Style appreciation: Ted Kennedy, the patron saint of little brothers


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For his entire life, Sen. Edward Moore Kennedy, who passed away Tuesday night at age 77, was defined by his birth order. Even in the last years of his life, the youngest brother carried -- and then paid forward -- the legacy of the brothers who predeceased him.

The story that sticks with me the most was repeated on the morning news cycle today; how, at age 14, at an event honoring John F. Kennedy, the then-14 Teddy stood and asked to remember the brother who wasn’t there: the eldest, Joseph Kennedy Jr. who had died in WWII.


Few would use the words ‘Ted Kennedy’ and ‘stylish’ in the same sentence -- especially when compared with JFK, often cited as one of the more stylish occupants of the Oval Office, who has a commemorative Omega watch and Brooks Brothers’ suit silhouette (the Fitzgerald) among his fashion bona fides.

Ted Kennedy seemed to know that when it came to personal style he would never be the whole package JFK was. Over the years, Kennedy would adopt a single element that would become his style signature: a bold collar on dress shirts that served as the perfect counterpoint to his wide smile. Sometimes a medium spread, sometimes a straight point, the collar always seemed prominent but in a non-Lagerfeldian way.

I don’t know whether he hit on it by himself or whether it was suggested to him by a kindly tailor or wife, but it suited him perfectly, and it illustrated that he knew the importance of the little things.

The talking heads on the TV and radio this morning were also full of anecdotes about how the ‘Lion of the Senate’ would take 9/11 widows sailing, bring plates of cookies to opposing lawmakers when it came time to arm-twist on legislation. Vice President Joe Biden said that after the 1972 car accident that took the life of his wife and daughter and injured his two sons, medical specialists from Boston would just appear at the hospital -- sent by Kennedy. Most recently, Kennedy gave the Obamas their White House pet, a Portuguese water dog (he had several himself).

To me, those personal, and very meaningful, gestures are the hallmark of a younger brother trying to mark his place in the world outside the shadow of his siblings. And although there was less than admirable conduct over the years (the Chappaquiddick incident and the death of Mary Jo Kopechne among them), in later years it only seemed to make him more determined to propel the greater family legacy forward.

Today, many are mourning the last of a political dynasty whose imprint is on thousands of pieces of legislation. I tip my hat to the solid-collared patron saint of little brothers everywhere, who lived in the shadow of his brother, but still managed to cast his own.


-- Adam Tschorn

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Capitol Hill rally in 1996, Ted Kennedy wears a substantial straight point collar that perfectly complements the shape of his face. Credit: Ira Schwartz / Reuters