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The history behind the Marilyn Monroe dress worn by Kim Kardashian to the 2022 Met Gala

The dress was worn by Marilyn Monroe in 1962 and had to be handled with extreme care

Kate Ng
Tuesday 03 May 2022 16:03 BST
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Kim Kardashian donned a slinky, skin-coloured gown once worn by none other than Marilyn Monroe to the 2022 Met Gala on Monday night.

The reality star paired the iconic dress with a white cropped fur coat and bleached hair to emulate the sex symbol – 60 years after Monroe wore the dress at an event in Madison Square Garden in 1962.

Kardashian, who attended the event with boyfriend Pete Davidson by her side, told US Vogue that when she first tried on the dress, it had to be “transported by guards” and she “had to wear gloves” to handle the fragile material.

The gown, which was acquired by Ripley’s Believe Or Not Museum in 2016 for US$4.8 million (£3.8 million), is usually kept in a darkened temperature-controlled vault at 40 to 50 per cent humidity to preserve it.

Kardashian said she embarked on a month-long diet and fitness regime involving a sauna suit and no sugar and carbs so that she would fit into the dress in time for the Met Gala.

She only wore it for a matter of minutes on the red carpet and then later changed into a replica of the dress also owned by Ripley’s for the rest of the event.

2022 MET Museum Costume Institute Benefit Gala

Monroe wore the dress for the president’s 45th birthday celebration, which doubled as a fundraising gala for the Democratic Party. There she performed her now famous rendition of “Happy Birthday”. It was to be one of her final public appearances before her death less than three months later.

On 19 May 1962, the Hollywood screen siren stepped onto the stage wearing a white ermine fur coat over the dress, before shrugging it off to reveal the nude dress underneath, causing the 15,000-strong audience to gasp.

The figure-hugging dress was deliberately intended to appear as though Monroe was naked, shrouded in just the 2,500 sparkling rhinestones that embellished the dress. She sang a now-world-famous breathy rendition of “Happy Birthday Mr President”.

The garment, created by French designer Jean Louis, went on to be dubbed the “original naked dress” and has since become an iconic piece in the late actor’s legendary fashion history, worth nearly US$5 million (approximately £3.9 million) today.

It was based on a sketch by US fashion designer Bob Mackie, who said he had “no idea what it was for” until he saw photographs of Monroe performing in the next day’s newspapers.

According to Julien’s Auctions Los Angeles, which auctioned the dress to Ripley’s, the garment was so tight-fitting that Monroe “wore nothing underneath and had to be sewn into it last minute”.

“Marilyn looked amazing and accomplished exactly what she intended to,” Mackie told US Vogue.

“Fox Studios would not let her wear anything too revealing in films, because of the previous nude calendar scandal,” he added, referring to a nude photoshoot Monroe participated in in 1949 as a 22-year-old aspiring actor and the pinup calendar the photographs appeared in about three years later.

Mackie added that Monroe “didn’t really care” about wearing the risqué gown because she “had already been fired” by 20th Century Fox.

Monroe, who famously struggled with drug addiction and mental and physical health problems, was let go from her role in the 1962 romantic comedy Something’s Got To Give after failing to show up to the set of the film to work due to sickness. However, at the time she wore the dress to sing for Kennedy, she had not yet been fired for “spectacular absenteeism”.

“Her figure was at its peak, the dress was a classic shape of fashion at the time,” Mackie said.

Monroe and the dress remains a significant part of pop culture and fashion history today, and has clearly made its mark.

Kardashian said that the dress that had shocked the world was ahead of its time, because now “everyone wears sheer dresses”.

She chose the look for this year’s Met Gala, which was themed In America: An Anthology of Fashion, because: “What’s the most American thing you can think of? That’s Marilyn Monroe. For me, the most Marilyn Monroe moment is when she sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to JFK, it was that look.”

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