When William Travilla was designing the costumes for Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (Howard Hawks, 1953) he had a real battle with the censors. The scene is which Marilyn Monroe wears this dress was nearly cut by the censors. She was due to wear this incredibly plunging gold gown, while dancing provocatively with Sir Francis ‘Piggy’ Beekman (Charles Coburn) singing a song entitled Down Boy! Apparently it wasn’t deemed appropriate! Having been cut, we only see this halter-neck gown from the back.*
However, the front is even more daring. The dress was created out of a single complete circle of gold lame and sunburst pleated. Every pleat lines up with the back seam and there is an iron V build in the center of the dress from the waist to the bust – creating the molding effect. Travilla once said that Marilyn had “the best breasts in Hollywood”, not because of their size or pertness, but because they were wide-set, so he could design dresses that slashed to the waist, without having to pull the breasts apart, or showing too much cleavage. Obviously a designer first, man second!
This dress shows exactly that point. Marilyn had to be sewn into it. In fact it wasn’t even finished.
Canny as ever, Marilyn rather fancied this dress, and realizing the effect, wanted to wear it to the 1953 Photoplay Awards. Travilla was not happy. He felt that the dress was for a movie not for a public appearance. Marilyn won the day, and wore the dress without an under-slip, causing a total sensation and Joan Crawford to announce “She looks vulgar”!
* To watch the mentioned scene, please take a gander at The Genealogy of Style‘s Facebook page:https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Genealogy-of-Style/597542157001228?ref=hl