TBT: Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy


Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy’s birthday was on Tuesday. Though we've already celebrated with an informal homage by way of tawny lipsticks (not to mention Alice Gregory’s constant praise of the woman she holds “highest in my mental hierarchy of Who To Copy”), we thought the PR-girl-turned-American-princess, minimalist style icon, and—we’ll just say what everyone’s already thinking—the original Gwyneth, deserved a post all her own.

As hardworking New Yorkers, we’re extra indebted to Carolyn’s legacy—one that involved rising from salesperson at the Calvin Klein store in Boston to the house's corporate offices in NYC, to the PR grind at Paul Wilmot, the VIP list at Pravda, and eventually clinching the heart of the world’s most eligible bachelor—John F. Kennedy, Jr. Behold the power of the turtleneck.

CBK was such a thing that every NYC colorist foiling before the 2000s has some story of how they had a hand in developing her beach baby blond color (and some aren't exaggerating). When she wasn’t cloaked in Prada, structural Yohji Yamamoto, vintage leopard print coats, backwards caps, and Hermès Birkins before they became so ubiquitous among the 1%, she was helping to get the then-unkown Narciso Rodriguez on the speed dial of every woman with a social calendar. Such is life when your high school yearbook names you “the ultimate beautiful person.”

But what we dig so much about CBK's style is that nothing felt overworked. She was simply classic, smart, and self-assured in a way that was calming rather than intimidating. She had us wearing Egyptian Musk, envying her strong nose and Marlene Dietrich eyebrows, and, despite her public persona, she maintained an air of mystery that continues to keep us musing. In other words: those are some big Manolos to fill.

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  • Lauren

    God, they did the 90s so well

  • Colleen Oczkowski

    Ugh, THANK YOU for this! I idolized CBK and her style as a teenage girl. What 30 something woman can say that her teenage style icon is still a present day style icon?

  • Susan

    The best wedding dress...and wedding ever!

  • Chrissabella

    Love that post and she really did the 'effortlessly chic' the best!

    Greetings from London,


  • http://taliashulze.com/ Talia

    HBD CBK. rip :(

  • Chloe

    I love the way they made so much kissing and canoodling look classy.

  • Anon

    Glad you have posted this...class, style, elegance, an authentic beauty ... both taken too taken! The wedding gown/photo is the ultimate! A lot of today's young women - and old for that matter! - should become familar with her short but sooo worthy legacy and learn something.

    • Anon

      *both taken too young*

    • murt

      What is her legacy though? Yes she had great style, but it was a fairly typical look for the time and the circles she moved in. Other than that, she was a conventionally attractive woman who married a rich and conventionally handsome man before unfortunately dying young. I don't think there is much to learn from there.

      • SS

        perhaps Anon was talking about fashion and style. i don't think she meant as if CBK was trying to cure cancer!

        • murt

          haha true... I don't deny that it is fun to look back on '90s minimalist style.... that whole aesthetic is pretty underrated nowadays.

      • Marcia Silvrerstein

        You are wrong there. She wore an unconventional wedding gown from a designer who was a friend and not yet on the radar. She wore Yojii before anyone else in her crowd did as he too was and is unconventional. She didn't have her nose fixed. And she wore casual with the elan that Emmanuelle Alt does now. Yes she was classic but she wore her clothes they didn't wear her. And she was classy and beautiful.

        • murt

          As I said, she had great style, and yes it was awesome that she chose narciso rodriguez, but slip dresses were super trendy in 1995/1996.... Tons of people were wearing them then.

          And Yohji? Yes his clothes have a cool and challenging aesthetic, but he was also very popular by the mid-80s - he was even mentioned in that Kim Basinger/Mickey Rourke movie! I remember being thrilled to find a Yohji Yamamoto skirt in a thrift store as a 14 year old in 1997.

      • Asma

        Lol I agree completely. The look was actually fairly typical for back then. Though she had nice style I myself was rather tired of the look back then. As I mentioned above i felt the colors and the style was a bit too neutral and drab for me coming from an Indian background. I come alive in color, soft and flowy material which was not something very commonly worn in the 90s. At least, not in Oregon where I grew up lol. I was happy when the 90s was over and I moved to Northern California. Was able to add more color and softness to my look.

        Carolyn looked like a typical sleek, skinny, super model esque for that time period to me. I was sorry how they died and though I felt rather annoyed at the over hype envy the mass media projected onto her while she was alive, I also didn't feel like she deserved the vilifying treatment she received from the Kennedy machine afterwards. It was/is unfair and just irritating how the American public/media loves to build up and iconize then suddenly tear down others who are just human beings. But i digress.

  • kamo12

    Behold! The reason we all plucked our eyebrows into oblivion and can no longer grow them.

    • Sarah O Taylor

      I never thought about her eyebrows until coming across an '03 movie about John and Carolyn, played by the then very thin-eyebrowed (sp?) Portia De Rossi. I thought her an odd choice until I came back to look at photos of Carolyn. They do share features in common.
      Eyebrows were a lot thinner in the '90s, you're right. I guess i was lucky in that I had overly-thick ones, so now in my 40's they are still OK.

  • mlle p

    Almost every photo looks like it could be from today, stylewise. I still have moments where I look at some clothing item and think "Would CBK wear it?"

