How to dress like JFK
From slim-fitting suits to an excellent eye for sunglasses, here's what you can learn from JFK, the man who overhauled the White House wardrobe
He was one of the history’s youngest Presidents, but John Fitzgerald Kennedy got things done. He led the free world fearlessly through the Cuban Missile Crisis. He fuelled the United States through the Space Race. He even negotiated his nation through the trickiest moments of the Civil Rights Movement.
And, in addition to making waves in the world of politics, JFK was also the first POTUS to make a splash on the fashion scene. Gone were the stuffy, square suits of old government. Kennedy was a head of state for the Swinging Sixties — bringing skinny ties, natty knitwear and sunglasses into the Oval Office. He overhauled the White House wardrobe; serving for just under three years, but changing the style of world leaders forever.
So what style tips should we be borrowing from the revered, refined statesman? If you’re looking to take some specifically summery tips from JFK, we’ve rounded up the best here. For every other occasion, see below. And, while there may not be any pieces by JFK’s favourite brand (he wore Brooks Brothers down to his underpants) we’re sure America’s 35th president would still approve of our choices…
Opt for slim-fitting, simple suiting
Suits; the bread and butter of politicians. And, while JFK served to shake things up while in office, he never deviated from the proven two-piece suit that defines the political class to this day. He just tightened it up a bit. His slim-fitting suits didn’t have chunky shoulder pads. They were neatly tailored, Ivy League affairs; with narrow lapels, subtle patterns and a sharp trouser crease.
His ties were considerably thinner than those his father would’ve worn, and often came striped — another academic touch to his suiting. A pocket square was almost always tucked into that breast pocket (one single point, thank you very much), and his shirts were simple — pale blue or white, with classic straight-point collars.
Hackett Mayfair Slim Fit Birdseye Suit
Emma Willis White Superior Cotton Shirt
Turnbull & Asser Navy Emblem Tie
Go for comfort with your casualwear
Off-duty dressing for JFK revolved around several key pieces. His knitwear, especially, was a big part of his casual wardrobe. Often, he could be seen with a fine knit jumper slung about his shoulders — and his navy shawl neck cardigan has become the stuff of style legend. Even his seemingly endless collection of grey marl sweatshirts have a certain utilitarian charm to them.
And then there are the polo shirts. Another staple of the statesman’s wardrobe, JFK never dipped below ‘smart-casual’ with his dress codes. The collar of polo shirts ensured that he maintained the air of a man in charge — but the style offered him the chance to experiment with bolder colours than his shirting; blues and yellows. And then, his chinos. Another Ivy League icon, JFK’s trousers were stone or white, and used to distance himself from the grey or navy of his work suits.
Sunspel Riviera Polo Shirt
New & Lingwood Cream Single Pleat Trousers
Polo Ralph Lauren Shawl-Collar Cardigan
Formalwear is best kept classic
Of course, we don’t get as many invites to black tie functions as a head of state, but JFK’s way of dressing for galas, balls and benefits is still worth your attention. When it came to tuxedos, Kennedy mostly stuck to tradition, with a plain white shirt, neat bow tie and an extra-sharp trouser crease. Occasionally, however, he strayed from the sartorial path — experimenting with velvet dinner jackets, or satin lapels. And, every now and then, a carnation in the button hole.
But white tie is where JFK really comes into his own. Never before — or since — has a president looked so British. He might as well be stepping onto the set of a period costume drama. Complete with low white waistcoat, tails and just a whisper of cuff, no-one does white tie quite like JFK.
Turnbull & Asser White Tuxedo Shirt
Henry Poole Dinner Jacket
Drake's Black Silk-Faille Bow Tie
Adopt some nautical influences
JFK was a lifelong sailor. “It is an interesting biological fact,” he once said, “that all of us have in our veins the exact same percentage of salt in our blood that exists in the ocean, and, therefore, we have salt in our blood, our sweat, and in our tears. We are tied to the ocean.”
His wardrobe certainly was. The nautical blue polo shirts and pale sweatshirts made a reappearance on the waves — as did the chinos, albeit with a slightly less sharp trouser crease. Perhaps JFK’s most iconic seafaring style can be seen above; cable-knit blue socks laced into white training shoes, with a fur-collared leather jacket. And the sunglasses — oh, the sunglasses! Kennedy certainly knew how to wear a pair of those.
Emma Willis Cashmere Socks
Reiss 'Nash' Shearling Jacket
Aurélien Cambridge Sneakers
Pick some presidential sunglasses
And his eye for eyewear didn’t stop once he docked on dry land. JFK had a collection of sunglasses that would eclipse any other — from classic Wayfarer frames to round tortoiseshell designs. He even had, as you can see above, an enviable pair when he served aboard a Patrol Torpedo boat in 1943. He would later win a Marine Corps Medal and a Purple Heart for his bravery during the war — but we’d say the sunglasses make a pretty good memento, too.
Oscar Deen Carril Sunglasses
Cubitts Collier Sunglasses
The Bespoke Dudes Shetland Sunglasses
Want more style icons? Here’s how to dress like Steve McQueen…
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