The Little-Known Story Behind Jackie Kennedy’s Wedding Dress

When John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Bouvier got married, their wedding was a national event. Thousands of fans gathered outside of the church, and it aired on TV. But this fairytale wedding had some trouble behind the scenes. For instance, Jackie Kennedy had no say over her wedding dress, and it got destroyed by a flood. Read the intense, untold story behind the Kennedy wedding and Jackie’s dress.

The Marriage Was Not As Easy As It Looked

John F. and Jackie Kennedy cut their wedding cake during their reception.
Getty Images
Getty Images

On September 12, 1953, John F. Kennedy married Jacqueline Bouvier. At the time, he was a Massachusetts Senator. The wedding was the talk of the nation, and it became even more famous seven years later when the couple became the youngest President and First Lady in history.

But those who watched the wedding on TV had no idea what went on behind the scenes. To an outsider, the wedding looked like a fairytale. But it had many trials and tribulations.

The Two Were Famous Before Presidency

John Kennedy and Jackie Bouvier are seen before their wedding, 1953.
Getty Images
Getty Images

Both Jackie and John were well-known before they entered the Oval Office. John was born into a wealthy, political family in Massachusetts. He was a World War II veteran and popular among his home state.

Jackie was born into a prominent New York family. She was an avid horse rider and worked as the Washington Times-Herald’s “Inquiring Camera Girl.” Seeing the two of them get married was like watching a celebrity wedding.

Their Relationship Was Not Perfect

John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Bouvier sit together in the sunshine at Kennedy's family home.
Getty Images
Getty Images

Although their relationship appeared perfect, the two had some problems. Namely, John was seeing many other women while he courted Jackie. Many who knew John did not foresee him getting married.

Even so, the two went through with a traditional Catholic wedding; he gave her a 2.88-carat emerald and diamond ring from Van Cleef and Arpels. It is unknown how much Jackie knew about her fiance’s affairs. However, she was concerned about marrying a man who was allergic to horses.

Although Jackie Wanted A Small Wedding, She Didn’t Get One

Jackie and John Kennedy stand with their bridal parties during their wedding.
Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

While the Kennedys were planning their wedding, Jackie and her mother Janet Auchincloss envisioned a small ceremony. During an interview with the Boston Globe, she said, “I can tell you that I’m planning a small wedding.”

But her father-in-law, Joseph Kennedy, had different plans. He knew that his son had a bright political future, and he viewed the wedding as an opportunity to network. After Janet and Joseph argued over what the wedding would be, Joseph eventually won.

And It Was VERY Big

John and Jackie Kennedy walk out of the church through the crowds to get to their car.
Getty Images
Getty Images

The Kennedy wedding was massive. Joseph invited over 1,200 guests, but the church’s maximum capacity lowered that number. Over 750 people attended the ceremony, and an additional 450 arrived for the reception.

While the ceremony was at Saint Mary’s Roman Catholic Church, the reception occurred at the summer home of Jackie’s mother and stepfather. “The wedding will be just awful — quite dreadful,” Janet Auchincloss vented to a friend. “There will be one hundred Irish politicians!”

Jackie Also Disagreed About The Dress

Jackie Kennedy stands in a windy field.
David Cairns/Express/Getty Images
David Cairns/Express/Getty Images

Although Jackie Kennedy is now viewed as a fashion icon, she had little say over her wedding dress. Initially, Jackie wanted a French-style gown inspired by her recent trip to Paris. Like her future outfits, she desired a simple dress with sleek, straight lines.

But Joseph Kennedy worried that the unusual style would bother potential voters. He wanted a traditional, ballgown style dress that would match Catholic tradition. Jackie reluctantly agreed, although she still got a unique gown from an exclusive designer.

Her Exclusive Designer, Ann Lowe

Anne Lowe sits in front of one of her dresses.
Wikipedia Commons
Wikipedia Commons

Jackie Kennedy’s dress designer, Ann Lowe, only catered to expensive clientele. She was born into a long lineage of seamstresses in Alabama. After making dresses during her childhood, Lowe inherited her family’s business at age 16.

