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14 Unforgettable Outfits That Defined Marilyn Monroe’s Style

Marilyn Monroe was a Hollywood legend who lived a life of ups-and-downs. But one constant throughout her life, however, was her love of fashion. Monroe was a woman who embraced femininity in the most extreme way. She wore hourglass shapes, vibrant colors, and necklines with daring contours.

Her collaboration with renowned costume designer William Travilla has left an indelible mark on her career. The cotton candy pink gown with matching opera gloves that she wore in “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,” the white halter-style dress she wore for “The Seven Year Itch,” which billowed beautifully when she stepped on a subway grate and the bawdy saloon style in “River of No Return” are just a few examples.

Even her off-screen looks have left an impression. Monroe was never a fashion trend follower and chose to stick with a minimalist, classic wardrobe consisting of capri pants and boatneck shirts. She also wore chic sheath dresses and duster coats. Marilyn Monroe’s ability to effortlessly transition from full-on glamour to jeans and bare feet is what makes her outfits so conversation starters, even decades after they were created.

We examine the outfits which made this actress a fashion icon throughout the years.

Promotional Portrait, 1946

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She was Norma Jean Baker before she became Marilyn Monroe. In 1946, the actress-to-be set out to be America’s Sweetheart. She was photographed for a series promotional photos in 1946 and 1947 which captured her allure. Her candy-striped bikini was one of the most iconic looks in those photos. It complemented her strawberry blonde hair.

Promo Photo 1947

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Monroe wore more conservative clothing for promotional portraits after she became known as Hollywood Monroe. This seafoam-blue chiffon dress with blossoming embroidery was one of those outfits. Monroe’s modest clothing and natural look in these pictures served as a contrast to her later, bombastic and manicured looks.

Idaho Potato Sack, 1951

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A journalist criticized Monroe’s sultry dress, saying that even a potato bag would have been better. Twentieth Century Fox took advantage of negative press by arranging a photoshoot where Monroe was dressed in a potato bag. The actress looked radiant in any outfit.

How To Marry A Millionaire, 1953

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She was a star in the comedy How to Marry a Millionaire. Costume designer William Travilla made her a number of stunning gowns. This ruched dress with a beaded strap and asymmetrical belt was one of the most memorable costumes in the movie. Monroe wore it with confidence, a trait that would later become a hallmark of her style.

How To Marry A Millionaire Premiere Parties, 1953

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Monroe continued to embody the glamour of the golden age at the premiere party for “How To Marry A Millionaire” wearing a strapless gown and stole. This combination would become a winner in the future. The shining satin sash, matching gloves and lace detailing on this outfit add a touch of royalty to an otherwise sultry look.

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, 1953

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Monroe’s cotton candy pink dress from the 1953 musical, “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,” is one of her most famous looks. Monroe’s sauntering in this gorgeous number, while proclaiming that “diamonds were a girl’s best friend” has left a lasting impression on many because of its outlandish opulence. The look is so iconic, it has been re-created in a variety of ways. From Madonna’s music video “Material Girl”, to Ryan Gosling’s Oscars 2024 performance of “I’m Just Ken”.

Frank Povolny Portrait, 1953

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Frank Povolny, a photographer from 1953, captured the stunning golden glow of Monroe in their portrait session. The goddess gown, set against a black backdrop, highlighted Monroe’s warm presence. It also fitted her perfectly. Monroe’s style would be dominated by plunging necklines and pleated hemlines.

Rallying the Troops 1954

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Monroe’s four-day tour during the Korean War, where she performed 10 shows for an audience of over 100,000 soldiers and Marines, cemented her place as a national icon. The performances featured a variety of beaded sheaths, including the purple dress seen above. Images of Monroe inspiring the troops were a source of hope and beauty for many.

River of No Return 1954

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Monroe’s wardrobe of stylish saloon looks was a masterclass of design that pushed the limits of what Western wear could be. Monroe’s collection of saloon outfits was a masterpiece of design. This green velvet corseted dress with jet-black beads and a red ruffled underskirt is a perfect example.

The Seven Year Itch

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Monroe’s all-white outfit in “The Seven Year Itch” featured the dress. The dress makes a grand entrance as Monroe and Richard Sherman, her co-star in the movie, leave the theater. When they hear the subway train below the sidewalk grates, Monroe steps on the grate and asks “Ooh do you feel that breeze from the subway?” The dress billows up as the wind blows, teasing the viewers with a flirty peek of her legs. It is not surprising that this Travilla-designed dress has its own Wikipedia page, given the impact it had on pop culture and society on a global level.

Married life, 1956

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Monroe wore a stylish collection of separates in her everyday life, which helped to create a more relatable image of this blonde bombshell. Monroe’s off-duty looks and her rare glimpses of her living her life gave her a relatable face. They also inspired others to dress better.

Some Like It hot, 1958

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Monroe’s role in “Some Like It Hot” was designed by Australian-American Hollywood Costume Designer Orry-Kelly, a rare departure for her from her stylish partnership Travella. The costumes featured heavy embellishments, sheer silhouettes and pushed the boundaries at the time. This champagne-sequined dress featured a neckline which left little room for imagination.

Jetsetting, 1961

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Monroe’s outfits were always a balance between glamour and relatable appeal when she wasn’t on screen. While many of Monroe’s clothes were sensuous and skimmed the body, her outerwear was sophisticated. The jersey dress with printed trench coat that she wore on her flight from Los Angeles to New York is the epitome of street style.

Happy birthday, Mr. president, 1962

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The Jean Louis dress she wore at Madison Square Garden to sing “Happy Birthday to the then President John F. Kennedy” is one of Monroe’s last iconic looks. The dress had a sheer fabric with thousands of sequins hand-sewn all over it. Monroe was a celebrity, or an infamy, depending on whom you ask. The Louis dress gained a new life after Monroe died. It had been sold at auction for $1.26m, then to Ripley’s Believe It or Not, for $4.8m. Kim Kardashian wore the dress to the Met Gala 2022, which caused controversy.

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