Lois Banner on Marilyn’s American Beauty

Marilyn by Richard Avedon, 1957

From American Beauty by Lois W. Banner (1983)

“The most important film representative of the 1950s voluptuous woman was Marilyn Monroe, who differed from the others by combining with sensuality strains of childishness reminiscent of the adolescent stars. She thereby created a powerful combination that encompassed the era. Technically unschooled and often intellectually vacuous in her film characterisations, she nevertheless possessed both the shrewdness of the classic chorus girl (a character she often portrayed in film roles) and the intuitive genius of a child, able to see more clearly to the heart of a matter than others more sophisticated around her. As a down-and-out member of a seedy female band in ‘Some Like it Hot’, she taught fleeing mobsters Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon the meaning of friendship and love; as a chorus girl in ‘The Prince and the Showgirl’, she taught the same lesson to Laurence Olivier, the head of a fictional kingdom. Most of the other voluptuous film stars had dark hair, but Monroe’s was peroxided a light blonde – a colour that invoked traditional images of angels and virtuous women, reflected the light locks of the era’s adolescent film stars, and both legitimised and heightened her sensuality.

Previous exemplars of female sensuality had also had blonde hair: one thinks of the British Blondes in the 1860s and Jean Harlow in the 1930s. But Monroe differed strikingly from the Lydia Thompson troupe and from Harlow. They were tough, wisecracking, even masculine in type. With a slight, lisping voice, a soft curvaceous body, and a seriousness about life, Monroe projected an intense femininity and an inner vulnerability. Her sensual posturings were reminiscent of Mae West, although with no hint of the parody that West intended. Monroe regarded her body with dead seriousness. Long before she was acclaimed as movie actress and sex queen, she had posed for the first nude centrefold in ‘Playboy’ magazine, destined to become a trendsetter in liberalised sexuality and a showcase for the bodies of beautiful women. [Actually, Monroe had posed for a trade calendar – the shots were acquired by Hugh Hefner four years later, after her rise to fame.]

Monroe’s popularity ensured the triumph of the vogue of dyed blonde hair, which cosmetics companies had been promoting. Sales of hair colouring soared; platinum blondes seemed everywhere. The widespread dying of hair to be light blonde indicated women’s acceptance of a model of looks and behaviour that had them be feminine, sensual, and unintellectual. Women were to seem like children, expressing their adulthood primarily through their sexuality. The ‘dumb blonde’ who ‘had more fun’ now became the dominant image of beauty for American women.”

Dr Banner is currently working on two new books about Marilyn.

Read my comparison of Monroe and Harlow, ‘American Bombshells’.

Get the Marilyn Treatment at Lush

“Named after the most famous blonde in the world.

Softness, brightness and shine for blonde hair. Marilyn is for blondes who would like to stay blonde and become even more so, in a gentle, shiny and natural way. Use The Blonde shampoo, then use this pre-wash conditioner as a regular top-up.

Enhances golden tones.

We make it with softening linseed gel, chamomile for lightness and to calm your scalp, saffron for golden colour, lemon for shine and olive oil to moisturise your hair. It also lightens gradually.”

Available at Lush Cosmetics

Reviewed at Ciao

Thanks to Anna-Clare

Are You a Jackie or a Marilyn?


Try this fun quiz at Vanity Fair

Inspired by Mad Men, Pamela Clarke Keogh‘s Are You a Jackie or a Marilyn: Timeless Lessons on Love, Power and Style will be published by Gotham Books on October 28.


“The hit TV show Mad Men recently featured an ad campaign with two images of a model in her underwear. As a brunette, she sips from a china teacup. As a blonde, she swirls a cocktail. Debutante or bombshell? Sometimes women want to be both. On the surface, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and Marilyn Monroe could not be more different, but they had more in common than just JFK. Are You a Jackie or a Marilyn? is a fun way to explore the classic madonna/ whore conundrum while becoming fabulous in all aspects of life.

Readers start by taking the definitive quiz to determine where they fall on the Jackie/ Marilyn spectrum, and then it’s on to customized advice on beauty and style, sex and marriage, power and career, decorating and entertaining, and more. Any woman who has aspired to Marilyn’s sultry allure or Jackie’s unstoppable elegance (or who wants to balance sexy and serious) will love these entertaining lessons on channeling your inner Jackie or Marilyn in any situation, from throwing a dinner party to penning a love note. Sidebars compare Jackie’s and Marilyn’s dating tips, lists of favorite books and music, diet plans, and even makeup know-how. Packed with charming two-color illustrations, this is the book that gives every woman her own star power.”

Marilyn, Lindsay Lohan and ‘6126’

Before her latest misadventure (a stint in jail), actress Lindsay Lohan took time out to talk about her admiration for Marilyn Monroe and her clothing line, 6126, at Stylelist.com

“SL: 6126 is named for Marilyn Monroe’s birthday, and you’ve recreated Monroe’s famous portrait sessions for famed photographer Bert Stern. Why is she such a strong influence?

LL: She is an icon. I love her sense of self. She is glamorous and represents a time in Hollywood that was a changing point for women. I also think she was misunderstood.”

Whatever one may think of Lindsay’s current situation, few people understood the pressures of fame better than Monroe, and I think she would get a kick out of knowing that she continues to inspire today’s young starlets – especially in troubled times.

Michael Bastian Inspired by Marilyn

“Michael Bastian, notorious for his rugged menswear collections, was recently inspired by the blond bombshell Marilyn Monroe to create a women’s collection.  The direct source for this inspiration steams from Henry Hathaway’s 1953 film Niagara, staring Monroe. While creating the campaign for his men’s line, Bastian wondered, how would the woman opposite this man be clad? With this question dangling overhead at Gant, executives encouraged him to push forward with the idea. Bastian did not waste any time.

The Spring 2011 line eloquently blends feminine designs and curves with masculine strong details, creating a modern Monroe look. Bastian kept the preppy style of his mens line but injected it with a dynamic sex appeal. The prices for the collection range form $65 to $325, and is set to be revealed during a presentation at New York Fashion Week in September.”

Via Sundance Channel

Bastian’s upcoming collection photographed by John Aquino for Women’s Wear Daily

Norma Jeane Inspires Dior Designer

Andre de Dienes, 1950

“My inspiration came from different sources when I was young. Like all the other girls my age. I adored Marilyn Monroe. I loved her exuberance and her natural beauty as Norma Jeane.”

Camille Miceli

Camille with Pharrell Williams

“Camille Miceli is one of those Parisian girls who gets it right every time with seemingly zero effort or contrivance…”

Meenal Mistry, Vogue

More about Camille here

Marilyn in Costume

In today’s LA Times, fashion pundit Freddie Lieba salutes 22 seminal film frocks that bewitched the world. Three of the selections are from Marilyn Monroe’s movies, including this Dorothy Jeakins dress from Niagara (1953).

“Marilyn Monroe plays a femme fatale in this film, and the pink taffeta dress was simply perfect for a seductress—there was both a bow and a cutout near her bosoms. They also famously cut off a little of her high heels to make her hips wobble more and pitch her walk a bit differently and make her somehow look sexier. It was a very risqué look at the time. Niagara was banned by churches when it was first released.”

Can you guess what Freddie’s other choices were?

Find out