Lowe later attended New York’s S.T. Taylor Design School. After graduating, she opened her own shop in Manhattan. Only making dresses for rich clients on the East Coast, she got acquainted with Jackie’s mother, Janet Auchincloss.

She Was Very Picky About Her Clients

Designer Ann Lowe makes adjustments to Jackie Kennedy's wedding dress.
DixieMouse Productions/Pinterest
DixieMouse Productions/Pinterest

During a 1966 interview with Ebony magazine, Lowe said, “I love my clothes, and I’m particular about who wears them. I’m not interested in sewing for cafe society or social climbers. I do not cater to Mary and Sue. I sew for the families of the Social Register.”

With her decades of dressmaking experience, Lowe designed outfits for famous families such as the Rockefellers, the Roosevelts, and the du Ponts. She worked in Florida for ten years before moving to New York, where she contributed to the Kennedy wedding.

Lowe Already Knew Jackie Well

Ann Lowe adjusts the bodice of a woman's dress.
Bettmann Archive/Getty Images
Bettmann Archive/Getty Images

By the time Jackie got married, Lowe had already designed several dresses for her. She was well aware of Jackie’s style, so even though the bride did not get what she wanted, she received something flattering.

Jackie’s mother worked with Lowe to create the gown. According to biographer Julia Faye Smith, “Her mother had definite ideas about the type of gown she wanted her daughter to have. Large, elegant fabric–a fairy tale dress.” Lowe spent a long time making this important gown.

But Then, The Dress Got Destroyed

After a flood, hanging wedding dresses are brown and decayed at the bottom.
Christopher Furlong/Getty Images
Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

Ten days before the wedding, disaster struck. A pipe burst inside the shop and flooded the entire store. Jackie’s wedding dress, along with her ten bridesmaids’ dresses, were completely destroyed.

Ann Lowe went into emergency mode. She and her employees worked 24/7 to recreate the bride and bridesmaid dresses. As her team worked to catch up, Lowe lost $2,200 in profit, around $21,000 in today’s money. But she knew that it was worth it to participate in a famous wedding.

Jackie Never Learned About The Incident

Jackie Bouvier smiles as her stepfather escorts her down the aisle.
Kim/Pinterest
Kim/Pinterest

Despite Lowe’s hard work and monetary loss, she never told Jackie or her mother about the incident. The two had no idea that the dress was thrown together last minute, even as they entered the church.

None of the bridesmaids knew, either. Along with a large audience, the Kennedys had many bridesmaids and groomsmen, with ten on each side. The bridesmaid dresses were made from ivory tissue-silk, and they required almost as much work as the bride’s gown.

She Thought That Her Dress Looked “Like A Lamp Shade”

Jackie Bouvier sits in her ballgown wedding dress.
Bachrach/Getty Images
Bachrach/Getty Images

For Jackie’s wedding, Anne Low created a ballgown with 60 yards of taffeta. It had an enormous skirt, rows of ruffles, and embroidered flowers. Jackie did not like it; she told her friend that she felt “like a lampshade” in it.

Despite Jackie’s opinion, the dress was a hit. Fashion critics raved over the dress and Jackie’s rose-point lace veil, which was a family heirloom. Although it was traditional, the dress was also viewed as a bold, unusual choice.

The Wedding Was A Political Move

Senator Leverett Saltonstall congratulates Sen. John F. Kennedy at his wedding reception.
Charles McCormick/The Boston Globe via Getty Images
Charles McCormick/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Because of Joseph Kennedy’s organization, the wedding became less about romance and more about political marketing. Over 600 diplomats, senators, and social figures attended. The ceremony was traditionally Catholic, and John Kennedy eventually became America’s first Catholic president.

While writing to the family priest in 1952, Jackie’s father, John Bouvier, said that the Kennedys gave her “an amazing insight on politicians.” He called them “a breed apart” since Jackie had little experience in the political sphere.

Jackie’s Father Did Not Walk Her Down The Aisle

Jackie Bouvier walks down the aisle with her stepfather, Hugh Dudley Auchincloss Jr.
kayla dickerson/Pinterest
kayla dickerson/Pinterest

When Jackie entered St. Mary’s Church, she walked without her biological father. John “Black Jack” Bouvier III had a rough relationship with his daughter, to the point where he was not invited to the rehearsal dinner.

