10 Fashion Lessons We Can Learn From Marilyn Monroe

By: Laurie L. Dove  | 
Marilyn Monroe in grass
Marilyn Monroe poses for a portrait lying on the grass in Palm Springs, California, 1954. Even today, her style is still emulated. Baron/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Marilyn Monroe wasn't the greatest actress and certainly wasn't the only beautiful woman to garner Hollywood's attention. And her scandalous love affairs? Hardly worth mentioning by today's standards.

Still, there's something about Marilyn Monroe we just can't get over. She's become an archetype all her own, one often recreated by Vegas mega-blonde impersonators and party-goers on Halloween night. However, what we really should be doing is taking notes. Her fashion sensibilities are as applicable today as they ever were: Identify your signature style, adapt it to the social and business situations you encounter and, by all means, stick with it. Monroe would be so proud.


10: Embrace Your Curves

Marilyn Monroe (with Tom Ewell)
Marilyn Monroe (with Tom Ewell) makes the most of her curves in this famous scene from the 1955 movie "The Seven Year Itch." Bettman/Getty Images

By now, you've probably seen either an impersonation of the iconic blonde bombshell or a film starring Monroe in the flesh. Either way, you can't help but understand: This woman was curvy. Now take a closer look. See any oversized T-shirts or baggy sweatpants? Not a one, and that's the point. No matter what size we are, regardless the ratio of our hip-to-waist measurements, we can learn a thing or two from the way Marilyn embraced her shape. We should all be so kind to ourselves, wearing clothes that fit and flatter rather than hiding our bodies under layers of shapeless knits.


9: Accessorize

Perhaps Monroe said it best in "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes." In the film, she encounters a diamond tiara for the first time and aches to wear it, but she can't quite figure out where. Finally, after realizing it doesn't fit like a necklace, she pops the tiara onto her head and announces, "I always love finding new places to wear diamonds!"

While we can't all be so fortunate as to wear diamonds every day in real life, we'd do well to mimic Monroe's penchant for accessories. That girl could bring the bling! From ruby drop earrings to a simple diamond necklace, she was always dusted with a jewel or two. Can't afford the real thing? Try a quality knockoff, and you'll feel like a million without spending one.


8: Find Your Signature Style

If you remember nothing else about Marilyn Monroe, let it be this: She had a signature style. Even today, a simply elegant halter dress evokes a Monroe-esque image, right? The same goes for pencil skirts and snugly fitting cashmere sweaters (every girl needs a daytime look).

The key to making Monroe's style your own is knowing what you like and what you feel and look best in — and then sticking to it. If, for example, you rock pink like nobody's business (a la Monroe in "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes"), then make it a staple in your wardrobe. You also could consider planning your wardrobe around three key colors, such as pink, gray and black. Like Monroe, who gravitated toward muted tones, you'll be well on your way to having your own signature style.


7: Wear Red

Monroe in red
Monroe wasn't afraid to accessorize a red dress with a red lipstick. Baron/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In 1950s America, Marilyn had everyone seeing red, as in lipstick. And you can, too. Red lip color is always in fashion, and contrary to popular belief, it can look good on any woman — whether she's a blonde, brunette, redhead or somewhere in between. The vibrant color draws attention while sending a clear message that you're confident in the statement you're making.

The key is being careful not to overdo it. Make sure your lips are moisturized and then lightly line them with a neutral lip pencil. Once you've got a good foundation, apply a flattering shade of red lipstick, blotting it with a tissue to achieve a more natural look. (P.S., the right shade of red can make your teeth look whiter, too.)


6: Accentuate a Beauty Mark

Marilyn Monroe unwittingly followed a real estate mantra — location, location, location — when it came to the natural placement of her beauty mark. This beauty mark became known as the one spot Tinsel Town just couldn't resist, and rested on the left side of Marilyn's face, forming a nearly perfect triangle with her nose and mouth.

If you weren't born with a facial mole (calling it a beauty mark just sounds better, doesn't it?), then feel free to fake it. You can buy beauty mark kits online, or you can use a dark brown pencil eyeliner or liquid eyeliner to add your own dot. Just do it sparingly and consistently.


5: Short Hair Is Sexy

If you're ever in doubt about whether short hair can be sexy, just think of Marilyn. From the start, the platinum blonde opted for short locks over long — and there's no denying the style played an important role in her overall appeal.

To get your own Marilyn-like 'do, apply a setting lotion to nearly dry hair, and then twist small sections into curls before securing them tightly at the roots with roller clips. In about an hour, remove the clips, gently shake out the curls and — voila! — enjoy your own starlet style. Because if there's one thing we learned from Marilyn, it's that creating a classic, feminine style is always right.


4: Be a Sweetheart

Marilyn Monroe, Jane Russell
At Grauman's Chinese Theater, she showed off a sweetheart neckline during a promotion for the movie "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes," co-starring Jane Russell. Darlene Hammond/Getty Images

We can certainly take our cleavage cues from Marilyn. She didn't shy away from a plunging neckline, but she bares plenty of skin the right way: vampy, not trampy. If you'd rather opt for a modified Monroe look rather than reach for the nearest halter top, consider showing a little cleave here and there.

If you aren't game for a sharply dipping blouse front, consider a sweetheart neckline. This style arcs over each breast to create what looks like the top of a heart and is flattering for many body types — including those of us with curves to keep in check. As Marilyn herself once said, "The trouble with censors is that they worry if a girl has cleavage. They ought to worry if she hasn't any."


