The most popular blonde beauty of all time, Marilyn Monroe was not only a talented actress but also a fashionista with a sweet tooth for extravagant pieces of clothing. Most of these were worn by Monroe in films or at photo shoots which produced memorable images of this actress that still catch the eye of the public today, triggering awe and admiration.
In 1953, the year before the famous “flying skirt” photograph — a moment caught at the set of The Seven Year Itch, the movie starlet opened a new chapter in cinematic fashion with the pink strapless dress in the film Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.
This film was a 20th Century Fox musical romantic comedy directed by Howard Hawks, starring Jane Russell and Marilyn Monroe, with Charles Coburn, Elliott Reid, Tommy Noonan, Taylor Holmes, and Norma Varden.
Monroe’s role in the film will be best remembered due to her musical performance of the song “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” which was complemented with her seductive choreography and male suitors dressed in tuxedos. This unforgettable scene probably wouldn’t be so admired if it wasn’t for Monroe’s pink designer gown.
The gown is described in the blog I Get a Kick Out of You as a classic product of American costume designer William Travilla “made out of peau d’ange, a sort of silk satin.”
“The aim was to show the outline of the body, but for the dress to move with the body and not crease – which was rather difficult when Marilyn was moving up and down the stairs. Eventually, the silk satin was glued onto felt, with a black lining added to the back, to give it a stiffness. A huge butterfly bow was added at the back.”
A more profound insight into Monroe’s costume choice in the era of full skirts reveals an intriguing perspective. According to David Chierichetti, author of Hollywood Costume Design, the dominant style of enormously full skirts indeed made actresses’ waists seem smaller but that wasn’t satisfying enough to complete the impression they wanted to give — a fit and slender figure.
Much like her female colleagues Betty Grable and Lauren Bacall from How to Marry a Millionaire, Monroe was dubious about wearing a full skirt because, as she said, it made her look bulky on screen. She insisted on tight skirts.
Quotes from Marilyn Monroe
Travilla respected her resistance and regarded Monroe to be a fashion-conscious star who deserved special treatment in terms of costume design. On one occasion, he admitted that sex symbols like Monroe can be quite complicated because their awareness of their strongest points makes them obsessive about maintaining that specific image for the public.
Travilla also tasted a part of the stardom that followed this Hollywood film, when he received a shared Academy-Award nomination for the costume with the designer Charles LeMaire.
The glamorous dress has been replicated many times over the years and also became Madonna’s costume choice for the music video of her hit-song “Material Girl.” Madonna openly discussed her feeling of ultimate discomfort in the dress because it hindered her movements in the video, which were actually an imitation of Monroe’s choreography.
According to The Telegraph, the magenta gown worn by Monroe was dubbed as “the most important Hollywood dress ever.” In 2010, it was included in a big auction of famous film props and costumes.
It sold for $310,000 though later discussions by fashion historians cast doubt on it’s authenticity. Reportedly, Travilla’s notes about the costume revealed that two copies were made.
The dress was very long and since the shooting lasted for an entire day it easily got dirty and had to be replaced with a spare one. There was no digital retouching back then, so Monroe had to put on another dress when needed. Whatever the case with the authenticity of the sold dress, the one on screen is still considered one of the most significant hallmarks of glamour and cinematic fashion in history.