Exhibit examines Jackie Kennedy’s legacy

When Laura Bush announced recently that her gown for Thursday’s presidential inauguration would be an ice blue number by Oscar de la Renta, the New York Daily News called it “incredibly important news.”

This is not my own definition of a red news alert, but I understand the significance that some circles attach to appearance and style. What a person wears reflects attitude and priorities. It can hint at a nation’s societal concerns and awareness, as well as the ego that hides behind the fabric’s folds.

Do you recall what the First Lady wore four years ago? Me neither, but the Smithsonian’s collection of such gowns includes Mrs. Bush’s red Chantilly lace (with silk satin and crystal beading). It is beautiful, but not necessarily memorable.

What makes a longer-lasting statement? How about the simple beige pillbox hat and wool coat with oversized buttons that Jackie Kennedy wore when her husband was sworn into office 44 years ago?

Or, the ultra-feminine, flattering and conservative evening gown that helped soften Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev when the two met abroad?

“Elegant simplicity” was what historians called Mrs. Kennedy’s style, and the classy but understated look is a part of what helped her charm the world.
At 31, she was the youngest wife of a U.S. president, and “America’s most potent weapon” because of her fetching appearance, disarming manner and educated upbringing.

Dozens of garments that were worn by Mrs. Kennedy – plus accessories, photos and correspondence from the era – make up a special exhibit that reflects upon times of national challenge, transition and shifting identity.

“Jacqueline Kennedy: The White House Years” is at The Field Museum, Chicago, until May 8. The items come from the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum.

No other First Lady has made such an impact on the world, and this show helps explain why. You can read about world circumstances and attitude, absorb photos – some large-as-life – of Mrs. Kennedy at home/work/play, see how the fibers outlived the woman (she died in 1994).

There are horse riding outfits, Paris ball gowns, bright and solid colors, big bows and buttons, clean and simple fashion lines.

The first lady is shown holding her children, meeting the Pope, translating French for her husband, offering a greeting in Spanish, showing off White House décor. Her passion was the arts and culture: She helped define America’s character in those areas, and gained gratitude worldwide because of her respect for diversity.

“Before leaving for a trip abroad — whether on a state visit with the president or on her own as a goodwill ambassador — she did her research,” Field Museum publicists say. “She read about the history and culture of the country, as well as its current concerns.

“Once there, she demonstrated respect for the country’s people through her words, her actions, and her wardrobe.”

What is not on tour? At least two significant parts of this woman’s wardrobe. Her inauguration grown is at the Smithsonian Institute, being restored. The location of the suit she was wearing when her husband was assassinated in 1964 is unknown.

Timed entry tickets are $25, which includes general museum admission. For more, go to www.fieldmuseum.org or call (866) 343-5303.

Friends and I learned recently that the Hilton Chicago is a great base for visitors. This South Michigan Avenue hotel’s free shuttle for
shoppers runs from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, with stops along North Michigan, to Water Tower Place.

Best, though, is this Hilton’s incredibly rich history. It was the world’s largest hotel upon opening in 1927, countless celebrities have slept here, and the building was a self-described triage center during the stormy Democratic National Convention in 1968. This is where Lyndon Johnson announced he would not run for re-election, and it is where the final chase in Harrison Ford’s “The Fugitive” was filmed.

The building’s stately grace and lavishness, particularly its ballroom and other common areas, are preserved well. Room rates tend to be lower because the hotel is a bit of a hike from prime shopping and theater; that also means a potentially lower noise level.

Lodging and two tickets to the Jackie Kennedy exhibit can be had for as little as $150. This package is among the offerings at www.hiltonchicagosales.com and (312) 922-4400. Consider splurging for a front-and-center lakeside view – it is a remarkable site that soaks in Millennium Park, as well as Navy Pier and the lights of Buckingham Fountain, which look like a giant chandelier at night.

Last, a note about the weekly Gospel Brunch at the House of Blues Chicago. It is passionate and soulful, kind of like the church revivals that are a part of the Deep South. The chorus of a dozen voices (cherubic faces to
older adults) belts out a high-energy series of hymns and patriotic harmonies, many presented a cappella.

There are two seatings: 9:30 a.m. and noon. Cost: $41, including service charge and gratuity ($18 for ages 6-12), but not parking. This is a fast-paced show, and short. The divine music lasted 45 minutes, beginning 45 minutes after the eating began.

The setting is casual. Most diners sit in the pit area, right in front of the stage, at picnic tables covered with checked tablecloths. The food is a mix of typical buffet fare, with a southern kick of jambalaya, mashed sweet potatoes, turnip greens and fried chicken. Among the best choices: the create-your-own omelet station.

For more, go to www.hob.com or call (312) 923-2000.