Style icon: The Myth of Marilyn

“I’ve never fooled anyone. I’ve let people fool themselves. They didn’t bother to find out who and what I was. Instead they would invent a character for me. I wouldn’t argue with them. They were obviously loving somebody I wasn’t.”   ~Marilyn Monroe

The Woman

Marilyn Monroe was the original dumb blonde. She perfected the dumb blonde cum sexy siren routine long before Jessica Simpson confused tuna for chicken and Madonna donned her first cone bra. We’ve all seen those iconic images of Monroe standing over the subway grate in that white halter dress.

But tied up in the story of Marilyn is not only the tragedy involving the Kennedys and pills but also an ambitious girl named Norma Jean. Sometimes it’s hard to separate the woman from the myth or the actress from the role.

So why do I find Marilyn so fascinating? Why is she a legendary icon? It’s more than just her story, which is fascinating in and of itself. And while I occasionally enjoy watching one of her flicks, they’re not my favorites. I think it’s because she’s a curvy girl who knew how to work it to her advantage. (There’s some speculation that she would be considered fat by today’s standards, but no one can seem to arrive at a consensus.) Maybe it’s because, like Dolly Parton, I think she’s more than blond hair and boobs. Because she’s actually a smart girl who attracted the likes of both Joe DiMaggio and Arthur Miller. Because she managed to maintain her mystery and become a star that never fades. Because she’s eternally beautiful and in some ways she can be whoever you want her to be. Because she created and embodied a character so thoroughly, maybe even better than Lady Gaga’s dedication to her performance art. Because she’s both Marilyn and Norma Jean, vulnerability and strength. Because she embraced her raw sexuality and harnessed it as a power at a time when it was unacceptable for women to do so.

“Beneath the makeup and behind the smile I am just a girl who wishes for the world.”

The Style

Marilyn’s platinum coif and pouty red lips are so iconic that many have imitated but never duplicated. (Hear that, Madonna? Gwen?).

Pulling off Marilyn’s golden blonde tresses works best if you have shoulder length hair, but you can fake shorter hair with appropriate tucking and curling. Setting your hair with medium hot rollers is the best bet to achieving Marilyn curls. If you flip your hair forward and comb through a bit, you’ll achieve more volume and a more perfectly tousled look.

For makeup, you’ll want to balance the dramatic red lip with lighter eyes. Monroe’s eyes involved off-white on the lid with a light brown in the crease and on the outer lid for shaping and contouring. Personally, I like a little sparkle on my eyes, so I use a sheer gold instead an off-white. I recommend the Little Black Dress Palette from Lorac. You’ll also want to put on either two coats of black mascara or some false eyelashes.

For red lips, you want to try and stay away from orangey reds. I like glominerals gloLipstick in Vixen (appropriate, no?) for a good matte color, but you’ll want something that goes with your skin tone.

Although her pink dress in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes became one of her signature looks, Marilyn stuck to neutrals in real life, such as white, beige and black (except for the occasional red). Pencil skirts with matching sweaters and feminine details (polka dots, bows) were a Marilyn essential. Also, strapless dresses and sweetheart necklines.

So where would you find some fab Marilyn-esque clothes?

Pinupgirlclothing.com features some figure-flattering dresses, even if they are a bit pricey.

Modcloth.com (a fave of mine) also stocks up on retro clothing and often features good sales.

Want a great modern example of how to effortlessly pull off Marilyn style and spunk without looking like you’re trying too hard? Rachel McAdams pulls off a stunningly slinky dress with minimal jewelry but plenty of sultry looks.


“Give a girl the right shoes, and she can conquer the world.”

Words of Wisdom from Lady Monroe

“I’m very definitely a woman and I enjoy it. ”

“I don’t mind being burdened with being glamorous and sexual. Beauty and femininity are ageless and can’t be contrived, and glamour, although the manufacturers won’t like this, cannot be manufactured. Not real glamour; it’s based on femininity.”

“Women who seek to be equal with men lack ambition.”

“All little girls should be told they are pretty, even if they aren’t.”

“I don’t mind living in a man’s world, as long as I can be a woman in it.”

“Beneath the makeup and behind the smile I am just a girl who wishes for the world.”

“If you’re gonna be two-faced at least make one of them pretty.”

“Imperfection is beauty, madness is genius and it’s better to be absolutely ridiculous than absolutely boring.”

“I’m selfish, impatient and a little insecure. I make mistakes, I am out of control and at times hard to handle. But if you can’t handle me at my worst, then you sure as hell don’t deserve me at my best.”

More Marilyn

Other ideas on how to copy her style

Photos spanning her career

The debate on Marilyn’s shape

–By Lindsay Ray

We try it: Foam hair dye

Anyone who’s ever dyed her hair at home can attest to what a rotten mess it can be: splotchy color, splotchy sinks, gag-inducing smells. So the whole foam hair dye craze, which nearly every hair color manufacturer is doing right now, seems like some kind of solution. The ads all say the light foamy color is easier to apply and covers more evenly. Are they right?

To find out, I took myself and my godawful roots and got a box of L’Oreal Paris foam color in “darkest natural brown.” I read the instructions twice, and even watched the video that my iPhone picked up from the little square scanner thing on the instructions. I covered the bathroom floor with an old bed sheet, covered the counter with another sheet, put on the gloves and got to work.

First impression: Wow, plopping foam on your head is a helluva lot easier than squeezing out color from a bottle. I’ve been dying my hair for about a year now, and I’ve always hated sectioning out my hair and hoping that I’m reaching the roots with the gel color. It’s hard to tell what spots I’ve colored and what ones are still dry – especially when I’m wearing gloves. The instructions tell you to focus on the top and front sections of your hair first, and then work down and back from there.

I wasn’t so fond of waiting 30 minutes for the color to set, and I wasn’t sure what the instructions meant by “occasionally massaging” the hair. So I gave it two or three good rubs during the waiting time, foaming up the dye again, and hoped for the best.

First thought when I saw the results: Um wow, this isn’t “darkest natural brown” so much as it is BLACK. Okay. Fine. I know browns tend to lighten up the first week, so I tried not to panic. I noted how I didn’t have splotchy little circles on my forehead or my neck, which was nice. My boyfriend liked that my hair didn’t smell like a nail salon full of dead bodies this time. And when I washed my hair again the next day, I noticed that my white towel wasn’t full of leftover dye, which means it actually rinsed out well the first time. Surprising.

Overall, I highly recommend it. I don’t plan on going back to squeeze-the-bottle gel dye again. This color was easier to apply and dispersed better throughout my hair. It also didn’t leave my hair smelling like a chemical bath for three days. I did notice a couple of spots in the middle and back of my hair that I missed, but other than that, the color is even and shiny. And after 5 days, it’s lightened up a bit, so now it’s more like the brown that was on the box.

–By Tara Cavanaugh