From Vassar to immortality.

by James Long

“I’ve been admiring your tie.”

It was hardly a memorable line if not for the person who said it to me. I stood, napkin in hand, to ease her path as she and her dinner companion left their cozily adjacent table at Manhattan’s Café Luxembourg, a favorite restaurant of mine on the Upper West Side where I’d taken my assistant for her birthday. Half an hour earlier, the maître d’ seated us mere inches away from their table, and as my assistant settled onto their shared red banquette, I politely tried to keep my focus on her. And, yet I couldn’t help stealing glances at her.

She was Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, in a coordinating ecru jacket and skirt. After her compliment (in her signature dulcet tone), I humbly replied, “Thank you,” and watched as the restaurant’s bons viveurs became a controlled study in how the brain regulates the movements of our eyes toward discrete intended targets. 

Upon Mrs. Onassis’ departure, my assistant and I, both able to breathe normally again, regaled ourselves with everything “Jackie.” My earliest sighting of her had been as a mere tyke with my mother, among other hushed onlookers, behind a chain link fence near the tarmac at Andrews Air Force Base, where my father was stationed, when then-Mrs. Kennedy had returned from Dallas as a widow on Air Force One. 

My assistant had gone to the same college as the former First Lady; Jacqueline Bouvier, as she was then known, attended Vassar in Poughkeepsie in the late ’40s. “And so did Jane Fonda,” my assistant reminded me. Two fashion icons, two style heavyweights, enrolled eight years apart. Jackie and Jane. First Lady and Sci-Fi’s Barbarella—embedding, if not defining, some of the most important style moments of the 1950s and ’60s. As it happened, neither alum ended up graduating from Vassar, but had they, I have no doubt that the consummate trendsetters would’ve worn their gowns, mortarboards and tassels with the utmost panache. Much like I sported that tie. 

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