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50 years later, Marilyn Monroe still influences fashion and beauty

August 5 marks the 50th anniversary of the death of Marilyn Monroe. Her influence is a constant in fashion and beauty.
by Heather Warlick Published: July 30, 2012

It's been half a century since one of history's ultimate fashionistas walked the Earth. August 5 marks 50 years since Marilyn Monroe was found dead in her bedroom at her Brentwood, Calif., home.

Despite the passage of all those years, Monroe's mark on the fashion industry is indelible, as an icon of femininity and sexuality and as a fashion visionary who propelled virtually unknown designers to fame.

She brought body-conscious designs to the forefront of fashion, a feat in an era of Peter Pan collars, matching gloves, handbags and propriety.

Perhaps one of Monroe's greatest contributions to fashion and beauty was how she embraced her curvy, seductive figure.

“She had a huge impact on women's fashion,” said Ashley Bellet, professor of costume design at Oklahoma City University. “She really kind of made it OK to be sexually attractive. I think that, especially in costume design, we use some of those elements that are very specific to Marilyn, to heighten a character's sexual attraction.”

Monroe's contributions to the fashion world have recently been compiled in “Marilyn in Fashion,” by Christopher Nickens and George Zeno. The book is a compendium of spectacular photos, behind-the-scenes anecdotes and trivia about the starlet, who will live in infamy in the hearts of fashion enthusiasts and professionals.

‘Marilyn in Fashion'

In “Marilyn in Fashion,” the authors explore Monroe's favorite designers, including those she discovered on her own and those who dressed her in films. With chapters covering the individual designers who were lucky enough to dress Monroe, the book is a must-have for student designers and Monroe fans alike. Though some facts about Monroe's life are disputed by some sources, the authors do well at describing Monroe's career trajectory and family background.

From humble beginnings, the girl born Norma Jeane Mortenson was baptized Norma Jeane Baker. In high school, she dropped the E from her middle name and lost her last name altogether. It wasn't until her career had begun that she became known as Marilyn Monroe.

Her father, Edward Mortenson, was an absentee father from the beginning. Her mother, Gladys Baker, was mentally challenged — an inconsistent presence in her daughter's life. For a time, Baker worked as a film cutter for the movie studios in Hollywood. In the book, Zeno and Nickens describe Monroe's time living in a Los Angeles orphanage as a time Monroe first envisioned her name in lights.

“Before bedtime, she would stare wistfully out a window at the tall RKO Studios sign two blocks away and think, ‘My mother used to work there. Someday, I'd like to be a star there,' ” the authors write.

With her perfect complexion, dazzling smile and big blue/gray eyes, Norma Jeane was a shoe-in for modeling. At age 19, Monroe was working for $35 a week at the Radio Plane Factory in Burbank when she was spotted by photographer David Conover. The photographer spent weeks snapping photos of Norma Jeane and helped launch that aspect of her career.

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by Heather Warlick
Life & Style Editor
Since graduating from University of Central Oklahoma with a Bachelor's Degree in Journalism, Staff Writer Heather Warlick has written stories for The Oklahoman's Life section. Her beats have included science, health, home and garden, family,...
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