Feeling hurt, John Bouvier got intoxicated the night before the wedding. By the next morning, he still felt unwell, and he could not walk his daughter down the aisle. Jackie’s stepfather, Hugh Dudley Auchincloss Jr., filled in the role and walked her down the aisle.

The Ceremony Was Less Than Perfect, Too

The Kennedy couple kneels in front of the altar in St. Mary's Church during their wedding.
Getty Images
Getty Images

Although the ceremony looked perfect on TV, it was not so glamorous in the church. St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church in Newport, Rhode Island, had 800 people inside when Jackie entered. She had to squeeze her way down the aisle. John Kennedy’s face was visibly scratched from a football game the day before.

Kennedy’s back also bothered him throughout the ceremony, and he had to hide his pain. However, the ceremony also had some special moments. Boston’s Archbishop, Richard Cushing, delivered a personal blessing from Pope Pius XII.

Thousands Fans Crowded The Gates Outside

Senator John Fitzgerald Kennedy escorts his bride Jacqueline Lee Bouvier down the church aisle shortly after their wedding ceremony.
Keystone/Getty Images
Keystone/Getty Images

The guests were not the only people in attendance. According to Life photographer Lisa Larsen, at least 2,000 people waited outside the church to catch a glimpse of the couple. “Outside, 2,000 society fans, some come to Newport by chartered bus, cheered the guests and the newlyweds as they left the church,” she wrote.

Although the wedding had security officers, some fans broke through security lines to approach the couple. It was chaos, but the newlyweds remained calm and confident.

It Took Two Hours To Greet Each Guest

John and Jackie Kennedy walk back down the aisle after getting married.
Getty Images
Getty Images

After the ceremony, John and Jackie went to their reception at Hammersmith Farm, the 300-acre estate owned by Jackie’s parents. An additional 450 guests attended the reception, creating a total of 1,200 guests. The couple spent over two hours shaking everyones’ hands.

The couple’s first dance was to Meyer Davis Orchestra’s version of “I Married an Angel.” Meyers Davis also performed live at Jackie’s parent’s wedding. The newlywed Kennedys were then showered in dried rose petals and rice.

Their Wedding Was Aired On TV

In 1977, a TV broadcasts a replay of the Kennedy wedding.
Ernst Haas/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Ernst Haas/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Along with thousands of people at their wedding, the Kennedy wedding was also aired on TV. Thousands of viewers across the United States watched the pair get married, and the couple were briefly interviewed with some of the camera crews.

According to Life, one guest said that the wedding was “like a coronation.” Another author for the New York Times wrote, “It had a whiff of American royalty.” It was the closest event that Americans had to a royal wedding.

At The Time, Ann Lowe Was Not Credited For Her Creation

An old article talks about the designer Ann Lowe.
Judi Smith/Pinterest
Judi Smith/Pinterest

Sadly, Ann Lowe was not credited for her work at the time. When guests asked who designed her dress, Jackie answered that a dressmaker had made it. Newspapers reported every part of the wedding from the photographer to the songs, but they excluded Ann Lowe’s name.

Rosemary Reed Miller, who wrote about the history of wedding dresses, says that only The Washington Post shared Lowe’s name. Fortunately, Lowe became more well-known in the 1960s when she was interviewed about her experience with Kennedy.

But Jackie Kennedy Might Have Paid Lowe’s Debt

Jacqueline Kennedy is pictured wearing a red dress and pearl necklace in 1960.
Getty Images
Getty Images

Although Jackie Kennedy did not publicly credit Lowe, she seemed to help the designer in other ways. Shortly after the wedding, Lowe struggled with thousands of dollars in debt accrued by the Internal Revenue Service. But this debt was suddenly paid off by an “anonymous friend.”

During an interview with The Washington Post, Lowe suspected that the “friend” might have been Jackie. She called Jackie “sweet” and reportedly had no hard feelings about the event or her credit in the wedding.