Beginning in the 1950s, Marilyn Monroe had one of the most famous acting careers of all time. Despite taking on a more minimalist style in her everyday life, Monroe’s films featured some of the most well-known style moments in cinema history. Here are just a few of Monroe’s biggest fashion moments in film history!
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
Source: Screen Chic
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953) was a musical comedy which starred Monroe as Lorelei Lee alongside Jane Russel. In the film, the two appear as showgirls traveling to Paris. Lorelei, unlike her best friend, is depicted as a gold-digger who is after men for their wealth. The most famous scene in the movie involves Lorelei doing a performance of the song “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend.” For this scene, costume designer William Travilla created the iconic strapless, pink, belted dress with an exaggerated bow on the back. The gown was paired with matching gloves and flashy jewelry. This outfit perfectly embodies the glamorous performance and Lorelei’s character as a whole. Who better to sing about diamonds than a woman dressed in the most chic, expensive-looking ensemble of all time?
The original outfit designed for this scene was simply fishnet over a nude bodystocking, but it was deemed too sexy in the aftermath of Monroe’s nude photographs. So just two days before filming, Travilla created the dress that would be referenced and admired for decades to come. The outfit would later be recreated for Ana de Armas when she played Monroe in the biopic Blonde (2022).
How to Marry a Millionaire
In the film How to Marry a Millionaire (1953), Marilyn plays Pola Debevoise, a woman who sets out on a journey with her two friends to find rich men to marry in New York. In order to attract high status, wealthy men, Pola must look the part. With William Travilla as the costume designer, the outfits in this movie are swoon-worthy, and he was even nominated for an Oscar for best costume design for this film. One of Pola’s standout looks is a white lace number that reportedly took six hours of prep because Monroe had to be sewn into the dress. The lace was layered over a nude underlay which Travilla added sequins to. The piece was paired with white fur and white opera gloves. This ensemble perfectly represents high society and 1950s New York glamor, but the revealing nature of the lace gives the dress an added edge.
River of No Return
River of No Return (1954) is a Western film that stars Marilyn Monroe as Kay Weston, a dance hall singer who has watched over a man’s son while he was in prison. When he returns, Kay finds there is a spark between them. As the vivacious performer, Monroe wears a myriad of memorable outfits, but the most iconic one is worn when she performs a song called “One Silver Dollar” at the local saloon. The black-beaded red corset dress, another William Travilla creation, features draping on the hips and is styled with fishnet stockings and an extravagant headpiece. Embodying the sultry persona of a saloon performer, she stuns the crowd with both her voice and the stunning ensemble. The dress itself became so iconic that Debbie Reynolds, actor and movie costume collector, purchased it from 20th Century Fox decades later. It went on to be auctioned off for $600,000 in 2014.
There's No Business Like Show Business
There’s No Business Like Show Business (1954) tells the story of a family of performers who navigate the world of show business. Their careers seemingly begin to fall apart as the children grow up, and their son falls in love with a performer named Vicky Parker (Marilyn Monroe). During Vicky’s performance of a song called “After You Get What You Want You Don’t Want It” she wears one of the standout looks from the film, a dress designed by Travilla. The fitted, nude gown features beaded, starburst embellishments and a very high slit on the leg. Paired with a giant headpiece, this ensemble is perfect for the role of a performer. It is eye-catching and shines under the spotlight as she sings. This dress, alongside the matching headpiece, was such a well-known piece of cinema history that it was highly successful when it was auctioned off just last year. Despite the presale estimate of $100,000, the ensemble went for nearly $220,000.
The Seven Year Itch
If you know anything about Marilyn Monroe, it is probably the iconic picture of her standing on the subway grates. This image came from the movie The Seven Year Itch (1955). The romantic comedy tells the story of a married man who falls in love with an unnamed woman played by Monroe. When the woman stands on the subway grates in a white dress, the wind blows up causing the dress to go up with it. This scene is one of the most famous in cinema history, and the dress is revered as equally iconic. The pleated, white, halter-neck dress is another one of William Travilla’s creations. Belted at the waist and flowy enough to be picked up by wind, the piece is truly a stunning part of the film. Contrary to the world’s reception of it, Travilla never cared much about the design and once called it “that silly little dress.” The silly little dress in question was so beloved by the world that it was sold for $4.6 million at a Beverly Hills auction in 2011.
Marilyn Monroe is as famous today as she was during her career in the 50s, if not more. Her movies stand the test of time, and her star-power was obvious to anybody who saw her. Aside from being one of the biggest actors of her time, Monroe also wore some of the most iconic outfits in film history. With a fashion catalog that is still being referenced decades later, Marilyn Monroe’s legacy lives on.