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How Marilyn Monroe Influenced Fashion in the 1950s and Beyond

How Marilyn Monroe Influenced Fashion in the 1950s and Beyond
Dressing like Marilyn Monroe

How Marilyn Monroe Influenced Fashion in the 1950s and Beyond

Written by Hannah Mae Webster

The influence of Marilyn Monroe is still deeply felt today. With such emphasis put on her iconic “image,” Marilyn’s profound impact on fashion and society is often discredited.

Not only did she surpass the idea of femininity, but also constructed an unforgettable and truly inimitable legacy.

When reviewing the archives of Marilyn Monroe’s style, it is clear that the reason for her enduring impact lies much deeper than a perfectly curated wardrobe.

Assessing the context is important. Marilyn’s influence was primarily felt during the 1950s, a time when femininity and conservativity were united. She disrupted the traditional appearance of femininity and introduced a stronger element of sensuality into fashion. Marilyn’s style was mostly presented through cinema, allowing dramatic elements of performance to infiltrate her fashion moments. Some believe that Marilyn Monroe’s great recognition came as a result of her premature death in 1962, therefore her legacy in fashion and society is more impactful due to her tragic story.

However, Marilyn’s style moments changed the course of fashion, moments that would have been just as respected and applauded if she had lived into the 21st century.

Films such as “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,” “Niagara,” and “How to Marry a Millionaire” cemented her iconic relationships with costume designers such as William Travilla. Unlike Audrey Hepburn and Hubert de Givenchy, Monroe did not forge a solitary bond with one designer and yet still managed to achieve a consistent and highly recognizable image. This image acted as another contributor to her long-lasting legacy. 

Marilyn Monroe entering the plane in Miami

“There have been many beautiful women since Marilyn Monroe. But who is there that has her total magic? Nobody has that vulnerability anymore.” Bert Stern

Whilst many continue to undermine Marilyn’s importance and contributions to society, it is necessary to review the evidence of her influence. Marilyn Monroe popularized the idea of curve-accentuating, body-flaunting designs including naked dresses. Many criticized Monroe for her lack of modesty, however she was semi-responsible for the changing standards in fashion, encouraging seduction through styling. Marilyn’s filmography has profoundly impacted costume design for decades, with many designers imitating Monroe to create alluring characters.

Other women often criticized Marilyn’s presentation, suggesting that she was disrespecting women through her “dumb blonde” representation on screen. Although Marilyn’s persona and characters were, without question, often marketed towards men, she continued to encourage other women to embrace their sensuality through style and leave behind the stereotype of modesty.

Following Dior’s 1947 New Look collection, styles had become full and voluminous, a trend that was not followed by Marilyn Monroe. Whilst most women were adopting these shapely silhouettes, Marilyn wore tight-fitting pieces that flaunted her natural curves.

“She is still better known than most living movie stars, most world leaders, and most television personalities. The surprise is that she rarely has been taken seriously enough to ask why that is so.” Gloria Steinem

Marilyn Monroe shot in bikini

Not only did she influence trends, but Marilyn’s leverage also greatly benefited many designers and brands by boosting their reputation and familiarity through her films. One example is her mention of Harry Winston, the diamond broker, in her famous song ‘Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend’, in the 1953 movie “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.” She sang, “Tiffany’s, Cartier, Black Starr, Frost Gorham, talk to me Harry Winston, tell me all about it.”

From the beauty mark to curve-hugging wiggle dresses, Monroe triggered numerous trends that have spanned over decades. Films and magazines were often the only sources of style inspiration, therefore Marilyn’s grand presence on screen was enough to alter the course of 1950s fashion.

Lorelei Lee, played by Marilyn Monroe in “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,” 1953

The beauty mark

Beauty marks have a very intriguing history. Once a method of concealment, the facial mark was soon associated with natural beauty. Although beauty marks were an aesthetic trend during 16th century France, Marilyn Monroe popularized its modern appreciation. Many questioned whether Monroe’s mark was natural or simply drawn. Either way, it constructed a key part of her signature image.

