How Carolyn Bessette Kennedy Used Her Clothes to Ward off Paparazzi

Thanks to her marriage to John F. Kennedy Jr., Carolyn Bessette Kennedy became of interest to the press practically overnight.

Not used to having her every move documented, Bessette Kennedy felt uncomfortable with paparazzi following her and did what she could to deter them. One of her methods? Wear the same outfit. Ahead, find out what Bessette Kennedy wore in the early days of her relationship with JFK Jr. and why she thought it would make her less interesting to photographers. 

Paparazzi terrified Carolyn Bessette Kennedy

JFK Jr.’s wife didn’t grow up in the public eye like him and therefore wasn’t as comfortable with the 24/7 media attention. Kathy McKeon, who worked as the assistant to JFK Jr.’s mother and former first lady Jacqueline Kennedy, recalled Bessette Kennedy’s struggles with the press in her 2017 book, Jackie’s Girl: My Life with the Kennedy Family. McKeon recounted a conversation she once had with JFK Jr.’s wife where she talked about her fear of the paparazzi. 

“She couldn’t take it. She wasn’t brought up with it. John was, Carolyn wasn’t,” McKeon wrote in her book. “She said, ‘I’m terrified of them.’”

JFK Jr. and Carolyn Bessette Kennedy at the Whitney Museum on Nov. 4, 1996
JFK Jr. and Carolyn Bessette Kennedy at the Whitney Museum on Nov. 4, 1996 | Andrew Savulich/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images

Not very long after her relationship with JFK Jr. began, Bessette Kennedy gave up her career at Calvin Klein. The media attention made it impossible for her to do her job. She often retreated to the couple’s New York City apartment for refuge.  

She wore the same outfit to keep paparazzi at bay

Carole Radziwill, Bessette Kennedy’s sister-in-law, wrote in her 2005 memoir, What Remains, why she wore simple clothing, according to The Wall Street Journal. She explained the two came up with a plan that centered around a uniform so when Bessette Kennedy got her picture taken, they’d all look the same.

“We came up with the idea…that she’d wear the same outfit every day—jeans and a white shirt, with her hair in a ponytail and sunglasses—and then the pictures would all look the same. And they’d stop taking them,” Radziwill wrote. 

Their idea didn’t work. The paparazzi and the public’s interest in Bessette Kennedy never wavered.

Princess Diana’s death heightened her fear of the press

When Princess Diana died in 1997 following a car accident involving paparazzi, the press became an even bigger source of fear for Bessette Kennedy. RoseMarie Terenzio, JFK Jr.’s assistant at George magazine, recalled in 2017 that Bessette Kennedy’s fear of the paparazzi spiked after Diana’s death. 

Carolyn Bessette Kennedy and JFK Jr. attend the second anniversary party of George magazine on Nov. 5, 1997
Carolyn Bessette Kennedy and JFK Jr. attend the second anniversary party of George magazine on Nov. 5, 1997 | Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

“At the time, John and Diana were the two most famous people in the world,” Terenzio said. “Carolyn was horrified by Diana’s death. She worried about her children and how they’d grow up without their mom.”

While Bessette Kennedy felt concern for Prince William, Duke of Cambridge and Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex she worried she and JFK Jr. would be hounded even more intensely in Diana’s absence. 

“She was also rattled by the fact that it could happen to John—that it could happen to her,” Terenzio added.  “She feared, ‘Now they’re going to focus on us even more because they don’t have her.’”

Bessette Kennedy died in a 1999 plane crash with JFK Jr. and her sister, Lauren Bessette.