Book Excerpt: What Would Jackie Do?

July 31, 2006 — -- Ever wonder how the elegant yet practical and wise Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis might fare in today's world? It's clear that four decades after her reigning years, times have changed, egos have grown, and most rules of decorum have relaxed. Authors Shelly Branch and Sue Callaway deliver advice on how todays' women can acheive the same no-nonsense class of the famed former first lady.

Below is an excerpt from their book, "What Would Jackie Do? An Inspired Guide to Distinctive Living (Gotham, 2005).

"A beautiful gesture is really a very rare thing ..." -JBKO

Shall we dare to be ... like her?

It's an alluring-and terrifying-idea. After all, Jackie O was the model for how to do practically everything right. There was the indestructible coif, chic whether windswept or tethered by a silk scarf. A whispery voice that could alternately charm, devastate, captivate. Even her physical carriage had an easy grace that seemed lit from within. Then, of course, there were the outfits-beaded bodices and A-line coats. They dazzled in the absence of colossal gems. The very image is enough to make us straighten our backs, pat our hair in place, and pull our beau a little bit closer.

And no wonder. Much that we've seen and read about her is so reverent, distant, unattainable. But at a time when everything in our world is so brilliantly recherch-from clothes and entertaining to manners and even language-what better opportunity to intrigue as if "Jack-leen"?

Perfection isn't the goal, of course. To transcend the ordinariness that Jackie so feared in youth means feasting on a diet of discipline and restraint-whether you're into dungarees or Dior. As Jackie knew, fabulousness is a state of mind, something you harness day in and day out to neutralize the "dreary" things and people that threaten to drag you down.


It won't, it can't, it mustn't always be about you. And even if you don't agree, you'd do well to at least pretend so some of the time. A substantive woman-and Jackie was nothing if not that-can check her hubris as easily as she does her evening wrap. It's always there, of course, but sometimes it's better left in the background.

Shift the spotlight. Self-promoters, Jackie once said, "really get my back up." But because people tend to crave the limelight so much themselves, they'll be thrown (and delighted) when you transfer some of the attention you command. Out for aperitifs with girlfriends? Insist that the cute guy in the opposite banquette is ogling one of them, not you. Tell your hairdresser that his splendid up-do-not your fine form-drew gasps at the charity ball.

A master at shifting the spotlight, Jackie would playfully say to friends that the press "must know you're here!" when helicopters buzzed overhead. Even when the pressure was on, she knew to turn the focus away from herself. Once, when one of Jackie's Doubleday authors-Tiffany design director John Loring-asked the editor to do a rare interview on his behalf for The New Yorker, Jackie at first agreed, but ultimately reneged by using a clever deflection technique. She told him, "You don't really want me in that profile, because people will only remember me, and you'll just be forgotten completely."

Overlook faux pas. You mustn't let the minor transgressions of others interrupt your daily flow-or block your precious chi. When people stumble with their words, their manners, or their wit, there's just no need to take an emotional tumble. Jackie wouldn't give a damn if you said, "I love your Gucci!" (if in fact she was wearing Pucci) or "How was the bear hunt?" (when foxes were her thing).

To show how deftly Jackie handled such potentially embarrassing moments, a Doubleday colleague recalls how she stopped by his office to bum a book of matches. "As I was handing it to her, I noticed it had a JFK memorial stamp on it," he says. "It was a fleeting moment, not more than a second." Jackie didn't acknowledge any awkwardness. Ditto when interior decorator Mario Buatta came to dinner at her Fifth Avenue apartment and promptly split his pants on a chair. Without missing a beat, Jackie covered his back at the buffet.

Invoke others' names. Need a favor? Need to curry favor? Put a brake on the number of times you say "me" and "I." You'll seem like less of an egomaniac-and more of a conciliator-if you pin your request on someone else. Jackie was known to use such harmless substitutions to get what she wanted, saying things like, "Jack wants ..." or "My sister advises against," or "So-and-so won't allow ..." The less-than-overt method had its charms. "She could impose that will upon people without their ever knowing it," observed White House usher J. B. West.

Be a master flatterer. The point of advanced flattery is to remind someone how special he or she is, while also hinting at your utter dependency on them. This technique comes in handy when you are trying to salvage professional relationships or have something very specific to gain.

To snare a "magnificent" portrait of Benjamin Franklin for the White House, for example, Jackie rang up publishing magnate Walter H. Annenberg. She was ready to grovel, all right, but with an air of decorum and purpose: "You, Mr. Annenberg, are the first citizen of Philadelphia," she purred. "And in his day, Benjamin Franklin was the first citizen of Philadelphia. And that's why, Mr. Annenberg, I thought of you...." She went on to remind him that the White House-and America-desperately needed his tasteful acquisition. Are we at all surprised that he handed over the $250,000 painting by David Martin?

