White dress of Marilyn Monroe

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White dress of Marilyn Monroe
Marilyn Monroe photo pose Seven Year Itch.jpg
DesignerWilliam Travilla
Year1954 (1954)
TypeWhite ivory cocktail dress

Marilyn Monroe wore a white dress in the 1955 film The Seven Year Itch, directed by Billy Wilder. The dress was created by costume designer William Travilla and was worn in one of the best-known scenes in the movie.[1] The dress is regarded as an icon of film history and the image of Monroe in the white dress standing above a subway grating blowing the dress up has been described as one of the iconic images of the 20th century.[2]

Background and history[edit]

The costume designer William Travilla, known simply as Travilla, won an Oscar for his work in The Adventures of Don Juan in 1948. In 1952, while he was still one of the many costume designers at 20th Century Fox, Travilla began working with Monroe for the film, Don't Bother to Knock. Travilla designed the clothes for Monroe in eight of her films, and according to his revelation, also had a brief affair.[3] In 1955, while Travilla’s wife (Dona Drake) was on vacation, he designed the white cocktail dress worn by Marilyn Monroe. It remains his most famous work.[3] However, according to the book Hollywood Costume: Glamour! Glitter! Romance! by Dale McConathy and Diana Vreeland, Travilla did not actually design the dress, but rather, bought it off the rack. Travilla denied this.[4]

Monroe stands with a white dress in the theatrical trailer of the 1955 film The Seven Year Itch.

In the film, the white dress appears in the sequence in which Marilyn Monroe and co-star Tom Ewell exit the Trans-Lux 52nd Street Theatre,[5] then located on Lexington Avenue in Manhattan, having just watched the 1954 horror film Creature from the Black Lagoon. When they hear a subway train passing below the grate in the sidewalk, Monroe's character steps onto the grate saying "Ooh, do you feel the breeze from the subway?", as the wind blows the dress up exposing her legs.

Originally the scene was scheduled to shoot on the street outside the Trans-Lux at 1:00 am on 15 September 1954. However, the presence of the actress and the movie cameras caught the curiosity of hundreds of fans, so the director Billy Wilder was forced to reshoot the moment on a set at 20th Century Fox.[6] The depiction of Monroe over the grate has been compared to a similar event in the 1901 short film What Happened on Twenty-third Street, New York City.[7][8] It has also been described as one of the iconic images of the entire 20th century.[9]

After Monroe's death in 1962, Travilla kept the dress locked up with many of the costumes he had made over the years for the actress, to the point that for years there was talk of a "Lost Collection".[10] Only after his own death in 1990, were the clothes put on display by Bill Sarris, a colleague of Travilla.[11] It joined the private collection of Hollywood memorabilia owned by Debbie Reynolds at the Hollywood Motion Picture Museum.[12] During an interview with Oprah Winfrey, speaking of the Monroe dress, Reynolds stated that "[the dress] has become ecru because as you know it is very very old now."[13] In 2011, however, Reynolds announced that she would sell the entire collection at an auction, to be held in stages, the first on 18 June 2011.[14][15] Before the auction, it was estimated that the dress would sell for a price between $1 and $2 million,[16] but it actually sold for more than $5.6 million ($4.6 million plus a $1 million commission).[17][18]

The subway scene dress was also worn by actress Roxanne Arlen in the 1962 film Bachelor Flat.[19][20]


The light-colored ivory cocktail dress.

The dress is a light-colored ivory cocktail dress in a style that was in vogue in the 1950s and 1960s. The halter-like bodice has a plunging neckline and is made of two pieces of softly pleated fabric that come together behind the neck, leaving the wearer's arms, shoulders and back bare. The halter is attached to a band situated immediately under the breasts. The dress fits closely from there to the natural waistline. A soft and narrow self belt was wrapped around the torso, criss-crossing in front and then tied into a small neat bow at the waist, at the front on the left side. Below the waistband is a softly pleated skirt that reaches to mid-calf or below the calf length.[21] There is a zipper at the back of the bodice, and tiny buttons at the back of the halter.


