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  • Writer's pictureFashion and Retail Association

Marilyn Monroe: Political Expression Through Personal Style

Updated: Oct 11, 2022

By: Erica Schwartz

With the recent deluge of controversy surrounding Andrew Dominik’s newly released pseudo-biopic, Blonde, Marilyn Monroe has been thrust into the limelight of the American cultural stage yet again. One of the main points of criticism with which the film has been met is its complete denial of any personal agency for Monroe, reducing her to a helpless victim of trauma. However, the real Monroe was not the damsel in distress that Dominik’s film depicts her to be. While her life was marked with immeasurable trauma, Marilyn Monroe was active in bettering her life and the lives of those around her. From allying with Ella Fitzgerald against racist jazz clubs which would not host her as a star to her radical political views, Monroe’s personal views were often camouflaged by publicists and directors who thought Monroe’s intellect and worldliness were antithetical to the dumb blonde image the studios had cultivated for her. However, one of the only ways Marilyn Monroe was able to express herself was through her personal fashion style.

One of the most significant facts about Monroe’s offscreen style was that she didn’t have a particular designer of choice, contrary to other A-list actresses of the time who often shared close working relationships with high-profile couture houses. While many of her most iconic looks on the big screen were designed by the talented William Travilla, Monroe’s personal style strayed from the glitz and glamor that Travilla’s designs displayed. This reflects greater trends in Monroe’s style: a propensity for timeless minimalism and a lack of pretension. Moreover, the simplicity of Monroe’s style reflects her sympathy for anti-capitalist movements, a major aspect of her personal life and beliefs that were so often stifled by studios and directors. While Monroe couldn’t speak openly about her views, she could express her inner thoughts and feelings through her off-screen wardrobe.

Off-screen, Marilyn Monroe had a penchant for simple turtlenecks, capris, and collared blouses in neutral shades. To flaunt her famous figure, she often opted for tight-fighting silhouettes which accentuated her curves. Her style often incorporated elements of the beatnik scene which was growing throughout her time in Hollywood, reflecting her intellectualism and leftist ideology which was often blotted out by Hollywood.

Another common silhouette in Monroe’s personal wardrobe was the pairing of form-fitting, high-waisted shorts with a tied-up blouse or cropped turtleneck. Monroe was often pictured in behind-the-scenes images in outfit combinations of this sort from the very beginning of her career. This common look for Monroe is so timeless, reflecting her sense of sexual liberation that was decades ahead of her time.

When it came to skirts, Monroe often opted for tight-fitting midi skirts, paired with a collared blouse. This look appears mature and sophisticated, without requiring too much effort to put together. It’s also extremely reminiscent of the color blocking and aesthetics of a man’s suit, reflecting Monroe’s challenge of gender norms and the gendered stereotypes which clouded public perception of who she truly was.

Like the legend herself, Marilyn Monroe’s style was way more than what meets the eye. Through classy, utilitarian looks, Marilyn Monroe was able to express herself in one of the very few ways she was openly allowed. Monroe’s personal style is timeless, an important aspect of her momentous legacy.

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