Robert Everett-Green Examines the Menswear of the JFK Assassination


Everyone remembers Jackie Kennedy’s pink Chanel suit, that looked so chic and fresh when she arrived in Dallas, so gory and awful when she left three hours later. But who knows anything about the clothes worn by the two men shot that sunny day in November, 1963?

The two, of course, were Texas Governor John Connally, who survived, and President John F. Kennedy, who did not. Like most politicians, neither dressed to draw attention to their clothes, yet what they wore that day was intensely scrutinized later. What happened to the clothes during the shooting helped explain what happened to the men, and even exactly when it occurred. The garments were part of the crime scene, and part of the collateral damage, sustaining injuries that mirrored those of the victims.

The president disembarked from Air Force One in a grey two-button sack suit, pin-striped white shirt, blue and grey grid-patterned tie, dark socks and black oxfords. It was a typical outfit for Kennedy, who helped popularize a relaxed variation of the Ivy League look associated with the Eastern establishment. Veteran style writer G. Bruce Boyer describes Kennedy’s preferred style of coat as a single-breasted, unvented cut with “small, soft shoulders, shallow chest and little waist suppression.” Minimal waist contour went along with the sack or sacque coat, defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as “a loose-fitting coat the back of which is not shaped to the figure, but hangs more or less straight from the shoulders.” Boyer says Kennedy liked “plain-fronted, slim-leg, cuffed trousers,” though the ones he wore in Dallas look full by current standards. The tailor was either Sam Harris, who dressed Kennedy until 1961, or Sidney Winston (“Chipp”), another New York tailor who took over after Harris, in a Life magazine interview, spoke about the presidential wardrobe too freely for Kennedy’s liking.

Connally met the president on the tarmac at Love Field in a more conservative black wool three-button suit, tailored by Oxford Clothes for the John L. Ashe clothing store in Forth Worth. He wore a plain white Arrow shirt with French cuffs, a black and gold striped tie, and an off-white western-style hat that he held in his lap during the motorcade, and kept holding even after a bullet had damaged nerves in his wrist.

The Warren Commission examined these clothes while trying to determine the path of the first bullet to strike Kennedy, which passed through his back and neck and then (according to the Commission) inflicted several wounds on Connally. In the process, it ripped through 19 layers of cloth, as the report details with tailorly precision. The bullet, it says, “entered the back of [Kennedy's] clothing in the vicinity of his lower neck and exited through the front of his shirt immediately behind his tie, nicking the knot of his tie in its forward flight.” The Commission found holes “on the rear of the coat, 5 3/8 inches below the top of the collar and 1 3/4 inches to the right of the centre back seam,” and in the shirt “5 3/4 inches below the top of the collar and 1 1/8 inches to the right of the middle of the back of the shirt,” with corresponding holes on the shirt front below the top collar button. The report also mentions that after the wounded president arrived at Parkland Hospital, “his tie was cut off by severing the loop immediately to the wearer’s left of the knot… The tie had a nick on the left side of the knot.” The obsessive concern with exactly what happened to shirt, jacket, and tie gives you the fleeting impression that part of the crime was the damage inflicted on the clothes.

The report offers the same level of detail about the bullet’s passage through Connally’s coat, shirt, sleeve, French cuff, and pant leg, though omits the data (supplied by Connally’s wife Nellie) that the slug also shattered one of his Mexican-peso cufflinks. The Commission’s examinations of the bullet holes—jagged tears, mostly—was hampered slightly by the fact that the blood-spattered shirt had been laundered before it was given to investigators. I like to think that this washing had less to do with evidence-tampering than with someone in the Connally household finding it unseemly to hand a bloody rag over to a panel of US government officials.

The holes in Kennedy’s clothes didn’t quite match up with each other, which seemed suspicious until photos were produced that showed the president rode with the back of his jacket slightly bunched up below the neck. A detail of Connally’s clothing actually helped pinpoint the exact moment at which he and Kennedy were hit. Close examination of the famous video made of the event by Abraham Zapruder—a Dallas womenswear maker—revealed that the right lapel of the governor’s jacket swells out slightly in the film’s 223rd frame. Computer animator Dale Myers, who spotted the lapel movement in 1993, concluded that it was caused by the bullet bursting through Connally’s chest.

Like Jackie’s pink suit, the clothes Kennedy wore in Dallas have never been shown in public. (By the way, Jackie’s suit was not actually made by Chanel; it was an authorized copy made by Chez Ninon of New York, commissioned to show that the First Lady supported American clothiers). Connally’s outfit, however, went on display recently at the Texas State Archive and Library in Austin. The black suit, as shown in this slideshow, looks suitably funereal. The white laundered shirt is still speckled with rust-coloured blood stains. These are the clothes not just of a man, but of a memory that still haunts the American people and their politics.

text // Robert Everett-Green

My Ex-Boyfriend is my Style Icon

Nicole Wornette is unapologetically attracted to sartorialists

When I tell people the story of Royal and me, they are usually a little dumbfounded.

