Breaking Down Marilyn Monroe's Most Iconic—and Fearless—Fashion Moments

Marilyn Monroe always pushed the boundaries. Read all of the dazzling details behind her most memorable looks, including the infamous naked dress, halter dress and more.

By Alyssa Morin Aug 04, 2022 12:00 PMTags
Watch: Ana de Armas Transforms Into Marilyn Monroe for Netflix's Blonde

Marilyn Monroe, a name so powerful that it's synonymous with fame, fashion, beauty and sex appeal.

It's been 60 years since the legendary actress passed away (under mysterious circumstances) on Aug. 4, 1962, but her enduring legacy continues to pull people in decades later. 

This year alone, a docu-series uncovering her final hours, called The Unheard Tapes, and a movie, appropriately titled Blonde starring Ana de Armas—exploring her complicated life and career—have dominated the entertainment industry.

The Some Like It Hot star's undeniable impact on Hollywood has also transcended into fashion.

For the 2022 Met GalaKim Kardashian admitted that she went to great lengths to squeeze into Marilyn's iconic nude dress—the scandalous ensemble the late actress wore to seductively sing happy birthday to President John F. Kennedy in May 1962, just three months before she died.

Although Kim's Met Gala look stirred controversy, she wasn't the first celebrity to be inspired by Marilyn's fearless fashion.

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Over the years, Madonna, Anna Nicole Smith and Lindsay Lohan (among many others) have emulated her looks.

Marilyn was never afraid to push the boundaries, which only cemented her status as an icon. Below, we break down some of the legend's most memorable outfits and the dazzling details behind them.

Blown Away

A look so iconic that anyone and everyone knows about Marilyn's white halter dress. Designer William Travilla knew that her Seven Year Itch costume needed to bring the wow factor for the infamous wind-blowing scene, where she flirtatiously pulled the pleated skirt down as the subway vent breezed by underneath. 

Wraparound ribbons cinched the star's waist and kept the design's structure, while the bottom half danced in the wind. Marilyn's large white stud earrings, perfectly curled hair and bold red lip made it even more alluring. Despite the movie scene's suggestive nature, Marilyn was cautious about being too racy and wore two pairs of white underwear so no one caught a glimpse of her unmentionables, per The New York Times.

The Bombshell Dress

The infamous nude dress that made everyone clutch their pearls. To celebrate John F. Kennedy's birthday at Madison Square Garden in May 1962, Marilyn sashayed onto the stage in a white mink coat that cleverly concealed the evocative figure-framing design underneath. But when she dramatically pulled off the coat and seductively sang "Happy Birthday Mr. President" in the glimmering "naked" gown, everyone watched in awe.

Designer Jean Louis made the provocative piece out of very thin material and had it "embroidered with rhinestones so she would shine in the spotlight," according to Marilyn in Fashion authors Christopher Nickens and George Zeno, adding, "She wore nothing, absolutely nothing, underneath."

Kim Kardashian made the controversial decision to wear the historical dress to the 2022 Met Gala in May— which was loaned to her by the Ripley's Believe It Or Not Museum.

Tickled Pink

Believe it or not, Marilyn's original costume for her memorable "Diamond's Are a Girl's Best Friend" performance in Gentleman Prefer Blondes was a lot more scandalous—it entailed a diamond bustier and matching panties. However, the studio wanted William Travilla to tone it down, per Marilyn in Fashion. His next creation, the legendary hot pink strapless gown, made the cut and it became a star in its own right.

The design was made of a satin fabric that sparkled alongside the heavy layers of diamonds Marilyn wore for the film. Its backside included a massive bow, lined in black velvet, for added oomph. Matching opera-length gloves that reached all the way towards her armpits (the drama!) and studded open-toe pumps tied it all together.

Proving its star factor, Madonna channeled Marilyn for her "Material Girl" music video in 1985 and replicated everything from the fashion to the set of the musical number.

Dripping in Gold

Although Marilyn slipped into this gold lamé stunner quite a few times throughout her career, she most famously wore it for a series of portraits. The pleated design by William Travilla featured a plunging halter neckline that glistened with each movement. 

