Author: Suet Yuk Au Yeung

Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and Michelle Obama as Fashion Icons BY RAINIE AU YEUNG

When I learned about the Kennedy Assassination in high school, I read a report from a British journalist, who attended Kennedy’s funeral and claimed that “Jacqueline Kennedy has today given her country the one thing it has always lacked, and that is majesty.”[1] This statement left me with a deep first impression about this prominent first lady. Historian Michael Hogan points out that after President Kennedy was assassinated, not only did Jackie bury his body at Arlington National Cemetery, she also helped to establish the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington D.C. and the Kennedy Library and Museum in Boston.[2] Jackie wanted the American public to remember President Kennedy as a war hero and a charming intellectual leader who demonstrated an appreciation of art. However, Jackie played a critical role to construct the public memory of President Kennedy even before he was assassinated.

During Kennedy’s presidency, Jackie had become an American icon through her fashionable appearance. Jackie’s iconic fashion reflected Americans’ obsession with the appropriate demonstration of gender. Her elegant appearance demonstrated how her gender role became an important element that made a positive influence on her husband’s collective memory. Oleg Cassini was Jackie’s costume designer and he claimed that Jackie’s clothes “could reinforce the message of her husband’s administration.” [3] In addition, her role as a wife and a mother of two children helped the public to link President Kennedy with the image of a loving husband and father.[4]  Along with the image of President Kennedy’s charming youth, Jackie’s iconic fashion style reinforced a positive public memory of President Kennedy. Jackie presented a new fashion look that combines American style with European elegance, which established an appealing American version of royalty and turned herself into a graceful American “queen”.[5] Because Jackie’s dignified fashionable appearance presented the vigorous image of the United States as a powerful modern nation, her elegant costumes emphasized the growth of American power and the prosperity during Kennedy’s presidency. Jackie played a significant role to help construct the image of President Kennedy and herself as a flawless couple and perfect family. This idealized version of American life appealed to the American public and strengthened people’s positive memory of President Kennedy.

Similar to the way that Jacqueline Kennedy became an icon of fashion, social emphasis on the wardrobe choices of former first lady Michelle Obama also shows how female icon can be associated with the expectations of gender appearance in American society. Even though they came from different backgrounds, Michelle Obama is considered the second Jacqueline Kennedy due to the comparison of their fashion choices.[6] The dressing style of both first ladies have made different impacts on the American society in their times. For instance, Jackie’s strapless gown became the popular “Jackie Look” across the country in the 1960s.[7] The “modified A-line gown of pink-and-white silk” that she wore in a White House dinner became the most eye-catching news of the event.[8] Likewise, Michelle Obama wore a “custom-made pink and gold silk dress” during her speech at the Democratic National Convention in 2012 and it became the best-selling dress of the designer.[9] Another dress, the “black dress with big red poppies” that she wore during the 50th anniversary of the 1963 march on Washington D.C., is displayed at the National Museum of African-American History and Culture.[10] These examples show how the American public obsession with the dressing choices of first ladies can turn them into fashion icons. The connections between notable female icons and the way they present themselves reflect the social expectations placed on the appropriate appearance of females.

Jacqueline Kennedy and Michelle Obama are both beloved first ladies throughout American history. Moreover, they are popular female icons that represent the American fashion style. Jacqueline Kennedy demonstrates how gender role became an element in shaping the public memory of President Kennedy. Jacqueline Kennedy and Michelle Obama rose to the status of fashion icon based on similar characteristics. The historic representations of both first ladies demonstrate a potential social expectation of gender appearance in American society.


[1] Peggy Noonan, The Time of Our Lives: Collected Writings (New York: Grand Central

Publishing, 2015), 210.

[2] Michael J. Hogan, The Afterlife of John Fitzgerald Kennedy: A Biography (Cambridge:

Cambridge University Press, 2017), 5.

[3] Ibid., 33.

[4] Ibid., 41.

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[6] Scott Whitlock, “ABC Hosts Swoon Over ‘American Icon’ Michelle Obama, Compare Her to

Jackie Kennedy,” Media Research Center. November 10, 2010,  (accessed April 4, 2018).

[7]  Hogan, The Afterlife of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, 33.

[8]  Ibid., 34.

[9] Vanessa Friedman, “What Michelle Obama Wore and Why It Mattered,” New York Times,

January 14, 2017, (accessed April 4, 2018).

[10] Ibid.