“But you’re a smart girl,” they say, incredulous, “How could you put up with that?”

And because this troubles their understanding of how a woman who reads an excess of feminist books conducts herself, they really do want an answer. To put them at ease I say this or that about how I needed a heartbreak in order to grow, about how his aggression appealed to me because I am a “strong woman” and therefore presumably a masochist, or just (hello?) daddy issues. And when I tell them these things they nod appreciatively because it all checks out with their picture of why women like me exhibit poor judgment.

And, of course, it’s all bullshit. What they could never understand and therefore wouldn’t want to hear is that, despite my intelligence and gender/sex reading list, I dated Royal because I love style and he had it more than any person I’d met.

In short, my ex-boyfriend was my style icon.

This statement makes people uncomfortable. It speaks to a kind of sickness; a capacity for high shallowness and hero worship. Perhaps some essential comfort is lost when forced to acknowledge a person who would accept a world of heartache simply because the dealer of it had mastered an effortless eclecticism in their dress?

The first time Royal and I slept together, I felt the loneliness of sex with a selfish man that would become very familiar. This memory was, however, almost totally eclipsed by the sheer joy I experienced in watching him get dressed the next morning. He pulled wide the doors on his closet and moved almost acrobatically through its racks. He talked as he did this, about raw Japanese denim, about rough African cloth, about how every pair of pants involves a collaboration between Royal and his long-time tailor (together they’ve mastered the perfect taper), about pieces that came from family, and pieces that came from some church thrift store in some nowhere town. It seemed to me that everything in his closet was alive; each item reverberating with memories and people and care.

Royal’s style was effective synthesis; all classic pieces and proportions made his own with others from his travels and diverse family history. Often he’d build his outfits from his references; usually from cinema. I loved coming out of my house and spotting him across the street, leaning on the chain link fence, and guessing as I walked towards him, which great film was providing the inspiration for today’s outfit. I had never known someone to play unabashed adult dress-up and pull it off so completely. He was always proud of how he looked; always willing to share a story about how it came together, and I found myself embarrassed by how interested I was in this. I would actually be disappointed when the talk moved on from what he was wearing or had recently acquired to other more substantial subjects.

There remain certain unsoured, almost incandescent moments from my time with Royal, each with a corresponding mental snapshot of an outfit. I have difficulty distinguishing whether these memories are significant because of the clothes they feature or if it’s the other way around. There’s the custom suit he was wearing when we drank all the Hennessy left over from a funeral, my disbelief when he wore a porkpie hat inside a restaurant coupled with my disbelief that it actually looked good, the blue cashmere sweater that made him difficult to argue with because it looked so damn reasonable, every day a different, neatly ironed pocket square. And then there’s the one I return to most:

Facing Lake Ontario, I hear him call my name. When I turn, I see that he’s dressed simply, not unlike anybody else. But close up I catch a glimpse of a small American flag that he’s tied tightly around his wrist and almost completely concealed with the sleeve of his denim jacket. He doesn’t need anybody else to see it.

When I think of this particular memory, I remember that coming to meet me was the first time he’d left his house that day. I was the only person he’d see at all. And we were just going for a walk on an empty beach. He could never dress simply; just like anyone else. I like to imagine he’d almost left the house but went back for the flag, tied it around his wrist and felt assured by it.

You see, I wanted to dress like Royal. But what quickly became clear is that he wanted me to dress like something else.

The first time Royal and I sat across from one another and had drinks, I was wearing a pair of mens boxer shorts, pink with hounds on them, with an oversized grey jersey tank top and a black blazer, the sleeves rolled to the elbows. The outfit had been conceived in a flash because it was hot and I didn’t expect to be having romantic drinks that night. Having said that, it was also probably my favourite of any outfit I wore that summer. But of course, I apologized for it all through drinks and never wore it again because he had accepted my apology like it had been necessary.

His ideas about how women should look and dress were as specific as those he had for himself. He favoured—insisted on, actually—a visual display of perfect femininity. In his mind, women belonged in form-fitting dresses and high heeled shoes. Their hair should be smooth, fall long and they should smell like flowers. That’s it. That’s all. He wasn’t interested in a woman’s style exhibiting as much thought or complexity as his own. The outfits I was celebrated for were few and far between and always, to my mind, boring.

Still, like many women, I possess a kind of genius for anticipating and accommodating the desires of particular men. I dressed, in those first months, with Royal in mind. Running things by an imaginary him and silently apologizing for my missteps even before I was standing in front of him. At that time my “missteps” could all be blamed on the fact that I was poor. I wore the wrong shoes because I didn’t have the right ones. Dressing for Royal became a bit like Tetris: what could I put together that he would like me in, that I would like me in, that I had, that was clean, that he hadn’t already seen or banished.