  • Jonrah

    Crazy thing is everything she's wearing would look current despite the fact that all these photos are over 10yrs old! Timeless.

  • Lionessa

    I've always loved CBK's style so much, what an icon. JFK Jr. was positively gorgeous.

  • kathS

    sigh tear goosebumps everything

  • Marlenne

    She was so pretty, a true fashion icon


  • Jill S

    EF FORT LESS. That girl made it all look easy, clothes and lifestyle and love...than you for so many beautiful photos! Such a shame, two bright lights went out the day we lost them.

  • http://analeote.blogspot.pt/ Ana Leote
  • Nina

    Isn't she so beautiful and iconic? What a perfect role model of a hardworking, striving, genuine person. I was so sad the day she died. Thank you for posting this. I've never seen a lot of these pictures.

  • Georgia

    The picture of CBK and Kate is fantastic

  • Sylvie loves makeup

    Love her ! She moves me ...I can't explain why .

  • Sara

    how is it that they both made it through the late 90s with such style? with the exception of those younger pictures, she would not look the least bit dated today.

    • murt

      I don't think - in general - that the late 90s were that bad at all style-wise. Calvin Klein minimalism is pretty timeless.

    • Sarah O Taylor

      Just, again, the classic, non-trendy (we never saw her in a baby-doll dress and chunky boots, although that was fun to wear imho), simple pieces, minimal jewelry.

  • Ruba Ayoub

    Carolyn is and has been my #1 style icon since before her passing. She is timeless, classic and classy. This was an article to put a smile on my face.

  • Sabina

    She's timeless. Love him - them! Thanks for all the photos, will save me time googling for CBK inspiration pics (like I said, TRULY timeless). Just imagine what her style would have evolved to today... RIP CBK+JFKJR

    P.S. Gwynnie was totally CBK 2.0 in the nineties. Nailed it. (Still love you, GP).

  • AndyPlayford

    Love her. She has class that money can't buy.

  • paris

    a big loss, a such beautiful woman ...
    more Carolyn bessette on ITG...

  • Marilyn Huttunen

    So beautifully poignant! Carolyn had such an aura of class, style and mystery, which is sadly lacking in any of today's celebs.

  • Diosa Total

    This is cray. The 90s were a very scary time to be an eyebrow - everyone was over-plucking. If you are really asking yourself "What would "CBK" do or wear - than I sincerely hope that you are 5'10, 110 lbs with a coke habit diet and "blonde" hair. Aside from the fact that these folks have been dead for 15 years this isn't really relevant to anyone's life - unless your life is a fantasy world where you hang out with the incredibly handsome but apparently none too bright and cocksure scions of "American Royalty". Then by all means, strap in - it's going to be a bumpy ride ! Try to remember this life saving tip- just because someone is rich and handsome and has taken a few flying lessons - doesn't mean they can actually fly a plane. Get real, peeps.

  • murt

    oh the '90s............. I used to have a saab 900 like the one she is walking beside - it was my teenage car.. used to break down all the time.

  • SS

    timeless style...class...elegance...beauty...

  • Jennifer Marcucci

    Thanks for an amazing pictorial. These outfits are timeless...what I wouldn't give for the camel or leopard print coat. Exquisite taste and style that will live on.

  • http://www.bretelle.com.au/ BRETELLE

    Oh my, wasnt she devine? So sad, & apparently such a nice person. Love her style, how is that understated wedding dress she wore in Silk Satin - what a figure.


  • AJ

    Hmm...Yes CBK was very classic and her style looked terrific. On HER. I'm going to go out on a limb here and say while everyone holds these 90s minimalist styles in so high of an esteem, surprise surprise they *do not* work on everyone. CBK's form and fit in her clothes was impeccable I'll give her that. But those colors and make up style is exactly the type that washes me out.

    I've always been about fashion being versatile, experimental, and fun for all. Being minimalist and classic is great for certain occasions, but I would never want to see it be replaced for those who prefer a little more Bohemian funk and color for their own personal imprinting. I guess I feel afraid that while people like CBK (who WAS beautiful and admirably elegant I agree) get held in such high regard fashion and looks wise, I would hope those with some different flair do not get branded as "unsophisticated" and scoffed/scolded.

    I only wanted to share this slightly different take is because for me personally, being of an Indian background and a bit of different coloring and body type than my counterparts, I was not always happy or able to pull off that minimalist look. It was popular when I entered college and I got rather tired of trying to fit that stereotypical, white statuesque model mode. I come alive with some color (orange, yellow and pink to be exact. Which tends to be scoffed at lol), and so did most everyone else I knew. Without sacrificing elegance. I guess I feel fearful that while I live CBK's look, I would hope it doesn't return while trading a little exploration for perfection in style.

  • Sarah O Taylor

    Oh goodness, who wasn't? :) Most of us sort of figure out who we are or want to be in our 30s. More fun to play around with clothes in the 20s, imho

  • Believesingood

    I think what Carolyn is remembered for is on a personal note rather than a professional one. Definitely her style was classic and timeless but nothing that was groundbreaking. Her personal relationships for the lucky few was were she shone it seems. No one here including the author actually knew CBK. I just finished reading What Remains by Carole Radziwill. One of the few people who spent much time with both JFK jr. and CBK. The book is so much more and excellently written. It really did give an insight to this woman whose life was cut way too short. An insight that all media totally missed out on.


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