Multiple Aspects: The Wizard of Oz as an American icon by Suet Yuk (Rainie) Au Yeung

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz written by author L. Frank Baum in 1900 is one of most classic Children’s novel in the United States. Dorothy, a young farm girl from Kansas with her dog Toto, begin the adventures in the magical Land of Oz after they are swept away from home by a cyclone. Similar to other beloved female characters such as Alice who wore puffed sleeve dress with white pleated sweetheart neckline and Little Red Riding Hood who wore the red cape have become classic fashion, Dorothy’s blue and white gingham check dress is also a notable icon. Not to mention that her magic silver slippers (ruby red in the movie in 1939) is as powerful as the magic wand of Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother! The story of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is an American icon which illustrates the characters’ convinced beliefs of the American dream, represents the populist movement in the late 1800s, and implicates political messages of the current American political landscape.

In the story, Dorothy was told by Witch of the North that she needs to go to the Emerald City in the Land of Oz to seek for help from the Wizard of Oz, who might be able to help her get back home.[1] On her way to the Emerald City, Dorothy became friends with a Scarecrow, a Tin Man and a Cowardly Lion who joined her journey. All of them are pursuing something that would make themselves a better being or for something that they want. Dorothy wants to go home, the Scarecrow is looking for a brain, the Tin Man wants a heart, the Lion wants to obtain courage. Throughout the journey, the Scarecrow he consistently comes up with smart ideas whenever the team faces a challenge, the Tin Man processes emotions through his caring for his friends. He even cries over the death of a beetle, and the Cowardly Lion demonstrates courage when he carries his friends and jumps over deep ditch. During the journey, they fail to realize that they already possess the things they unconsciously want.  Rather, they all believe that they are missing something only the great Oz can provide and that they can only achieve their goals in the Emerald City.[2] Even though Oz told them that he cannot grant them their wishes, the Scarecrow, the Tin man and the Lion refused to listen.[3]

The way that they finally arrived at their dream place, the Emerald City in the Land of Oz, after they overcome many challenges is similar to the promise of American dream. If one works hard, anyone can reach the dream of the middle class. They felt satisfied only when Oz provides them with symbolic objects that represent a brain, a heart and courage. Their satisfaction exposes the impact of American dream in their beliefs. They believe that achieving their goals from Oz is the only way to approve their hard work to arrive at Emerald City has pay off. This demonstrates the powerful impact of the American dream, which contribute the novel as an iconic American story.

Another aspect that makes The Wonderful Wizard of Oz an American icon is the Populist elements that implies in the story. In 1964, historian Henry Littlefield points out the novel is an allegory of the Populist movement in the 1890s.[4] The rise of Populist Party was organized by common people such as farmers and factory workers who united to form a third-party to challenge power from bankers and business leaders.[5] Littlefield argues that the Scarecrow in the story represents “self-doubt” American farmers who demonstrate “a terrible sense of inferiority” during this period. [6] The Tin Man symbolizes factory workers who have been dehumanized by the big business. [7] Because there were many Populists advocated the federal government to adopt the monetary policy for free minting silver money during the economic depression in 1893, Littlefield interprets the Oz’s yellow brick road as the existing gold standard and indicates Dorothy’s silver shoes represents the free silver movement.[8]The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is a Populist allegory, which contains elements that reflects the social and political movement in the late 1800s.

The iconic association between the novel and politics is remained today as it has been used to convey messages in current American political climate. Even though everyone believes that Oz is a powerful leader, Dorothy and her friends uncover that the great Wizard of Oz is simply an ordinary man towards the end of the story. He used a variety of tricks that allowed him to be regarded as a powerful Wizard. CNN Journalist Jeanne Moos disapproves the way that the President Donald Trump intended to avoid answering any questions about the Republican tax deduction plan by taping himself talking on two TV screens rather than physically being present during White House press briefing to is similar to Wizard of Oz, who tries to maintain his authority by cunning and avoid presenting his actual appearances in front of the public. [9]In the article “Trump is like ‘Wizard of Oz,’” author Ed Sokalski satirically criticizes the administration of Trump by indicating that his inefficient leadership just as the incapability of Wizard of Oz, an ordinary man with no special power.[10] The story demonstrates the notion of questioning the untruthful leadership has continually being used by political critics today.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is an American icon in multiple aspects. The story demonstrates the American belief that hard work pays off. It also highlights the elements of Populist movement, and exposes unreliable leadership, which has remain being used to challenge current political leader.

[1] L. Frank Baum, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (New York: George M. Hill Company, 1900).

[2] Ibid., 55.

[3] Ibid., 131.

[4] Peter Liebhold, “Populism and the World of Oz,” National Museum of American History.

Smithsonian, November 2, 2016, (accessed February 28, 2018).

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

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[9] “CNN playfully mocks Trump’s ‘Wizard of Oz’ act at the White House press briefing,” The Week, January 5, 2018, (accessed February 28, 2018).

[10] Ed Sokalski, “Trump is like ‘Wizard of Oz,’” The Morning Call, February 23, 2018, (accessed February 28, 2018).