– Jackie Kennedy in a letter to Marita O’Connor, a saleswoman in the hat department at Bergdorf Goodman, written just before John Kennedy’s inauguration.
In November, 1960 Mrs. Kennedy wrote to Bergdorf’s announcing plans to purchase some of her clothing from the high-end New York City department store. From then on she wrote regularly ordering specially made dresses and accessories, including those pauperizing hats (many designed by Halston). She often added sketches with her correspondence.
How interesting that the First Lady, the woman who made the pillbox hat fashionable, was not at all a hat gal. Perhaps she was uncomfortable because she sported a bouffant, not a hairdo friendly to hats.
The pillbox style dates back to Roman times and was used as a military hat. Later the shape was popular with brides. Mrs. Kennedy wore hers large and at the back, allowing the fullness of her hair to remain.
What an intriguing comment she makes – that hats “pauperize me.” Pauperize? Interesting word choice as the definition of pauper is one who is poor and dependant on public funds. Could she really have meant that hats made her look destitute?
I surmise that the comment was really more classist. Given that at the time hats were an accessory all woman wore (and men come to think of it), perhaps what she meant was that for her, as the First Lady, to sport a hat would make her look common. A shocking thing to say today but when you consider the era and Mrs. Kennedy’s background as a debutant and a finishing school graduate, it fits. Afterall, one cannot be common and live in Camelot.
Despite how she might have felt, hats were the done thing and evidently to not wear one would have been considered disrespectful. So, she obliged by having hers custom-made, often matching her coats.
The collection of handwritten notes along with other Kennedy memorabilia were scheduled to be auctioned off November 22 to 24 in Amesbury, MA.