As Shelby Rowe Moyer notes in her ‘History of the Polka Dot’ for South Sound magazine, Marilyn wore a number of polka-dot dresses (and a bikini) to great effect. Originally known as Dotted Swiss, the print took off during the Industrial Revolution and later renamed after the Polka, a Czech peasant dance popularised in the 1830s.
In 1926, the year Marilyn was born, Norma Smallwood seized victory in the Miss America contest wearing a polka-dot bathing suit, and launched a fashion craze. In 1952, Marilyn wore an ivory rayon Ceil Chapman dress with oversized red polka dots while visiting Atlantic City, where she greeted contestants in that year’s Miss America pageant. A year prior, she had caused sensation on the Love Nest set by sporting a bikini with hot pink polka-dots designed by Renié, and considered daring for the era.
The white cotton halter-neck sheath dress that Marilyn wore to Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in 1953, designed by Dorothy Jeakins, wasn’t quite ‘polka-dot’ but spotted with eyelets. Marilyn makes her first entrance in The Seven Year Itch (1955) wearing a polka-dot dress, one of Travilla’s spectacular designs for the film. And finally, she wore a blue polka-dot sundress for a photo shoot with Sam Shaw in 1957.
Creating the Illusion: A Fashionable History of Hollywood Costume Designers, a new coffee-table book by Jay Jorgensen and Donald L. Scoggins, with an introduction by actress Ali McGraw, will be published by Running Press (in association with TCM) on October 6.
With a cover featuring Marlene Dietrich, this comprehensive study devotes separate chapters to the many designers who worked with Marilyn, including Renie, Elois Jenssen, Orry-Kelly, Charles LeMaire, Jean Louis, William Travilla and Dorothy Jeakins.
For Hollywood costume fans, Creating the Illusion will make a great companion to Christopher Nickens’ excellent 2012 book, Marilyn in Fashion.
Writing for the excellent Girls Do Film blog, Victoria Loomes takes a welcome look back at one of Marilyn’s lesser-known early roles, as secretary Harriet in 1951’s As Young As You Feel. (While you’re visiting the site, check out related posts on The Misfits and Some Like it Hot.)
“Monroe’s part is small but impactful: in one great scene she becomes so frustrated at her boss she sticks her tongue out. In fact, one of the most remarkable things about her performance is her voice: it lacks the breathy whispery tones for which she would become synonymous, instead it’s warm (almost husky) with a matter-of-fact edge. Although she might be a ditzy secretary, Monroe is actually a lot less ditzy that in some of her other roles, but the studio were keen to play up her bombshell role.
There’s a lot of characters and sub-plots in As Young As You Feel, but Marilyn’s wardrobe ensured that she stood out from the noise. Marilyn might have been ‘window dressing’ but Renié, the film’s costume designer, made sure she looked the part. Harriet’s wardrobe doesn’t exactly match her lowly secretary status…there’s no disguising Marilyn herself was a movie star in the making – it’s finished with rhinestone pins, stacked bangles and showy earrings.”