Before feeling the glare of the spotlight as First Lady, Jacqueline Bouvier shone in the society pages as the beautiful debutante daughter of an elite New England family. She was already a tastemaker with a reputation for “devil-may-care chic,” although it would be a few years before her every fashion statement was scrutinized on a national level, and before she would feel stung by a housewife’s comment in the New York Times Magazine that she looked “too damn snappy.”
But when the 24-year-old left behind a job as a photographer for the Washington Post and Times-Herald to marry the 36-year-old freshman Democratic Senator from Massachusetts, she wore a wedding dress she found neither chic nor snappy, according to the book What Jackie Taught Us. The ball gown, with a portrait neckline and a wide bouffant skirt adorned with wax flowers, bundled Jackie’s thin frame in 50 yards of ivory silk taffeta. She had wanted a simple dress with sleek, straight lines, but bowed to family pressure to wear something more traditional, despite thinking it looked like a lampshade.
When she wed John F. Kennedy on this day in 1953, she almost didn’t get to wear the dress after all. A week before the ceremony — at a Newport, R.I., Catholic church where the Archbishop of Boston led Mass and delivered a personal blessing from the Pope — Jackie’s dress and her bridesmaids’ pink taffeta gowns were drenched when a pipe burst in the designer’s New York studio. Designer Ann Lowe and her team worked around the clock to reproduce the wedding dress, which had originally taken eight weeks to cut and sew. They finished just in time, and the gown had its intended effect, stunning crowds at the ceremony and the reception, as well as readers of LIFE Magazine, which ran three pages of photos from the event.
According to the magazine’s 1953 story, “The Senator Weds: Young John F. Kennedy takes pretty photographer for bride,” the couple radiated an air of royalty:
Read a 1961 profile of the First Lady here, in TIME’s archives: Jackie