22 Days of JFK

11.21.13

My Father Made Jackie’s Pink Suit

The Chanel outfit Mrs. Kennedy was wearing when her husband was killed was constructed in a New Yorker’s tailor shop—and my dad, a Jewish Polish immigrant, helped sew it.

To this day, many people are under the mistaken impression that the pink suit Jackie Kennedy wore that day in Dallas when JFK was assassinated 50 years ago was Chanel and made in France. Actually, the first lady wanted to make sure the outfit was made in the USA, so it was an exact copy of a Chanel suit, made in Manhattan.

She could never have known the significance of that symbolic gesture. But I do. My father was one of the tailors who made the outfit.

Jankiel Horowicz (they renamed him “Jack” when he got to New York) was a tailor for the Polish army before being deported to the concentration camps. Upon his liberation in 1945, the U.S. military set him up with a tailor shop in a small town in Bavaria. (The U.S. military liaison was a young Yiddish-speaking Army worker named Ed Koch, but that’s a story for another day.) My father developed a reputation for being an expert tailor, and soon his clients included high-ranking U.S. military officers stationed in Germany.

In 1952, my father, his wife, and his daughter immigrated to New York. Based on his stellar reputation, he was able to join the International Ladies’ Garment Workers Union, then one of the largest unions in America. Eventually, he was hired to be a “finisher” and sample maker for Oscar de la Renta, whose shop was on 39th Street between Broadway and 7th Avenue. It was across the street from Dubrow’s cafeteria, where we’d often meet him after work. Then we’d walk down to Macy’s, which at the time had a butcher shop on the ground floor where we’d buy meat.

I was too young to remember the details, but my older sister recalls the excitement in our house when my father announced he was working on a suit for the first lady. Mrs. Kennedy went to a boutique on the East Side to order the outfit. It was a year before the JFK assassination. The boutique farmed out part of the finishing work to my father at the de la Renta shop.

According to The New York Times, Mrs. Kennedy wore the outfit several times before November 22, 1963. I’m grateful my family had the chance to bask in the glory of seeing my father’s work being worn by the first lady before it became an infamous part of history. They must’ve been horrified to turn on the TV and see her still wearing the blood-stained suit while LBJ was sworn in.

According to so many accounts, she was urged to change her clothes for the plane ride back to D.C.. Instead, Mrs. Kennedy said, “Let them see what they’ve done.”