Despite being the first lady, Jacqueline Kennedy usually kept her distance from politics. Yet in 1963, while still recovering from the August death of prematurely born son Patrick Bouvier Kennedy, she agreed to join husband John F. Kennedy on a trip to Texas. Unfortunately, in Dallas on November 22, 1963, President Kennedy was shot while sitting next to Jackie, and the pink suit she was wearing became covered in her husband's blood. In the aftermath of the presidential assassination, Jackie refused to change her outfit for the rest of the day. This created a powerful and devastating image for the public while also reflecting her personal trauma.
Jackie clutched her husband after he was shot
On November 22, 1963, Jackie was seated next to her husband in an open-top limousine driving through Dallas. She looked eye-catching in a pink suit (though often described as Chanel, the suit was actually an authorized replica made in New York so Jackie wouldn't be criticized for shopping overseas). Then shots were fired. One hit her husband's back and exited via his throat. Another tore through JFK's head. As Jackie grappled with what was happening, blood and gore seeped into her outfit.
Jackie clutched her husband on the way to Parkland Memorial Hospital, attempting to tend to his mangled head. John's vice president, Lyndon B. Johnson, had been in a separate vehicle in the same procession, and he and wife Lady Bird proceeded to the hospital as well. Lady Bird later described how she "saw, in the president's car, a bundle of pink, just like a drift of blossoms, lying on the back seat. I think it was Mrs. Kennedy, lying over the President's body."
Though they were separated as doctors tried to save the president, Jackie quickly returned to her husband's side. She even kneeled on the blood-covered floor to pray. However, given the severity of JFK's injuries, doctors soon stopped working on him. A priest offered last rites; the time of death was marked as 1:00 p.m.
Lyndon B. Johnson being sworn in as the 36th President of the United States of America on board Air Force One after the assassination of President John F Kennedy
Jackie left her bloody suit on to 'let them see what they've done'
Jackie stayed next to her husband's casket as they drove to Air Force One, where Johnson — now the president — and his wife were already onboard. On the plane, Jackie found a change of clothes waiting for her. She wiped off her face, but would later recall for a Life magazine writer: "One second later, I thought, 'Why did I wash the blood off?' I should have left it there; let them see what they've done."
With this in mind, Jackie opted not to change her clothes, even as she agreed to be present as Johnson took the official oath of office. The former first lady had always understood the power of imagery to convey messages. By showing up in her bloody outfit, she reminded everyone there, and everyone who would later see photos from the ceremony, of the slain president.
Air Force One soon took off for Washington, D.C. Jackie went to sit near her husband's casket, still in her bloody outfit. When offered the option to descend from the plane without being photographed, she again insisted, "We’ll go out the regular way. I want them to see what they have done."
Jackie said that JFK did not 'have the satisfaction of being killed for civil rights'
Right-wing opponents abhorred the fact that Kennedy was Catholic, disliked his proposal for Medicare and hated his support for integration. Approximately 5,000 copies of a flyer that stated Kennedy was "WANTED FOR TREASON" were distributed around Dallas before his visit. Given this, much of the nation initially assumed that a far-right component must have been responsible for his assassination.
Jackie likely shared this belief, as she'd seen for herself how disliked her husband was by some. On the day of his assassination, an anti-JFK ad in the Dallas Morning News asked why he was being "soft on Communism?" After taking in the ad, Kennedy had said to Jackie, "We’re really in 'nut country' now."
These political enemies may have been the intended recipients for Jackie's message of "I want them to see what they've done." When she later learned that Lee Harvey Oswald had been arrested for her husband's assassination, she reportedly said, "He didn't even have the satisfaction of being killed for civil rights. It's — it had to be some silly little Communist."
The first lady kept her composure, even when recounting what happened
Jackie's refusal to change her clothes wasn't solely about projecting an image. After accompanying Kennedy's body to Maryland's Bethesda Naval Hospital for a required autopsy, she was no longer on public display. She also had time to change out of her blood-soaked outfit while waiting in the on-site presidential suite. Yet she continued to refuse to do so.
Instead, at Bethesda Jackie began to relive the trauma she'd experienced. She'd already told Robert Kennedy, who'd joined her after Air Force One landed, what had happened in Dallas in that limousine and afterward. Now she repeated the story, over and over, to the friends and family who'd gathered around her. She also recalled another recent loss: the death of her premature son, Patrick Bouvier Kennedy, less than four months earlier.
Jackie never lost control as she replayed the devastation she'd endured. But amidst this trauma, changing her outfit was the last thing she wanted to contemplate.
The outfit is stored in the National Archives
Jackie remained at Bethesda until around four in the morning when her husband's body was ready. She then accompanied him back to the White House. After his casket was placed in the East Room, she went to her room and finally removed her outfit.
Her maid, shocked by the state of Jackie's clothes, placed the items in a bag. Months later, Jackie's suit, blouse, stockings, and shoes, all still stained with blood, were sent to the National Archives. Her outfit has been stored there ever since.