Marilyn Monroe signature style

Wiggle dresses

Wiggle dresses were defined as a dress with a narrower hem than waist that caused a woman to slightly struggle when walking, creating a wiggle movement. Marilyn Monroe often wore wiggle dresses as they complimented her hourglass figure and character perfectly. In the film “Niagara,” 1953, Monroe wore wiggle dresses and pencil skirts. These tight-fitting pieces were the perfect option for the film and the femme fatale character of Rose Loomis. Marilyn wore a tight black pencil skirt in the famous 116 ft walking scene, the longest walk in cinematic history. Another memorable wiggle dress moment was in the film “Some Like It Hot.”

Marilyn Monroe wearing dress in the film Niagara

Halter necks

Many will recognize the famous subway grate scene in “The Seven Year Itch” when Marilyn Monroe wore a white, pleated, halter-neck dress. The scene goes down as one of the most recognizable in history, in turn, drawing attention to the iconic white number. Halter necks became popular due to their ability to reveal skin by leaving the back bare, whilst still having the security of straps at the front. Halter neck dresses are a 50s inspired staple that have successfully retained their popularity. The color of the dress also influenced 50s trends with many women being inspired to invest in a white flowing dress.

Marilyn Monroe wearing halter neck dress

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La Dame Linen Midi Dress

Short platinum hair

Marilyn’s signature short blonde hair was her most recognizable feature for many, also fueling her unwelcome and mistaken reputation as a “dumb blonde.” The light chin length style remains an inspiration for women today, triggered by Monroe’s appearance. Although Marilyn greatly popularized the style, it is worth noting that Jean Harlow initially launched the “blonde bombshell” style with her platinum hair in the 30s.

Marilyn Monroe signature style

“Your clothes should be tight enough to show you are a woman, but loose enough to show you're a lady.” Marilyn Monroe

Hot pink

The trend previously introduced in the 30s by Elsa Schiaparelli as “Shocking Pink,” the bold color was famously flaunted twice on screen by Marilyn Monroe. Once in ‘Gentlemen Prefer Blondes’, and another in “Niagara.” The hot pink gown in “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” was designed by William Travilla and was even recreated by Madonna in her “Material Girl” music video.

Marilyn Monroe wearing hot pink dress

“My clothes for Marilyn were an act of love, I adored her.” William Travilla


“The Misfits” introduced the world to a different type of Marilyn Monroe. Unlike her other unserious and comedic roles, audiences experienced another side to Monroe in a role that was written by her husband Arthur Miller, supposedly based on herself, hence the name similarity. One key difference was her style, as Marilyn wore casual blue jeans and white shirts in the film, popularizing jeans for women.

Marilyn Monroe wearing jeans

Cat-eye glasses

Monroe wore the striking pair of cat-eye glasses in the 1953 film, “How to Marry a Millionaire.” Initially the glasses were treated as a comedic tool, but the uniquely attractive image of the glasses on Marilyn established a new trend which also drew positive attention to women with glasses, something that was not previously as appreciated.

Marilyn Monroe wearing cat-eye glasses

Want to try some cat-eye shaped sunglasses? Try our Grace sunglasses inspired by 50s icons such as Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn, and Marilyn Monroe.

La Dame Grace Sunglasses

“I'd love to be a memorable figure in the history of entertainment in some sexual, comic, tragic way. I'd like to leave the impression that Marilyn Monroe did, to be able to arouse so many different feelings in people.” Madonna

Over the last century, the world has witnessed so many inspiring and uniquely dressed women that are now considered to be fashion icons. So many of those who have achieved this status have worked in the performance industry, whether that be musicians or actresses. The reason for this connection is the great power of the film industry and its ability to influence society. This notion is reflected in the famous Oscar Wilde quote, “Life imitates art.” Marilyn Monroe’s great effect on fashion and her singlehanded ability to change and trigger trends therefore qualifies her as a fashion icon.

