Style & Grooming

The Enduring Style of John F. Kennedy Jr.

As we present a summer edit inspired by JFK Jr. and created in partnership with MR PORTER, we remember the life and looks of the son of John F. Kennedy and Jackie Onassis

  • TextTed Stansfield

It’s lucky that John F. Kennedy Jr. was handsome. Born into America’s most celebrated political dynasty and the first infant to live in the White House since 1893, the son of John F. Kennedy and Jackie Onassis lived life under the microscope. Every moment of his life was documented, despite his mother’s best efforts to shield him from the public gaze, until his untimely death in 1999.

Well-dressed from his infancy, pictures of Kennedy were splashed across the press throughout his life. When he saluted his slain father on his third birthday, dressed in a blue dress coat and short trousers (which became one of the most memorable images of the 1960s); when he emerged from his secret wedding hand-in-hand with his bride, Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy, wearing a relaxed navy suit; when he was engaging in various outdoor pursuits – sailing, skiing and sports such as football and frisbee.

Athletic and often photographed shirtless, Kennedy was named “sexiest man alive” by People magazine in 1988 and, after failing the New York bar exam twice when he was at law school, “the hunk that flunked”. But despite his looks, his fame and his almost unparalleled privilege, Kennedy maintained that he had a “pretty normal life, surprisingly”. If true, this is thanks to his mother who told her bodyguards that her son “must be allowed to experience life,” and that “unless he is allowed freedom, he’ll be a vegetable.” When he was robbed of his bicycle and a tennis racket in Central Park, aged 13, his mother said it was a good experience for him.

While his father’s supporters hoped that Kennedy would follow in his footsteps and run for public office, he dreamed of a career on the stage and took part in numerous amateur theatre productions. His mother disapproved of this idea though and so he trained as a lawyer before founding George, a monthly politics and style magazine which, on the cover of its first issue, featured Cindy Crawford posing as George Washington in a powdered wig and ruffled shirt. Though widely criticised, Kennedy said that “political magazines should look like Mirabella.” The magazine shuttered two years later.

In 1999 Kennedy’s story was cut short when, aged just 38, he died in a plane crash with his wife, Carolyn, and sister-in-law Lauren Bessette. He was taken in his prime like his father, two uncles, an aunt and two cousins before him – touched, wrote his obituary in The New York Times, by “the Kennedy charisma and its curse”.