The blonde beauty had to be sewn into this garment, which was made from "one complete circle of fabric," authors Christopher Nickens and George Zeno reported. 

Green With Envy

The A-lister shimmied across the Golden Globes stage in 1962 to receive the Henrietta Award for World Film Favorite Female. The awards show marked Marilyn's first major Hollywood event after she kept a low profile for a few years, so it only made sense that she'd want to light up the stage in a dazzling emerald dress.

Created by Norman Norell, the curve-hugging design featured sequins all over and an interesting armhole configuration, in which Marilyn (whether intentionally or accidentally) wore the slots of armholes on the outside, making the neckline have a V-cut as opposed to its original boatneck style.

In May, Kim slipped into the floor-length gown after the 2022 Met Gala, bringing the iconic floor-length gown back into the spotlight. 

Star Quality

The A-lister mesmerized U.S. soldiers stationed in Korea when she sashayed across the stage in this dazzling eggplant-colored dress with sequins sewn in a vermicular pattern. According to Marilyn in Fashion, she said this was the first time she "felt like a star."

Marilyn, who performed for troops while she and Joe DiMaggio were on their honeymoon, loved the dress so much she asked designer Ceil Chapman to make one for her in black.

Dressed to Kill

The Niagara actress captivated audiences with her femme fatale role as Rose in the film-noir thriller. Although her vibrant magenta dress with the keyhole cutout is memorable, it was this red-hot look that truly blew moviegoers away. 

Dressed in a fiery wide-sleeved wool jacket worn over a plunging white blouse and black pencil skirt, Marilyn left an unforgettable impression as she moved her hips from side to side and walked away from the camera in this visually stunning costume.

Great White

Marilyn made a showstopping appearance at the How to Marry a Millionaire premiere in a white-hot strapless William Travilla design. The white lace, embellished in opalescent sequins, popped over the nude crepe material underneath.

An ivory sash draped across her body, which added an extra dose of glamour. And in true Marilyn fashion, more was more as she accessorized with a fur shawl, satin opera-length gloves and diamond drop earrings. In 1991, Madonna also paid homage to the actress in a similar ensemble for the Oscars.

Hot Potato

A fresh-faced Marilyn seductively posed in a potato sack dress for promotional photos for Twentieth Century Fox. Rumor has it that a columnist called the starlet "cheap and vulgar" after she sizzled in a daring dress at a Beverly Hills Hotel party, adding that she would've "looked far better in a potato sack."

It's believed the studio captilized off the scandal, putting Marilyn in the now-famous dress. But while the story behind the look is juicy, The Hollywood Reporter claimed the less captivating reason for her ensemble is that Twentieth Century Fox wanted to promote their new star. And what better way to do so than by suggesting she was so beautiful she could make something as unattractive as a potato sack look good.

Some Like It Hot

Despite the sexy white halter dress from The Seven Year Itch, this sparkly see-through number from Some Like It Hot is Marilyn's most risqué movie costume.

Designer Orry-Kelly said he made the famed silver shimmery dress of "nude soufflé on the bias to lift her breasts and push her tummy in," according to Marilyn in Fashion, adding, "It was so slightly beaded over her breasts that her nipples were not covered and [director] Billy Wilder had to light her with a single spot that left the area strategically  in darkness."

The front seems tame compared to the plunging open-back side of the dress, which creates the illusion that she's zipped it down on purpose. A red heart is cut out on her derrière, a cheeky iteration of wearing one's heart on their sleeve.

LIttle Black Dress

Before asking Jean Louis to make her the naked dress, Marilyn actually wore one of his designs in her early film, Ladies of the Chorus, where she sexily sang "Every Baby Needs a Da-da-daddy." To complement the tone of the performance, she donned a glitzy black chiffon gown.

The evening dress featured a sheer top with a pluninging neckline and full sleeves adorned with sequins in a diamond shape. Vertical rows of sequins draped down the skirt, with the exception of the thigh-high slit.