writers and performers in ways that hadn't been done, certainly in the Eisenhower administration.

Narrator: John Kennedy's taste ran more to political biography and spy novels, Sinatra and show tunes. So Jackie learned to strike hard bargains, like the time the President sent his press secretary, Pierre Salinger to ask her to attend a publicity event he couldn't make. Salinger failed.

Richard Reeves, Writer: Jack Kennedy said, "I'll try." He went up. He was upstairs for 20 minutes, and he came back down and said she was going to do it. And Salinger said, "What did you have to give her? A new dress?" And he said, "Worse than that. Two symphonies."

Support Provided by: Learn More