Monroe sculpture in Birmingham, England.

Monroe's husband at the time the movie was filmed, Joe DiMaggio, is said to have "hated" the dress,[16] but it is a popular element of Monroe's legacy. In the years following Monroe's death, images of her wearing the white dress were shown in many of the imitations, representations, and posthumous depictions of the actress. As an example, a full-sized plaster likeness of Monroe in this dress was featured in a key scene in the Ken Russell film of the Who's Tommy (1975). It has been emulated even into the late 20th and throughout the 21st century in cinema, worn by Fiona in Shrek 2 (2004), by Amy Poehler in Blades of Glory (2007), and Anna Faris in The House Bunny (2008), among others. In the film The Woman in Red (1984), Kelly Le Brock repeats the same scene, but wearing a red dress.

Glamour magazine website has classified the dress as one of history's most famous dresses.[22] A similar survey conducted by Cancer Research UK voted the dress number one of all-time iconic celebrity fashion moments.[23]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "William Travilla Biography (1920–1990)". Film Reference. Retrieved 24 May 2011.
  2. ^ Shmoop. History of Fashion in America: Shmoop US History Guide. Shmoop University Inc. p. 21. ISBN 978-1-61062-141-0. Retrieved 24 May 2011.
  3. ^ a b "She was the easiest person I ever worked with". Loving Marilyn. Retrieved 24 May 2011.
  4. ^ "William Travilla". Golden Hollywood Era. Retrieved 24 May 2011.
  5. ^ Trans-Lux 52nd Street Theatre, 586 Lexington Avenue, New York
  6. ^ "Marilyn" Essay by George S. Zimbel. Montreal, July 2000.
  7. ^ Rosemary Hanes with Brian Taves. "Moving Image Section—Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division" The Library of Congress. Retrieved 5 January 2011.
  8. ^ Lee Grieveson, Peter Krämer. The silent cinema reader (2004) ISBN 0415252830, 0415252849, Tom Gunning "The Cinema of Attractions" p. 46. Retrieved 5 January 2011.
  9. ^ "The Seven Year Itch". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 24 May 2011.
  10. ^ "William Travilla". Fashion Model Directory. Retrieved 24 May 2011.
  11. ^ Hines, Nico (2 October 2007). "'Lost collection' of Marilyn Monroe's dresses to go on show". The Times. UK. Retrieved 24 May 2011.
  12. ^ "The Collection". HMPC. Retrieved 24 May 2011.
  13. ^ "Debbie Reynolds' Hollywood Treasures". The Oprah Winfrey Show. Retrieved 24 May 2011.
  14. ^ "Debbie Reynolds' Costume Collection Up For Auction". Clothes on Film. Retrieved 24 May 2011.
  15. ^ "Debbie Reynolds The Auction" (Press release). 17 February 2011. Retrieved 3 June 2011.
  16. ^ a b Amy McRary (1 May 2011), "Debbie Reynolds' famous items once bound for Pigeon Forge go up for auction next month", Knoxville News Sentinel
  17. ^ "Monroe dress fetches $5.6m". The Irish Times. 19 June 2011. Retrieved 19 June 2011.
  18. ^ "Marilyn Monroe's Seven Year Itch dress sells for $4.6m". BBC News. 19 June 2011. Retrieved 19 June 2011.
  19. ^ "Bachelor Flat (1961)". IMDb.
  20. ^ Spoto, Donald (1993). Marilyn Monroe: The Biography.
  21. ^ Spoto, Donald (2001). Marilyn Monroe: the biography. Cooper Square Press.
  22. ^ "Marilyn Monroe". Glamour. Retrieved 24 May 2011.
  23. ^ "Marilyn Monroe's white dress tops iconic celebrity fashion moments". Metro. Retrieved 24 May 2011.

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