Mathilde's husband works as a civil servant, which provides the couple with a modest, though not uncomfortable, lifestyle. As the story begins, Mathilde spends her days dreaming of luxuries that are out of reach. When her husband surprises her with an invitation to a prestigious party, she despairs that she has nothing to wear. She turns to her wealthy friend, Madame Forestier, who allows her to borrow a diamond necklace. Mathilde is the most beautiful woman at the party, but as the night ends, she realizes she has misplaced the necklace. Rather than admit this to Madame Forestier, Mathilde and her husband scrape together the money for a replacement, taking on loans they spend years repaying. After years of hard work and poverty, Mathilde's beauty fades. When she encounters Madame Forestier, her old friend does not even recognize her. Madame Forestier is shocked when Mathilde tells her story and reveals that the necklace she lent was only cheap costume jewelry.