Some may question whether Marilyn is responsible for creating her image as a costume designer herself or rather her hired designers. The truth is, without the magnetic performances of Marilyn Monroe, some of these now iconic costumes could have potentially been overshadowed and forgotten. Although costume designers created masterpieces for Marilyn’s movies, Marilyn’s character and charm is the factor that accelerated them into the limelight. The telling fact about Marilyn’s icon status is the high number of people unfamiliar with her movies that will instantly recognize her scenes.

Marilyn Monroe at the premiere of “There’s No Business Like Show Business”

“When it comes down to it, I let them think what they want. If they care enough to bother with what I do, then I'm already better than them.” Marilyn Monroe

Marilyn Monroe famously stated in an interview: “You know, they ask me questions. Just an example: ‘What do you wear to bed? A pajama top? The bottoms of the pajamas? A nightgown? So I said, Chanel No.5 because it’s the truth. And yet, I don’t want to say nude. But it’s the truth!’”

This iconic evasion of an inappropriate question had an enduring impact on the image of Chanel No.5, causing a permanent association with Marilyn, boosting its desirability and exclusivity. This is yet another example of her momentous impact and clever ability to dodge unnecessary and tasteless questions.

Casual outfits are often overlooked when studying Marilyn’s style, with many focusing solely on her costume attire. Marilyn’s off-duty ensembles were surprisingly minimalistic, including cigarette pants, capri pants, button up shirts, and of course Pucci. She often accessorized her simple outfits with headscarves, sunglasses, and kitten heels.

Marilyn favored Italian designer Emilio Pucci. His simple shapes and bold psychedelic prints were popular among other stars such as Lauren Bacall, Sophia Loren, and Jackie Kennedy. Following her tragic death in 1962, Marilyn was buried in her favorite green Pucci dress.

Marilyn Monroe wearing Pucci

Marilyn photographed wearing Pucci

Unlike other stars of the 50s, Marilyn has seemingly inspired nearly every decade of fashion since her passing, from accessorizing to formal attire.

Stars such as Anna Nicole Smith, Madonna, Debbie Harry, Kim Kardashian, and Billie Eilish are just a handful of those who have been inspired.

Most recently, Kim Kardashian’s controversial Met Gala reveal gained mixed responses. She wore the original “Happy Birthday Mr. President” gown previously worn by Marilyn in 1962 at President John F. Kennedy’s birthday celebration. The sheer embellished gown was designed by Bob Mackie and Jean Louis and featured 2500 rhinestones. The alleged damage of the dress following the 2022 Met Gala fueled widespread criticism, as many believed the gown should have been preserved and left untouched. However, Kim Kardashian’s power in the modern fashion world was enough to boost Marilyn inspired trends such as the curve-hugging naked dress, a style that has proven very popular red-carpet attire.

Billie Eilish also took inspiration from Monroe for her 2021 Met Gala gown. She channeled Marilyn’s 1951 Oscars look in a voluminous tulle Oscar de la Renta gown. Eilish even opted for a short, blonde, Marilyn inspired hairstyle and accessorized with Cartier diamonds.

Furthermore, Marilyn’s presence is still deeply felt in today’s fashion industry with stars imitating her looks, inspiring the public to follow. The film industry has also witnessed a selection of filmmakers aspiring to tell her story through movies such as “My Week with Marilyn,” “Marilyn and Me,” and most recently, “Blonde.” However, some of these biopics, such as the 2022 “Blonde,” have been poorly received due to a lack of dignity, accuracy, and respect for Marilyn’s life. However, the modern exposure of Marilyn Monroe in the film industry has continued to inspire fashion.

Marilyn Monroe
Billie Eilish at Met Gala
Marilyn Monroe
Kim Kardashian at Met Gala

"Being a sex symbol is a heavy load to carry, especially when one is tired, hurt and bewildered." 

Marilyn Monroe

La Dame prides itself in creating exquisite, quality pieces that respectfully reflect the styles and stars of the past. Our Marilyn collection is no different and features a carefully curated selection of midi dresses guaranteed to leave you inspired.

Whether you desire a bold polka dot number or an understated staple piece, our collection has it all.

La Dame Marilyn inspired dresses

“People you run into feel that, well, who is she — who does she think she is, Marilyn Monroe?” Marilyn Monroe

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