“As a costume designer, we work with stereotypes quite often. That's what we do, we feed off of it,” Bellet said. In theater, blond hair comes with the inference of innocence — the young virginal maiden, Bellet said. “And of course with Marilyn, it's the exact opposite. She actually added complexity to the idea of blond.”
Early reactions mixed
When Monroe first made a splash in Hollywood, some women were loath to accept her as an example of womanhood. In the prim '50s, Monroe's bombshell image was a bit repulsive and offensive to some women who viewed her breathy voice, skimpy outfits and blatant sexuality as improper.
“Frankly, in that day, it certainly would not have been proper for a young woman to be impressed favorably with another young woman acting that way in person or on the screen,” said Bobbie Burbridge Lane, 78, of Oklahoma City. She remembers seeing Monroe on the big screen for the first time during her honeymoon in Hot Springs, Ark., in 1954. Lane was also a performer — the singer, dancer and actress performed on musical theater stages as well as on radio and television for much of her life.
“She was definitely marketed to men,” Lane said.
While Monroe's female contemporaries may have been put off by her strong sensuality, many women today can't seem to get enough of her. From Madonna to Lady Gaga and Adele, celebrities constantly borrow beauty tips from Monroe.
In fact, many women today view Monroe as an example of strength, courage and determination. And, behind the camera's lens, Monroe did have those qualities, said “Marilyn in Fashion” author Nickens.
“People think she was this lost soul that the studio manipulated,” Nickens said. “She was a very shrewd, ambitious girl, at least for the first five or six years of her career. Then it got out of control because it got so big.”
However you think of Monroe, her contribution to fashion cannot be overstated. From the pink satin gown Monroe wore in “Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend” to the white pleated halter dress that billowed around her in “The Seven Year Itch” to the skintight nude sequined number she wore to sing “Happy Birthday to You” to President John F. Kennedy, the way Monroe wore her clothes changed how millions of women would wear theirs.