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Timeless: Marilyn Monroe’s White Dress

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The Marilyn Monroe White Dress – A Timeless Icon
There are some images that simply never leave your mind; they are iconic and timeless. One such image is the notorious photo of Marilyn Monroe standing over a subway grate in a white halter dress that is billowing in the uprising rush of air. This simple white dress in the middle of Manhattan will forever be associated with blonde bombshell Marilyn Monroe.

Marilyn Monroe White DressThe story behind Marilyn Monroe’s white dress
The classic scene wherein Marilyn’s character stands over the subway grate in her white dress to catch the rush of air as the train speeds through is from the movie The Seven Year Itch, which was shot at 52nd Street and Lexington in New York City in the middle of the night. Regardless of the hour, thousands of fans showed up to catch a glimpse of their fantasy idol, the unforgettable Marilyn Monroe.

Amongst the fans, was the press. Each time Billy Wilder, the movie director, tried to shoot the scene, hundreds of camera flashes went off. Frustrated, Wilder made a deal with the onlookers and the press, promising that if they allowed him to shoot the scene without any flashes, he would ask Marilyn to pose for them.

At the time, Marilyn was married to Joe DiMaggio, who was less than thrilled with not only the event, but also with the ever-growing eager crowd. Apparently, he walked onto the set and shouted to the mob “What the hell is going on here?!”

The man behind the white dress
As one of the most sought-after Hollywood designers of the 20th Century, William Travilla had a career that spanned 40 years and included over 100 credits to his name. Many feel that his most remarkable work was worn by Marilyn Monroe, for whom he designed costumes for eight of her films.

The Marilyn Monroe white halter dress is by far Travilla’s most famous dress design. Inspired by the multiple folds of Greek robes, he fashioned many starburst pleats that directed the onlooker’s eyes to her plunging neckline. The lightweight fabric was selected for its ease of movement, and so as to flutter upward in the breeze and reveal her thighs. The color white was chosen to portray innocence. Marilyn wrote to Travilla saying, “Billy Dear, please dress me forever. I love you, Marilyn.”

Travilla also designed three other memorable dresses for Marilyn, all of which were featured in the 1953 film Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. The gold dress was created from one complete circle of fabric and hand pleated. It ended up being one of Marilyn’s favorites. The pink satin dress was worn during Marilyn’s rendition of “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend”, and the red sequin dress was worn in the opening scene with Jane Russell.

Marilyn Monroe’s other famous dress
Another dress which may not be as notorious as the Marilyn Monroe white halter dress, but certainly deserves its place in history, is the flesh-colored, body-hugging sheath dress, often referred to as the “Happy Birthday Mr. President” dress.

Encrusted with rhinestones embroidered in a rosette motif, the dress was worn by the sensuous blonde in May 1962 at Madison Square Garden. One story goes as far as saying that the dress was so tight, that Marilyn wore nothing underneath, and had to be poured into it.

In 1999, the “Happy Birthday Mr. President” dress, designed by Jean Luis, was up for auction by Christie’s. When it came time to showcase the item, the lights were dimmed and the 6000 rhinestones adorning the dress sparkled as bright as Marilyn’s smile. A dress that originally cost $12,000 was sold for $1,267,500.

"Fame is fickle, and I know it. It has its compensations, but it also has its drawbacks, and I've experienced them both."


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