Why Everyone Mistakenly Thinks Jackie Kennedy's Inauguration Outfit Was Blue

At this point, countless articles, books, documentaries, films, and more have cataloged the immense impact Jackie Kennedy left on the Office of the First Lady of the United States. From her White House interior design to the public poise expected of presidential spouses, her establishment of mainstays like the White House Rose Garden to her oft-cited, admirably elegant fashion sense: Kennedy set a very high bar in a very short time. 

When thinking of notable Jackie Kennedy outfits, many people might sadly imagine the pink suit that she wore on the day that JFK was assassinated in 1963. Others might think of her iconic "pillbox" hat, a circular, flat-topped accessory that Kennedy popularized during her time as first lady. Many outlets have analyzed Kennedy's fashion choices throughout the years, including dress patterns and colors, jewelry and other accessories, how these corresponded to different occasions, etc.

And then there's the blue dress that Kennedy wore during her husband's inauguration — or "duck-egg blue," as CNN describes it. At least, folks think it was blue ... right? Well, surprise, surprise. As we can see on the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum and a Pinterest photo comparison, the "overblouse dress" wasn't blue at all. It was a subdued, dark cream closer to beige than white. CNN says the mistake possibly stems from an issue of Life Magazine featuring Kennedy in a similarly cream-colored dress on the cover, but a blue dress inside. 

Mistaken for Life Magazine photos

Having a look at JFK's 1961 inauguration speech (pictured above), Jackie Kennedy very clearly stands out to JFK's right (our left) because of the comparative brightness and simple texture of her clothing. Plus, she's wearing her famous pillbox hat. At first glance, some readers still might see a tinge of blue in the dress, possibly because of the shadow cast on her form. But in reality, her dress was a dark cream — "fawnish beige," as CNN fancifully puts it, aka, the color of a fawn.

In general, Kennedy was pictured in so many different bold, solid-color outfits over the years that confusion about what she wore and when is understandable. Bur remember that such pictures come from a time of infinitely fewer camera phones hanging around in people's pockets. They also come from a time of far fewer sources from which to view events and learn news. Bearing this in mind, it makes sense that particular images of prominent events got shared around and left a collective impression in the memory of the public. Hence the additional influence of a picture from Life Magazine, as CNN mentions.

[Featured image by CWO Donald Mingfield, USA via Wikimedia Commons | Cropped and scaled]

Imperfect early color capture

There's another reason why folks might not remember Jackie Kennedy's inauguration dress correctly — or rather, why it might have looked like a different color to begin with. Color film footage was relatively new even by the 1960's, or at least newly implemented in any widespread, standardized way. As ThoughtCo. explains, the earliest color film patent dates to 1904, but it took until 1950 for CBS to develop and broadcast colored footage from a colored film system; this includes the technology to record, broadcast, and display colors. However, not everyone owned a color TV set overnight. It took through the 1970s for color TVs to phase out black-and-white sets U.S.-wide.

Enter JFK's 1961 inauguration, recorded at a time when color processing was imperfect. Even if someone had a color TV set at home and saw Jackie Kennedy sitting to the side of JFK, that person might not have seen Kennedy's actual dress color. In fact, footage on YouTube from the time on 2019 documentary "Haltson" of Kennedy from the day of JFK's inauguration shows her dress appearing pink, of all colors (pictured above). This footage looks drained of color as a whole, like it was originally black-and-white and was color-graded after the fact. This could help explain why folks who weren't alive at the time of JFK's inauguration and only have such footage to go on misremember Kennedy's dress color.