Meeting JFK In A Self Designed Regency Era Inspired Dress

Barbra Streisand wore this blue-grey Regency era inspired dress which she designed herself, to the White House Press Correspondents Dinner on May 24, 1963.

Photo from National Archives

Barbra was invited at the request of Merv Griffin who was the host of the event. That night she performed three songs including “Happy Days Are Here Again”, which was reportedly a favorite of President John F. Kennedy. After the performance Barbra broke the rules to ask for JFK’s autograph for her mother, which she later admitted was only the second one she had ever requested in her life. When JFK asked Barbra how long she had been singing she responded “as long as you’ve been President!”. She told him he was a doll and he complimented her beautiful voice. 

JFK was assassinated on Nov 22, 1963, nearly six months to the day they had met. At the time, Barbra was scheduled to perform again for him in just a couple of weeks. William Mann’s book “Hello Gorgeous; Becoming Barbra Streisand” states “And now Barbra was so famous she had to wear sunglasses as she browsed through antique shops and so rich she could afford anything she liked. It was a brooch that caught her eye this day. She carried it to the front desk. As she finished paying for it, the radio behind the counter crackled with a breaking news story. Barbra wasn’t sure she heard it correctly. She listened again. President Kennedy had been assassinated in Dallas. “A hoax,” Barbra thought, remembering Orson Welles’s 1938 radio broadcast of a Martian invasion. She staggered outside and told her driver to take her home. Heading back uptown, Barbra spotted Elliott inside a taxi on his way to a singing lesson. They both jumped out into the street and embraced each other in the middle of traffic. How could the president be dead? She was supposed to sing for him again in just a couple of weeks! That night, rehearsing with Peter Daniels, Barbra broke down when she tried to sing “Happy Days Are Here Again,” the song Kennedy had loved so much.”

Photo by Abbie Rowe

Barbra has recalled the night she met JFK numerous times over the years. Barbra Streisand Archives has a wonderful page dedicated to this event where you can view the program as well as listen to a rare 1964 interview clip. 

In June 1996, art director Matt Berman visited Barbra’s Malibu home with JFK Jr. to prepare for her Betsy Ross George Magazine cover shoot. In his 2014 memoir “JFK JR., George & Me” Berman recalled “We followed her upstairs to the bedroom. It was flowery and covered in chintz. Piles of fancy pillows on the bed, a chaise longue by a huge window overlooking the ocean, and, like in every movie star’s house, a bureau cluttered with silver frames containing pictures of herself along with other famous faces. I spotted one that I really wanted John to see. It was a photo of Streisand shaking hands with President Kennedy. I worked up my courage and said, more to John than to her, “That’s a great photograph. Maybe we can use that on the editor’s-letter page. Barbra sniffed, “That is something very personal and important to me. I can’t have it printed in the magazine for the whole world to see.” I looked at John and mouthed, What a bitch. John, pushing his hands downward, signaled me to calm down.” 

A week later a package with a Malibu return address arrived for me at the office. Could it be a thank-you? I reached in and pulled out the picture of Barbra with President Kennedy, along with a note asking whether we needed it for the story. I waved it in front of John’s face as he was talking on the phone. He hung up the receiver, looked at me in mock horror, and said, “This is very personal to me. I don’t want this published for the whole world to see!” We printed it.”

The beautiful dress which Barbra wore to sing for JFK was inspired by the regency era. This was a period which saw major changes in women’s fashion. Massive hoops skirts and cinched waistlines which were popular in the Elizabethan era were replaced with Roman style gowns featuring empire waistlines and lightweight fabric.

Though she was at the beginning of her career in 1963, Barbra already knew which cuts flattered her body type. The shape and neckline of this dress are something we would see continued in Barbra’s style for many years to come. 

The under layer of this dress was made from off-white satin shell. Covering this is blue-grey wool jersey, which is somewhat reminiscent of a pelisse.

There is a rounded square neckline with two darts at the bust and three buttons at the center. This extends via empire waist into an open V to reveal the satin under layer. The most stunning and unique detail of this dress are the buttons which ascend in size vertically from hem to bust. Cleverly, the button holes on the left side of the dress are all faux. The back of the dress features a long concealed zipper, hook and eye closure. Barbra paired this dress with her iconic 60’s bob, a matching ostrich boa and white elbow length gloves.

This dress was sold at auction in 2004 for $6,000, but Barbra regretted the decision to sell such a special item.

Auction display photo by Mario Tama

It is now back in her possession and was seen proudly displayed in her 2010 book “My Passion For Design.” 

Photo of the dress seen in “My Passion For Design”