Fashion Goddesses

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The April 19, 2010 issue of Newsweek magazine included an article about Grace Kelly‘s clothes. For those of you who don’t know who that is, she was an actress (think “Rear Window” with Jimmy Stewart) who married a prince (literally: Prince Rainier of Monaco). While highly acclaimed as an actress, it was her cool and classic look that got her the most press. Fifty of her outfits are being displayed this week in an exhibition at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum. The title of the exhibition is “Grace Kelly:  Style Icon.”

She was an actress for eight years and a political wife for almost 30, but all anyone thinks of when they think of Grace Kelly is how she looked. Granted, she was beautiful and she had a great sense of style that suited her perfectly (no pun intended). But she was also a human being. What do we know of her beyond that?

I remember the “reign” of Jackie Kennedy; I was 11 when her husband was assassinated. She was the fashion icon of the ’60s and beyond. Everyone copied her well-cut clothes and pill-box hat. But, besides being the wife of the 35th president of the United States (and later wife to one of the richest men in the world, Aristotle Onassis) nothing else about her was considered to be newsworthy. Oh, the press regurgitated every bit of information about her that it could find, but their main focus was her style. The week of her husband’s inauguration, it was her picture, not his, that appeared on the cover of Time.

It wasn’t until I was reading the book Where the Girls Are, by Susan J. Douglas, that I found out about her command of French, Italian and Spanish, and that on at least two occasions, when accompanying her husband on diplomatic missions, she spoke to the crowds in their native languages while JFK stood off to the side.  She attended Vassar and the Sorbonne before graduating from George Washington University with a degree in French literature.  She oversaw a historic restoration of the White House. After Onassis’ death, she became an editor at Doubleday until her death in 1993 of cancer.

But what do we think of when we hear the name Jacqueline Kennedy? The way she dressed.

Princess Diana is another case in point. She tried hard through her charitable work to become more than the wife of the heir to the British throne and the mother of his children. But she became known throughout the world for her fashion sense more than for anything else. Even though she contributed to this fascination by making sure that she always appeared fashionably clothed, it must have been frustrating for her clothes and hairdos to be the main things that were reported about her (until her horrific and untimely death at the age of 36).

Judging women by the way that they look is hardly a new phenomenon. But it seems to be especially egregious when it is done to political wives. I’d like to think that these three had more going for them than their fashion sense. Not all politician’s wives come under this type of scrutiny. But those who do are trivialized by being made into fashion goddesses.

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Ellen Keim

Ellen is a freelance writer, essayist and copy editor, living with three cats and a husband in Columbus, OH.

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