One night in a restaurant, close to the end of us, he told me that the way I looked that night deserved to be smooched. I looked down at myself in a tight black dress. That night I had straightened my wild hair into something far easier to digest. I thought for the first time that I didn’t want to earn my smooches and certainly not this way. Boring was too high a price. I sighed and thought of the time he’d yelled at me in a Chinese restaurant to throw away a vintage wool bolero that I was mad about. That he’d stopped speaking to me once when his eyes had landed on my filthy white Chucks, worn sockless. That he’d taken to saying, “Get your life together, baby,” nearly every time I was satisfied with what I was doing, style-wise.

I glanced down at his hands folded on the table. I had always particularly liked his hands, or rather, the way he decorated them. To me they seemed a pleasing Royal’s style vignette. Surrounding an antique gold watch with a brown leather strap (his mother’s) were several very different bracelets and on his left hand, he wore two rings. The simple silver ring on his pinkie had been mine. He’d taken it and was so insistent that he should be allowed to keep it. I’d co-opted a green pashmina he’d bought in Africa and pronounced us square. Later, he revealed that every last piece of jewelry he wore was from a woman he’d loved and I suddenly felt trophy-like. My silver ring, the style equivalent to a head stuffed and mounted on a wall. Though still, some sick part of me was pleased to have contributed to his impressive eclecticism.

I looked up from his hands to the face that had just pronounced me deserving of smooches, and decided I was very tired. I could finally do without the mornings of watching him get dressed. I had added quite enough to my memory bank of Royal looks. That with his green scarf and the months of his example, we were in fact utterly square.

I have now passed more months out of that relationship than I’d spent in it. I have found new style icons. The world vibrates with them and the variety makes it all so democratic. I saw Royal for the first time in months a week ago on Queen Street. It had been brief because one of my friends wanted to hit him or one of his friends for one of the usual reasons. I had jumped in without a thought about what I was wearing (tight polyester black slip, madras wrap shirt, oversized trench coat, brown leather sandals and backpack), put an end to the stand off and pushed my friend on his way. As I followed, I glanced back at Royal and he smiled, saying, “You look good, baby.”

I laugh when I think about this. I am laughing for a lot of reasons, not the least of which being that I was then (and god, maybe always will be) a little flattered.

photography // Martina Bellisario

It’s All About the Labels

A Dandy Guide To Dating Vintage Menswear From WWI to 1960

Sue Nightingale’s process for dating vintage is simple: look at the label. Most of A Dandy Guide To Dating Vintage Menswear WWI to 1960 is devoted to how to properly read and identify them. Only a few pages in, I found myself interested in learning just how to date denim, despite the fact that I haven’t worn jeans in about 12 years.

The book is filled with black and white ads for Sears, J.C. Penny, and other major menswear labels from WWI to 1960. Throughout the book, we see the graphic design of labels become less ornate and more regulated as the decades pass, showing us how subtle visual clues can reveal the exact date of the piece. A Dandy Guide goes into great detail over legislation that affected the look of labels during the time—incredibly helpful and very thorough—making some key notes on this section will help this guide become more functional for the reader. A quick reading of this section will familiarize you with the decades you are dealing with, but the book is a guide and having it handy while actually dating clothing will be when it’s most useful.

The second half of the book is an explanation of the general styles and trends of the time as well as practical care instructions for vintage clothing. Nightingale outlines popular styles on the pages filled with old pictures and advertisements, then gives tips as to what to initially look for when dating vintage. An entire chapter devoted to robes and “smoking jackets” is something we rarely see in contemporary men’s fashion, and is an interesting reminder as to how much the lives of men have changed—and thus their clothing. The same can be said for men’s work clothing. Denim was functional long before it was trendy.

A Dandy Guide to Dating Vintage is a valuable resource to anyone interested in vintage clothing, men’s or women’s, as the tips and tricks are helpful for both. Above all, this book is a guide. It’s not an evening read for the bathtub, but it’s not supposed to be. It’s designed to be lugged to Value Village with you the next time you’re eyeing those velvety smoking robes in the men’s aisle.

photography // Brianne Burnell

Ball So Hard: NBA All-Sartorial Team 2012

It’s no secret that NBA players are having more fun than ever with their wardrobes. We’re deep into the playoffs and the post-game interviews have produced more memorable outfits than most runway collections do. Here’s my sartorial starting lineup:

Point Guard – Russell Westbrook

His shirt may be covered in lures and tackles, but the way that OKC is playing, he isn’t going fishing any time soon. He may not be the most efficient scorer, but he did find a way to combine his four favorite shirts into one.

I’m glad that the Oklahoma City Thunder made it to the Finals, if only so that we can see what else Westbrook will pull out of his closet for the post-game interviews. His horn-rimmed “nerd” glasses, popular among many NBA stars these days, and print polo ensembles have been analyzed more than his signature pick-and-roll.

FACT: Westbrook asked his tailor to create a shirt that looked like the opening credits to Saved by the Bell.*

*Not a fact.

Shooting Guard – Dwayne Wade

He might be second banana to LeBron on the Miami Heat, but D-Wade is the style MVP.

He rocks a lot of cashmere for a man playing in sweltering Miami, which is probably why he’s shirtless in the latest issue of Vogue.
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