In 2003, Caroline Kennedy made a deed of gift of her mother's clothes. However, she stipulated the outfit not be placed on display for 100 years; in 2103, Kennedy heirs and archivists can revisit the issue of a public showing. Until then, Jackie's pink suit is preserved in a carefully controlled environment, a symbol of one of the worst days in her life and in U.S. history.
Why Jacqueline Kennedy Didn't Take Off Her Pink Suit After JFK Was Assassinated. The first lady continued to wear the outfit covered in her husband's blood to convey a message and as a way of coping with her own trauma. Despite being the first lady, Jacqueline Kennedy usually kept her distance from politics.What happened to Jacqueline Kennedy's pink suit? ›
The pink Chanel knock-off suit Jacqueline Kennedy wore on that historic day in Dallas in 1963 currently resides in an environmentally controlled storage facility in Maryland, complete with its blood stains. Banned from public display until 2103, the outfit is missing one important element - the matching pillbox hat.Why did Jackie Kennedy keep the bloodstained clothes on? ›
It was a bold and unexpected move for the former First Lady, but her decision to keep the outfit on was a calculated one. She had cleaned her husband's blood off her face, and there was a change of clothes available to her.What did Jackie Kennedy wear to her husband's funeral? ›
The Black Veil − After JFK's assassination, Jackie Kennedy wore a black veil for her husband's funeral. The veil covered her face, and she was seen as a symbol of mourning and elegance. The White Halston Dress − Jackie Kennedy was often seen wearing designs by American fashion designer Halston.Why is Jackie Kennedy buried next to JFK? ›
She became a widow the a second time when Onassis died and was again single when she died of cancer in 1994. Due to this status, she was laid to rest next to JFK and their two infant children in Arlington National Cemetery.Why did Jackie keep the pink suit on? ›
Why Jacqueline Kennedy Didn't Take Off Her Pink Suit After JFK Was Assassinated. The first lady continued to wear the outfit covered in her husband's blood to convey a message and as a way of coping with her own trauma. Despite being the first lady, Jacqueline Kennedy usually kept her distance from politics.Why didn t Jackie Kennedy like her wedding dress? ›
Instead, Joseph insisted Jackie wear a gown more fitting of a future Kennedy, choosing Lowe to design it as she had worked with the family for years. As such, Jackie was less than in love with her dress, and when it came to press coverage of the wedding, she was vague.Why did Jackie Kennedy wear a veil to the funeral? ›
For high-profile mourners – such as those present at a state funeral – veils also helped to mask tearfulness, which might have been considered inappropriate or humiliating. See Jackie Kennedy at JFK's 1963 funeral, wearing a nearly opaque veil with her Givenchy suit.What were JFK's last words? ›
Nellie Connally turned and commented to Kennedy, who was sitting behind her, "Mr. President, they can't make you believe now that there are not some in Dallas who love and appreciate you, can they?" Kennedy's reply – "No, they sure can't" – were his last words.What dress did Queen Elizabeth wear to meet Jackie Kennedy? ›
The Queen welcomed President John F. Kennedy and his wife, Jackie Kennedy for a visit in 1961. Both women posed in differing shades of blue, while the monarch chose a darker-toned tulle ballgown and white opera gloves for the affair.
After Jackie had her ring redesigned, she continued her pattern of wearing it discreetly. Today, the jewel is among the former First Lady's possessions kept at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston. Occasionally, the piece is put on display.Why did Jackie Kennedy climb on back of car? ›
Q: Why did First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy climb onto the back of the car after the shooting? A: Jacqueline Kennedy climbed on the back of the car to retrieve fragments from the president's head, though she had no memory of it afterward. Q: Was Kennedy killed instantly?Who is buried next to Jackie Kennedy? ›
Flanking Jackie and John F. Kennedy's graves are the graves of their two infant children, Patrick and Arabella. Patrick passed away only a few days after his premature birth, and Arabella was tragically stillborn.Who is the daughter buried at JFK gravesite? ›
The second child is Arabella Kennedy, whose grave marker simply reads "Daughter" as she was stillborn and did not receive a birth certificate or an official name. His wife, Jacqueline Kennedy, was interred after her death in 1994.Is Jackie Kennedy buried next to John? ›
Soon after she was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma in 1994, she died in her New York City apartment. After a funeral at St. Ignatius Roman Catholic Church on Park Avenue, she was buried in Arlington National Cemetery beside John F. Kennedy and the two children who had predeceased them.Where is Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis buried at? › Why did Jackie Kennedy climb on the back of the car? ›
Q: Why did First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy climb onto the back of the car after the shooting? A: Jacqueline Kennedy climbed on the back of the car to retrieve fragments from the president's head, though she had no memory of it afterward.What did Jackie Kennedy do after JFK died? ›
Following the assassination and funeral of her husband in 1963, Kennedy and her children first settled in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington before moving to New York City with the hope of greater anonymity.What was Jackie Onassis net worth? ›
The former First Lady's executors valued her estate at $43.7 million, court documents show, though the fantastic prices some of her property brought at auction have prompted an Internal Revenue Service audit to determine whether its true value was closer to $73 million.