To both shock and applause, Kim Kardashian made waves wearing Marilyn Monroe’s famous rhinestone-laden gown to the Met Gala.
When Kim Kardashian wore Marilyn Monroe’s iconic dress to the Met Gala last week—like, the original dress—Twitter, Facebook, and other media outlets (social and traditional alike) exploded with comments from both museum professionals and the general public.
In case you missed it, the dress in question was worn by Marilyn Monroe to sing “Happy Birthday, Mr. President” to President Kennedy on May 19, 1962 at a Democratic National Committee fundraiser. Scandalously formfitting and “nude” at the time, the dress was designed for fashion house Jean Louis by Bob Mackie, just out of college, who would go on to be one of the iconic designers in American fashion.
Ripley’s Believe it or Not paid $4.8 million for the dress in 2016. They let Ms. Kardashian wear the dress for a few minutes to walk up the red carpet, then she changed into a replica.
There are a number of reasons why, from a museum collections standpoint, this was a questionable idea. The famous sixty-year-old dress is made of “souffle,” a fabric that is stretchy when new but becomes brittle as it ages. It also has thousands of rhinestones sewn onto it, making it heavy and weighing it down. Although all sorts of care (including no body makeup) was taken by Ms. Kardashian and the staff of Ripley’s, there are still so many things that could have gone wrong.
Just the exposure to body heat, the light outdoors, and all the extra lights and camera flashes were potentially damaging to the dress. Not to mention more disastrous possibilities. She could have tripped or simply moved incorrectly, ripping the dress. Or someone could have thrown something at her or spilled something. While any of these incidents would add to the dress’s story, they are not ideal for long-term preservation of the original garment.
Our inner Indiana Jones may say, “It belongs in a museum!” But this item is, in fact, more of a collector’s item than an artifact held in public trust. History Colorado’s collection is held on behalf of the people of Colorado, and we take meticulous care to make sure the artifacts that we manage will be around for as long as possible.
If we were fortunate enough to have that dress here at History Colorado, we would interleave it with buffered acid-free tissue paper and store it in an acid-free box in our climate-controlled storage area. If it was exhibited, we would carefully evaluate the gallery conditions for appropriate light, humidity, and temperature levels and probably display it on a muslin dress form (giving off no body heat).
Our clothing collection includes nineteenth-century silver queen Baby Doe Tabor’s wedding dress, a traditional Ute dress worn by Chipeta, Denver mayor Wellington Webb’s sneakers, Colorado first lady Dottie Lamm’s ski suit, bodices and corsets that women of all levels of fame wore during the nineteenth century, and hundreds of other pieces, all carefully preserved. While not all of them are on display at the moment, they may show up in future exhibits or events, and photos of them are available on our website.
If you have an iconic piece of Colorado history (clothing or otherwise) that you would be willing to share, let us know! You can send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Top image:Actress Marilyn Monroe, US President John F. Kennedy (with his back to the camera), and US Attorney General Robert Kennedy (far left) on the occasion of President Kennedy's birthday celebration at Madison Square Garden in New York City, May 19, 1962. Photo by Cecil W. Stoughton, official White House photographer. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
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