The Surprising Story Behind Marie Antoinette’s Wedding Dress

By Madeleine Luckel


Marie Antoinette was known for both her fashion and her opulence. So why is it that we know so little about her wedding, which must have been one of the most stylish and extravagant days of her life?

Well for starters, Marie Antoinette, born Archduchess Maria Antonia of Austria, technically married the Dauphin of France before she even met him—and without him being present. In April 1770, a wedding ceremony and subsequent banquet took place in her native Austria. According to biographer Antonia Fraser, Marie Antoinette’s brother, Archduke Ferdinand, served as a “proxy” groom and said the future King of France’s vows on his behalf. This was not unusual for this day and age. It was necessary so that when Marie Antoinette first set foot on French soil, and was no longer accompanied by her Austrian chaperones, she would be doing so as married woman.

The dress she wore to that first wedding is a footnote in history when compared to the gown she donned for her formal wedding ceremony at Versailles. Marie Antoinette’s second dress was made long before her arrival at the French court. It was constructed out of cloth of silver, as was customary for a Dauphine, according to scholar Caroline Weber, and shone with an overall white hue. The dress was also covered in diamonds, which had been a gift from her mother, the imitable Empress Maria Theresa of Austria. When Marie Antoinette made her way down the formal Hall of Mirrors on her way to the royal chapel, they are said to have sparkled a thousand times over.

Marie Antoinette’s wedding dress also featured large panniers, which could be described as hip pads today. The panniers added a significant amount of horizontal width to Marie Antoinette’s silhouette from the waist down. But it was the bodice of her dress that created a substantial size issue. Since Marie Antoinette’s gown was constructed before her arrival in France, it had been made based off of estimates of her measurements. When she tried on the dress for the first time on the day of her wedding, it was clear that it was way too small. The back could not be fully closed and revealed a bit of her corsetry and chemise. There was no solution or extra material to fix the dress, so Marie Antoinette essentially walked down the aisle in a gown that couldn’t be completely zipped up.

A shocking story, yes, but one that’s likely to make any future or former bride grateful for all those fittings.

—Madeleine Luckel