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September 11, 2022

Marilyn Monroe Wardrobe and Hair Tests for ‘Gentlemen Prefer Blondes’ (1953)

William Travilla had designed costumes for just two films featuring Marilyn Monroe – Don’t Bother to Knock and Monkey Business, both in 1952 – before he started work on the Howard Hawks musical that catapulted the actress to name-above-the-title status: 1953’s Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. But he already intimately knew her style likes and dislikes, with the latter rooted in anything that didn’t show off Monroe’s figure to its fullest advantage.

A contract designer at Twentieth Century-Fox since 1950, Travilla once called a tan jersey dress he designed for Monroe to wear in a Monkey Business skating scene “the only costume of mine that Marilyn ever hated,” precisely because its full pleated skirt concealed, rather than showcased, her gorgeous hips and legs. Monroe at first refused to wear the dress, until Hawks, also the director on this comedy starring Cary Grant and Ginger Rogers, intervened.

But the costume Travilla designed for a musical number in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes was a different matter entirely. The song was “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend,” written by Jule Styne and Leo Robin, with Monroe’s Lorelei Lee performing an ode to her love of maximum sparkl. In a televised interview that aired decades after the film’s release, Travilla reminisced about what was demanded for the scene: “The idea then was that the studio make her the sexiest, most exciting, almost-naked lady on the screen.” 


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