“The Necklace” begins with a description of Madame Mathilde Loisel. Though she is “pretty and charming,” she and her husband, a clerk in the Ministry of Education, are not well off financially. She has always dreamed of a life of leisure, with attentive servants and a large home, but her lifestyle is decidedly more modest. Ashamed of her social standing, she no longer visits Madame Forestier, an old school friend who has become rich.
When the Loisels are invited to a ball, Madame Loisel becomes very upset, insisting that she has nothing appropriate to wear to such an event. Hoping to make his wife feel better, Monsieur Loisel offers to buy her a new dress. As the ball approaches, Madame Loisel again becomes anxious because she has no jewels to wear. Her husband suggests she borrow jewels from Madame Forestier. Madame Loisel pays her old friend a visit the next day. She is welcomed and encouraged to borrow any piece of jewelry that she desires. She selects a beautiful diamond necklace.
At the ball, Madame Loisel enjoys herself immensely and many men notice her. She dances until 4:00 in the morning, and then she and her husband return home in a decrepit cab. Not until they are back in their humble house does Madame Loisel realize that she has lost the diamond necklace. Her husband spends several hours retracing their steps but finds nothing. They decide to replace the necklace without telling Madame Forestier, and they go heavily in debt.
Years of toil and grueling work in an effort to repay their debt ages Madame Loisel so she looks quite older than her years. After ten long years of poverty, however, they finally pay off their entire debt. Still, Madame Loisel wistfully and fondly remembers the evening of the ball. One day shortly thereafter, Madame Loisel runs into Madame Forestier, who still looks young and beautiful. Madame Loisel tells her friend the whole story. Madame Forestier, who had not realized that her necklace had been replaced with another, reveals that the original, made of imitation diamonds, was not valuable.