Dare to diss yourself. How to boost the comfort level when you're mingling outside your own social set? Knock yourself down by a precious peg or two. Jackie had a talent for making herself seem less rich, less smart, less beautiful when the situation warranted it. She was known, for instance, to refer to her Fifth Avenue manse as "this old dump." Even among those who sought to impress her (folly indeed), she held back. If someone prattled on about an obscure book, for example, "Jackie would be well mannered enough to say "I've never heard of that" when she'd read the whole thing," says her friend Carly Simon.

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"If you want the world to adore you, you must take a deep interest in other people. Jackie was full of wonder and enthusiasm-with her, you felt you were the most important person." -DR. DEEPAK CHOPRA

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NOBLESSE OBLIGE FOR BEGINNERS: How to Be a Goodwill Ambassador to Strangers, Colleagues, Malcontents

Jackie preferred hailing taxis to get about in New York City. And in those yellow chariots, she would sometimes lean forward and do what so few ever bother to do: ask how the driver's day was going. In one case, she beseeched the cabbie to quit his shift in order to get home safely in soggy weather. What good is it, after all, to be a cut above if you don't let your own splendid qualities trickle down to others?

Coddle bit players. It's terribly wicked not to give props to all of the people who make your path smoother in life. These include the doorman, the mailman-and if you're so lucky-the cook and pilot. In Jackie's case, the list also extended to all sorts of minor politicos. Go beyond tips and nods. As a campaign wife, Jackie was able to recall the names, unprompted, of umpteen mayors and convention delegates. And in the White House, she stunned her new staff by properly addressing members upon their first face-to-face meeting.

Don't (publicly) criticize your enemies or opponents. Leave such base behavior to modern-day politicians and reality show contestants. Particularly resist the temptation to bad-mouth people by e-mail: There's nothing worse than electronic slurs, which can be endlessly forwarded. Though surrounded by enemies (political) and jealous types (frumpy women), Jackie refused to get nasty. During the 1960 campaign, she declined to take potshots at Hubert Humphrey. And two decades later, when Nancy Reagan got swamped with negative publicity, Jackie waxed empathetic, going so far as to call her to offer advice on handling the press.

Tap higher powers to help the helpless. After you've maxed out your immediate resources, look to your left and right, above and below to harness those six degrees of separation between you and the solution to the problem at hand. Don't be too proud to ask an influential friend to step in on behalf of someone you know-even if the two have never met. That's what connections are really for.

In 1980 Jackie summoned medical philanthropist Mary Lasker to help an impoverished sick boy, the son of a manicurist, gain access to proper treatment. As a follow-up to the favor, Jackie wrote her friend Mary a heartfelt note: "Now they don't feel that they are just a cipher because they are poor," she scrawled on her Doubleday stationery. "Whatever happens, they know that someone with a noble heart made it possible for them to get the best care they could."

Turn the other silken cheek. Sometimes you must show people what you are made of by staying elevated when you'd least like to-say, when someone zips into your primo parking space, or snatches the last pair of Loro Piana gloves on sale at Bergdorf's. Like Jackie, you'd do well to let mild acts of ugliness pass without much fuss.

Traveling with Thomas Hoving, then-director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Jackie was stunned-and frightened-by the French paparazzi who swarmed her at a low-key Left Bank restaurant. An infuriated Hoving returned to their hotel, the Plaza Athenee, and demanded that the doorman who disclosed their whereabouts be fired. Informing Jackie of the fait accompli, Hoving recalls, "She got mad at me." She said: "You suffered a man's livelihood because of that?"

Mute the call of mammon. The classiest cash is also the quietest. So if you're fortunate enough to have an endless supply of crisp bills, just don't crumple them under the noses of those with less. This doesn't mean you should deprive yourself of fine things. Certainly our lady did not. But wealth does require you to be somewhat stealth about what you've got.

Don't gab on about money either-yours, your parents', your boyfriend's-or your over-the-top plans for it. When Jackie received a $26 million settlement from Aristotle Onassis's estate, society types needled the widow about how she intended to spend the windfall. "You don't talk about things like that," was her stunned reply.

To be a cut above, don't cut. Even if your social status or connections somehow permit it, resist any temptation to leapfrog over more common folks. This means no line-jumping at Disney World, no flashing that Burberry plaid to snare the next cab. In New York, Jackie waited in crowds like everybody else-or avoided them altogether-rather than nudge her way to the front of movie-house and museum queues.

FIRST LADY-LIKE IMPRESSIONS: How Not to Be an Interchangeable Woman

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"You can polish, arrange, fix, but you cannot fool people. Jackie was a total woman, not like anybody else you know. It wasn't sex appeal, it was magnetism." -MANOLO BLAHNIK, SHOE DESIGNER

* * *

It's important to be more than witty, pretty, and splendidly turned out. And who cares if you make a swell crowd-pleaser, or man teaser? If you are content to be a like-kind, same-this-or-that chick, ready and willing to swap lipsticks, secrets, jobs-men!-with the next gal, then you risk being an Interchangeable Woman.


--------------------------------------------------------------------------------Excerpted from What Would Jackie Do? by Shelly Branch Sue Callaway Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.