Covered Up in Pink

“Apart from the two side seams the dress was folded into shape rather like cardboard. Any other girl would have looked like she was wearing cardboard, but on-screen I swear you would have thought Marilyn had on a pale, thin piece of silk. Her body was so fabulous it still came through.”

William Travilla

 
 

Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend number, from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (Howard Hawks, 1953)

 
 

This wasn’t the dress designed for this scene. William Travilla had designed a breathtaking show girl costume with jewels sewn onto a black fish-net body stocking up to the breasts, then covered in nude fabric, embellished with a mass of diamonds, costing close to $4,000. It never got past the cutting room floor. It was rejected because it came out that Marilyn has posed nude for a calendar back in 1949 (the infamous Golden Dreams photographed by Tom Kelley), when Marilyn was desperate for money. And instead of riding on the revelation, Travilla was given strict instructions to cover Marilyn up.

 
 

 
 

It was rejected because it came out that Marilyn has posed nude for a calendar back in 1949 (the infamous Golden Dreams photographed by Tom Kelley), when Marilyn was desperate for money. And instead of riding on the revelation, Travilla was given strict instructions to cover Marilyn up.

 
 

 
 

The original concept for the new dress included black gloves and shoes, and no one is sure why they became pink, but Travilla redid his sketch to show pink gloves. When people see the actual dress they often remark that in real life is lighter than it appears in the movie. That is easily explained by the use of glorious Technicolor according to Travilla himself, not only did he have to design the dress, but he had to make sure he got the fabric right, as Technicolor would make it appear more vibrant on film.

This dress was made out of peau d’ange, a sort of silk satin. The aim was to show the outline of the body, but for the dress to move with the body and not crease – which was rather difficult when Marilyn was moving up and down the stairs. Eventually the silk satin was glued onto felt, with a black lining added to the back, to give it a stiffness.

 
 

Marilyn Monroe’s rendition of the song Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend and her pink dress are considered iconic, and the performance has inspired homages by Madonna (Material Girl music video) , Geri Halliwell, Kylie Minogue,  Anna Nicole Smith, Christina Aguilera, and James Franco (Oscar 2011).

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The Pumpkin Sensation

 
 

Jane Russell and Marilyn Monroe enter the ship ball room for dinner and everyone gasps. That’s not just in the film Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (Howard Hawks, 1953). This orange dress became a prototype for a personal dress Marilyn had made, in salmon pink. Both were made of chiffon, with boning over the hip and the waist, that finished under the arm. The pumpkin dress had beading down the center and on the bust line, with a wonderful pumpkin beaded stole. The zip was in the front.

The Best Breasts in Hollywood

 
 

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