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STYLE APPRECIATION

He embodied casual Camelot

Away from the Senate floor, Ted Kennedy's classic dressed-down choices sailed into the legacy of American style.

August 30, 2009|Adam Tschorn

If it weren't for the familiar rows of Chiclets-sized teeth, the trio in the 1962 photo that appeared on scores of front pages last week, with their slim-cut suits and skinny ties, could have been mistaken for the ad men of "Mad Men's" Sterling Cooper agency.

The senator from Massachusetts, whose life would forever be framed by the brothers who predeceased him, looks directly at the camera, as sharp and focused as Don Draper on the Kodak account. His suit, several shades darker than his brothers', is set off by a crisp, white triangle of a pocket square. While his brothers sport solid color ties, his stands apart with diagonal stripes and a tie clip just high enough above the top button of his coat to be noticeable.

Sen. Edward M. "Ted" Kennedy, who died Tuesday night, was not typically associated with style -- especially given the sartorial shadow cast by JFK, whose fashion legacy includes a commemorative Omega watch and Brooks Brothers' Fitzgerald suit.

But, while Jack and Bobby are forever trapped in the amber of that photo by lives cut short, we got to watch Ted grow older, and we came to appreciate what the clothes said about the man.

In his "official" life, he dressed well but never looked particularly well-dressed, the one Kennedy who never looked truly comfortable in a suit and tie. But as American royalty, the Kennedys were on full display in dress-down mode too, and it was off the Senate floor that Ted Kennedy's clothes really came into their own.

In a 1972 photo of him at the helm of his sloop Patrician in Hyannis Port, Mass., he's in a white polo and faded floral shorts, the wind tousling his hair, looking as if he'd sailed straight out of a Ralph Lauren ad.

During a 1984 meeting with officials on the Sudan-Ethiopia border, surrounded by men swathed in turbans and flowing robes, he's the quintessential disheveled prep at rest -- the frat boy in a Fred Perry polo and wrinkled khakis.

It's a sailing-preppy-aspirational Americana aesthetic that labels such as Ralph Lauren and J.Crew have been selling us for years -- in fact, Brooks Brothers' Spring 2009 collection of relaxed khakis, Madras, cardigans, sailing sweaters and shorts drew direct inspiration from "the casual elegance of Kennedy Family summers spent in Hyannis Port," circa the '50s and '60s.

Scott Sternberg, designer of the men's line Band of Outsiders, explains the appeal: "I guess I'm attracted to that style because it strikes such a perfect balance between something relaxed yet totally refined, rich but not stuffy, masculine but not rugged. It's not about sport or the outdoors, it's about leisure -- the good life, the best life, at least as the legacy goes . . . " Teddy was no Jack Kennedy, but he introduced us, in all his rumpled, wind-tossed, frat-prep-beach off-the-clock look, to Camelot at rest.

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adam.tschorn@latimes.com

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