3: Put on a Peep Show

Show a little skin with a peep-toe shoe. Monroe immortalized this toe-baring style, known for its cut-outs that let your little tootsies shine. The peep-toe heel can be worn as a sandal or a dignified pump, and it adorned Monroe's feet most of the time. We could learn a thing or two from her loyalty.

Once you find a shoe that suits your style, adapt it to your wardrobe. Monroe wore the peep-toe day or evening. And although the appropriate nature of peep-toe shoes is still debated in some corporate cultures, we're betting if you make the look part of your signature style, the addition will go off without a hitch. Just make sure your toes are appropriately pedicured.


2: Bare Your Arms

Let's Make Love
Marilyn Monroe clearly supported the right to bare arms when she starred as off-Broadway actress Amanda Dell in George Cukor's 1960 film "Let's Make Love." Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Why are we so hung up on the state of our triceps? Arms and shoulders are sexy, girls, so let's bare them a little more often! Marilyn Monroe, whose figure was admittedly anything but lithe, wasn't afraid to wear halter dresses or other shoulder- and arm-baring fashions.

The truth is, a halter-style top or dress looks good on most any body type because it draws attention to the face and generously skims the tummy. We also love shoulder-baring looks paired with an empire waist; this high waistline cinches just under the breast to create curves.


1: Structure Your Look

Monroe's style may have looked effortless, but underneath all that glam was a carefully orchestrated wrestling match involving foundational garments and her Rubenesque figure. We know Marilyn wore girdles to help achieve her cinched waist and hourglass curves. In fact, some of the film legend's unmentionables were sold at auction in 2010, including a black nylon girdle.

We're not saying lung-crushing corsets should ever make a comeback, but in an era when Spanx-like support awaits us at nearly every retailer, we have no excuse for not looking a little like Marilyn. The structure and shape provided by a well-fitting foundation is nothing short of miraculous. And after all, isn't that Marilyn 's real legacy? The magic of celebrity can wave its glamorous wand over us all, if only through our wardrobe.

Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • Biography. "Marilyn Monroe Biography." (April 24, 2011)http://www.biography.com/articles/Marilyn-Monroe-9412123
  • Davis, Brittany Roshelle. "6 Hot Red Lipsticks that Marilyn Monroe Would Love." Shine. Feb. 8, 2011. (April 22, 2011) http://shine.yahoo.com/channel/beauty/6-hot-red-lipsticks-that-marilyn-monroe-would-love-2451675
  • Donnelly, Erin. "Marilyn Monroe's Pink Satin 'Gentlemen Prefer Blonds' Dress to be Auctioned." Style List. May 4, 2010. (April 22, 2011) http://www.stylelist.com/2010/05/04/marilyn-monroe-gentlemen-prefer-blondes-dress-auction/
  • Good Housekeeping. "Whiten Your Teeth at Home." (April 28, 2011)http://www.goodhousekeeping.com/product-testing/reviews-tests/health-beauty/whiten-your-teeth-3
  • Henderson, Tony. "Marilyn Monroe's Girdle Auctioned in Boldon." July 7, 2010. Chronicle News. (April 22, 2011) http://www.chroniclelive.co.uk/north-east-news/evening-chronicle-news/2010/07/07/marilyn-monroe-s-girdle-auctioned-in-boldon-72703-26803050/
  • History. "Hollywood: Marilyn Monroe Born." (April 24, 2011) http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/marilyn-monroe-born
  • Internet Movie Database. "Marilyn Monroe Biography." (April 28, 2011) http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000054/bio
  • Morales, Tatiana. "Create Hair like Monroe, Hepburn." Nov. 8, 2004. CBS News. (April 24, 2011) http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2004/11/08/earlyshow/living/beauty/main654273.shtml
  • Perkins, Jaylynn. "My Spring Favorites: Halter Maxi for Most Body Types." Dress Your Body Type. April 19, 2011. (April 24, 2011) http://www.dressyourbodytype.com/blog/tag/halter-maxi-for-most-body-types/
  • Rudnick, Paul. "The Blond Marilyn Monroe." June 14, 1999. Time magazine. (April 24, 2011) http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,991257-1,00.html
  • The Houston Chronicle. "Plunging Necklines." Aug. 6, 2010. (April 24, 2011) http://www.chron.com/entertainment/photogallery/Cleavage_is_the_new_black.html
  • The Reel Awards. "The Reel Awards: 20th Annual Awards Show." (April 24, 2011)http://thereelawards.com/home
  • Thomas, Geneva. "Are Peep-Toe Pumps Unprofessional?" Coco and Creme. (April 24, 2011) http://cocoandcreme.com/2010/08/are-peep-toe-pumps-unprofessional/
  • TV Tropes. "Beauty Marks." (April 22, 2011) http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/BeautyMark
  • Wedding Solutions. "Necklines: Sweetheart." (April 24, 2011) http://www.weddingsolutions.com/fashion_and_beauty/Dress_Neckline_Sweetheart.html
  • Woollard, Deidre. "Rights to Marilyn Monroe Change Hands in Multi-Million Dollar Deal." Luxist. Jan. 14, 2011. (April 22, 2011)
  • http://www.luxist.com/2011/01/14/rights-to-marilyn-monroe-change-hands-in-multi-million-dollar-de/