Marilyn Monroe is an icon who has stood the test of time. Her image is known universally, as is her name. Think of a household item and you can probably get a version of it with Marilyn’s face on it – bed sheets, cushions, mugs. You get the idea. More often than not it is the same image, the infamous white halter-neck dress from The Seven Year Itch with its skirt blowing up and Marilyn laughing in shock (acting of course). That is probably one of my least favourite images of Marilyn but unfortunately, it is one of the most notorious.
Notoriety aside, Marilyn has always been a part of my life. I have an aunt who lived in the USA in the 1950s, when Marilyn was at the peak of her fame, who once spotted her in a shop in New York. There was reportedly much hysteria from the public at this point.
My aunt worked as a nanny for a very wealthy family, who in the end moved to Hollywood (taking my aunt along too). As a result of this, she seen many movie stars and the children she looked after often played with the children of Hollywood legends. It all sounds a little surreal and that is perhaps why I have always been so fascinated when she has told me the stories. When my mother was a child, she was told the same stories too and as a result, developed a great interest in Marilyn in particular. Because of this, all throughout my childhood I have watched Marilyn’s movies and seen her pictures. Honestly, my mother’s collection of photography books of Marilyn is impressive and has some particularly beautiful images in it.
As the torch has now been passed to me, metaphorically speaking, I have taken it upon myself to watch all of Marilyn’s films again. Some of the costumes in them are utterly gorgeous, so sublime. However, these are all done by costume designers (often William Travilla and Jean Louis – some of the finest designers of that era), not Marilyn herself. She is merely the mannequin. It is her uniform so to speak. As I have been getting increasingly interested in Marilyn herself, I have been looking online and I have found many images of her outside of her movies – off duty I suppose. Really, I didn’t expect her to dress greatly off-screen, or to my taste anyway, but I have been surprised. Marilyn’s taste in fashion is generally overlooked and under-appreciated. She truly has one of my favourite personal styles I have ever seen. I would gladly have much from her wardrobe. So many pieces that she has worn could still easily be worn now, 60 years on.
In the historical context of things, Marilyn was pretty fashion forward. I mean she worn denim – in film (River of No Return and The Misfits) and off film too – and trousers, that was a pretty big thing at the time. She rejected many big trends of the time, favouring her own choices instead. Upon research, I have found out that her favourite brand for shoes was Salvatore Ferragamo, a brand which is still going strong today. She also liked furs, as did most people at the time as it was thought of as the ultimate luxury and didn’t seem to have any of those ethical issues that people seem to have now. Finally, later in her life, in the early 60s she was a big fan of Emilio Pucci and it is rumoured that she was buried in a green Pucci dress. Along with her off-duty style, to events Marilyn generally borrowed gowns from the studios for events and film premieres. This meant that she often got the custom designed, almost couture standard dresses. But honestly, there is no point in me writing a big list of what she liked and didn’t like; that would be dull. I will include photos instead.
This is literally only a tiny amount of what is out there on the internet. There are so many books as well. Honestly just dig around, switch up your google searches and you will be amazed at what you can find. One thing that is for certain is that Marilyn dressed so well. Whilst she was often thought of as vulgar and a little classless, she just oozed glamour and sex appeal – that was her thing. She was never going to be the ultra ladylike Jackie Kennedy or the classically elegant Audrey Hepburn, so why would she bother trying? That wasn’t her. Perhaps what is most sad of all is that she never thought of herself as beautiful, she was never satisfied by what she was seeing. Ironically, she is held up in such high esteem nowadays; thought of as one of the most beautiful women of all time. So yes, she may mainly be known worldwide as a sex symbol, I think it is time that we see past the seductive looks and appreciate Marilyn’s style on a deeper level. She has impeccable personal style and knew exactly how to dress for her body; she knew what looked good and got it right again and again. And what does it matter if she liked to dress sexy? It worked.
FOR FURTHER REFERENCE:
A Pinterest page with a collection of Marilyn’s on and off screen style. I got many of my images for this post on here.
Marilyn in Fashion – This book has images, illustrations and text tracing “the style evolution of the ultimate Hollywood icon”.
Marilyn Monroe: NYC, 1955 – I don’t own this book but I would like to as it follows Marilyn around New York and features many candid images as well as her regular style. The photo quality is said to be grainy though.
Bert Stern/Marilyn Monroe: The Complete Last Sitting – This book is on my Christmas list. It is the complete set of images taken by Bert Stern on Marilyn’s last ever photoshoot. There’s only about 20 photos from the full sitting that have actually been published elsewhere and I think it will be interesting to see the ones that didn’t make the cut.
Marilyn Among Friends – This is perhaps my favourite of all. Photographs are by Sam Shaw and text is by Norman Rosten. These are going for an absolute fortune brand new, not sure why, but you can get used (but still good condition) copies on amazon for literally thousands less.