WOMEN: Devil-May-Care Chic

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The word got out when a gaggle of fashion reporters scissored into Jacqueline Kennedy's Waldorf-Astoria suite in Manhattan to gab about clothes and to see her try on some new maternity dresses ($30 to $40 apiece). Jackie, they discovered, was upset about a New York Times Sunday Magazine story reporting that many women are disturbed over her "devil-may-care chic." A housewife, said the Times, sniffed that Jackie "looks too damn snappy." The Times also went on to lift a story from Women's Wear Daily, which reported that Jackie spends about $30,000 a year for togs at famous Parisian houses, such as Cardin, Grès, Balenciaga, Chanel, Givenchy. She buys avant-garde models, added Women's Wear breathlessly, and most of the big designers keep a Jacqueline Kennedy fashion dummy close by for fittings.

"They're beginning to snipe at me about as often as they attack Jack on Catholicism," said Jackie, who also gets mail criticizing her for her "floor mop" hairdo. "I think it's dreadfully unfair." That $30,000 figure was dreadfully unfair, too, said she. "I never buy more than one suit or coat from Balenciaga and Givenchy. I couldn't spend that much unless I wore sable underwear." Then came what is generally called the woman's touch. Said Jackie: "I'm sure I spend less than Mrs. Nixon on clothes. She gets hers at Elizabeth Arden, and nothing there costs less than $200 or $300."

It turned out that Pat Nixon, who also dresses well, does buy clothes sometimes at high-priced Elizabeth Arden's, but didn't want to be misunderstood about it. Count Ferdinando Sarmi ($500 to over $1,000), who designed Pat's inaugural gown while he was with Elizabeth Arden, explained that "Miss Arden is very Republican," and that she had sold at least one gown to Pat for cost.* Tracked down at Atlantic City, Pat Nixon, who was wearing a turquoise wool jersey dress (Lord & Taylor, "about $49"), replied coolly to questions from newsmen: "I have no comment on what Mrs. Kennedy wears or says." Then she commented anyhow: "I don't criticize other women, and I never have. I buy my clothes off the racks of various stores around Washington and sometimes, in New York." Pressed further, she provided a distaff version of one of the week's most popular political lines: "I don't think clothes are an issue."

* The Vice President of the U.S., however, is no longer in the lower-income bracket. He gets $35,000 a year salary, up to $10,000 in tax-free expenses and a Cadillac and chauffeur.