Why Marilyn’s Denim Is Always in Style

Marilyn was one of the first female stars to wear denim, both on and offscreen – and it’s a timeless look, as Elle India reports. (Before embracing double denim in The Misfits, Marilyn had sported jeans in Clash By Night and River Of No Return.)

“Denim might be the norm today but back in the 1950s, Hollywood’s favourite bad boy James Dean popularised it in Rebel Without A Cause (1955). He was a young, edgy star and his blue dip-dyed Lee 101 Riders became synonymous with the same characteristics. In some ways Marilyn Monroe was the female equivalent of this sexy, rebellious sentiment—donning a Storm Rider by Lee jacket (which until then had mainly been sported by male celebrities) and a pair of jeans while filming her last cinema outing, The Misfits (1961).”

Marilyn Brings Denim Back to the USA

Earlier this week we learned that the pencil skirt is making a comeback. Now it’s time for dark denim to re-enter your wardrobe, sported here by Marilyn and Arthur Miller. “This look, similar to that immortalised by Marilyn Monroe in 1961’s The Misfits and Martin Sheen in 1973’s Badlands, evokes a glory time in American history when the US was the leading purveyor of denim worldwide,” Scarlett Conlon writes for The Guardian.

Tommy Hilfiger to Sell Marilyn’s Jeans

Ahead of the Icons & Idols event in November, Marilyn will also figure in the Tommy Hilfiger sale at Julien’s Auctions on October 21, as People reports.

“Designer Tommy Hilfiger has a slew of celebrity fans and frequently references pop culture in his designs, so it shouldn’t surprise you to find out that he’s got an enormous collection of memorabilia worn by some of the most iconic celebrities of all time … A pair of Foremost JCP Co. blue jeans worn by Monroe in the 1954 film River of No Return are available and can be yours if you’ve got a ton of disposable income just lying around (they’re estimated to sell up to $40,000). Hilfiger previously owned two other pairs of the jeans worn by Monroe, but gifted them to Britney Spears and Naomi Campbell (#nobigdeal).”

As well as Marilyn’s jeans, the Hilfiger collection also includes this screenprint by pop artist Steve Kaufman.

UPDATE: Surprisingly, Marilyn’s jeans went unsold.

Marilyn’s ‘Misfit’ Interlude

Photo by Eve Arnold, 1960
Photo by Eve Arnold, 1960

Marilyn famously made denim stylish for women in The Misfits. Writing for the Levi Strauss blog, Tracey Panek revisits the Nevada locations where the movie was shot.

It is a very interesting article. However, it should be noted that Marilyn stayed with the cast and crew at the Mapes Hotel in Reno for most of the shoot, although she did move into another suite after her marriage to Arthur Miller hit the rocks.

As Panek notes, she also briefly stayed at a country inn, which offered her a brief respite – but this was only while filming scenes on location in nearby Dayton.

“I started my journey in the Comstock at Virginia City’s Edith Palmer’s Country Inn, the place where Marilyn stayed while filming The Misfits.

‘She didn’t want to stay with the rest of the crew,’ said inn owner Leisa Findley. ‘Marilyn’s chauffeur picked her up and dropped her off here every day.’ Theorizing about Monroe’s motivation for separate living quarters (her room pictured below) Leisa explained, ‘It was during the time that she was leaving her husband.’

I interviewed the inn owner about her memories of The Misfits. Leisa was only ten years old during the filming and recalled the memorable scene when Monroe makes a ruckus beating a paddle ball in a cowboy bar. ‘I could hear them,’ Leisa said, ‘The entire crew would count aloud.’ During the scene, Monroe hits the paddle ball repeatedly and the entire bar erupts into counting. While the film makes it looks seamless, it took Monroe multiple takes to capture the continuous paddling.

Although Monroe wore a dress for the bar scene, she donned Lady Levi’s® jeans in other key scenes in the film, a flattering fit for her signature curves. In one scene Monroe wears jeans while gardening, her sexy silhouette prompting admirers to purchase their own Levi’s® jeans.

After Virginia City, I drove to Dayton, the place where The Misfits was filmed. Monroe’s Levi’s® jeans may have been purchased at Braun & Loftus General Merchandise in Dayton. The town remains much the same is it did during the filming. I spotted the Braun & Loftus building, today a restaurant, by its colorful exterior sign.

I finished my journey viewing the flat lakebed near Dayton where one of the final film scenes was shot. Wild horses still roam the area and I was fortunate to spot a few in the distance. In the climactic scene, Monroe is distraught as she watches Gable breaking a wild horse. She is dressed in Levi’s® jeans as she runs across the open lakebed and pleads with Gable to stop. Monroe looks at once rugged and practical, cowgirl Western yet stylish and cool.

Despite her death from an overdose one year later, Monroe left an imprint on the places and people she touched in The Misfits. ‘To Edith Palmer and her oasis in the desert and warm hospitality,’ Monroe wrote to the inn owner who made her feel at home during the filming. ‘May I always be a welcome guest. Marilyn Monroe.’ Despite its lack of popular appeal, the film received critical acclaim. More importantly, Monroe’s appearance in Levi’s® jeans helped popularize the denim pants — women wanting to dress as Marilyn bought their own blue jeans.”

Fashion Maverick: Double Denim Marilyn

Eve Arnold, 1960

‘Is double denim ever acceptable?’ asks Guardian reader Sarita. Style agony aunt, Hadley Freeman, replies, ‘Yes. If you are Marilyn Monroe, and only if you are filming the final scene of The Misfits.’

Pondering why Marilyn got away with this apparent fashion crime, Hadley concludes: ‘…put her in an evening dress, you see, and her prettiness gets lazy. Give her a hurdle that she has to overcome, and her beauty mojo speeds up and bursts past the finishing line. Or, you know, something.’

Marilyn also rocked the denim look in Clash by Night (1952) and River of No Return (1954).

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