Marilyn Monroe wielded her sexuality like a weapon, in an era when women were expected to suppress it. Crossing boundaries in most of her filmography, she was extraordinarily ahead of her time. Her appeal derived from her beauty, curvaceous body, and sensually innocent persona. But, possibly her biggest attraction was her on-screen wardrobe, which is one of the most iconic in cinematic history.
The white dress from The Seven Year Itch (1955) is her most recognizable look, usually pictured billowing around her in a gust of wind. A huge crowd gathered to watch the filming of the scandalous scene, desperate to catch a glimpse of Monroe’s legs. This is abhorrent to the modern individual, but this was an era of sexual oppression; the idea of a woman revealing her legs was shocking, but tantalising. And Monroe revealing her legs was the most tantalising idea of all. This is just one small example of the impact of Monroe and the alluring sexuality of her costuming.
Another of her most iconic looks is her pink dress from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953). This shocking pink number has been replicated by figures like Madonna, Kylie Jenner and Margot Robbie; it’s impact has endured for decades. This dress was designed to be less revealing than the original design for this scene, due to the fact that Monroe was involved in a scandal involving the resurfacing of her Playboy photos. But still, Monroe could make a potato sack look fashionable – and she did, in a 1951 photoshoot.
Her on-screen costumes deliberately portrayed the essence of seduction whilst simultaneously being innocent and infantilised. Her narrative was that of the dumb blonde, unaware of her own sexual appeal, and thus effortlessly attractive. She tried to shed this image in her later years, like in the 1961 film The Misfits. However, this film wasn’t as well received as those in which Monroe’s body was packaged for viewing pleasure. This idea must have taken a toll on her.
By modern standards of psychiatry, Monroe may have suffered from a personality disorder and extreme anxiety preceding her fame. In addition, she had issues with addiction and substance abuse. Her co-stars found her hard to work with due to her temperamental nerves and odd requirements. Tony Curtis described Monroe as very troublesome to act alongside, as she would constantly forget lines and turn up hours late to set. However hard she may have been to work with, though, rather than determining exactly why she was so distressed, her co-workers simply dismissed her. In other words, whenever she was deemed more work than her sexuality made her worth, she was let down. Also, pressure and expectations of the public, with people both praising and slamming her for every little action, would have certainly taken a toll. Her mental health was worsened by the consequences of fame; it possibly even drove her to her death.
There is much debate around the cause of Monroe’s tragic death in 1962, with a popular theory being that she was murdered due to her supposed involvement with John F Kennedy. But regardless, her death was ruled as a barbiturate overdose. Knowing this, as well as the deterioration of her mind, it is likely that she killed herself due to the overwhelming pressure of her fame tearing her mental health to shreds.
Monroe’s story is a cautionary tale of the dangers of fame: treat someone like they are worth nothing more than their body, and it begins to stick. She was a victim, destroyed by a world that simultaneously idolised her. When you look past her gorgeous appearance and clothes, there is no-one more tragic in this world than Marilyn Monroe.
About the author
Jess is a undergraduate student studying English at the University of York. She has a passion for Vintage style, Sustainable Fashion and loves to write.