How Marilyn Glamourised the Bathrobe

This Eve Arnold photo of a radiant Marilyn on a break from filming her bikini scene for The Misfits at Pyramid Lake, Nevada in 1960 is one of several images revealing her love of the humble bathrobe, as explored by fashion writer Rosalind Jana on the Magnum Photos blog today. (Arnold’s photos of Marilyn have also been featured in previous posts about denim, gloves, and the act of dressing up.)

“Marilyn Monroe suited many things: black polo-necks, ritzy cocktail gowns, billowing white dresses, pencil skirts, shirts knotted tightly at the waist. She also looked fantastic in a dressing gown. Or rather, a bathrobe – that soft white garment usually made from toweling or, at a push, cotton. The kind calling to mind the discreet luxury of fancy hotels, as well as Hollywood stars awaiting their next take.

Within the Magnum archives Monroe is pictured frequently in a bathrobe, captured by a range of photographers including Inge Morath, Eve Arnold, Dennis Stock, and Bob Henriques, They are images that stand apart from the neatly made-up, beautifully dressed Monroe at awards ceremonies or on film – capturing, instead, the intimacy of an actor at work as she checks over scripts or jokes with co-stars. It’s a useful kind of attire for an actor on set, ideal for hanging around in. Clean and comfortable, it is both highly functional (warm, easy to put on and take off, useful to avoid make-up stains on clothing) and elegantly evocative. On Monroe it takes on a kind of undone glamour – loosely tied as she drifts around, not quite dressed but perfectly respectable too.”

In another Misfits scene, where Marilyn has breakfast with Clark Gable, she wears a robe onscreen – and in these photos by Dennis Stock, she ventures outside to try out the makeshift doorstep Gable has constructed, to make their humble abode more comfortable for his new love. This brief moment is one of the most joyful in an otherwise sombre film, the last either star would complete.

Perhaps Marilyn’s most famous movie bathrobe, however, is the white terrycloth number she wears to kiss Tom Ewell goodbye in the final scene from The Seven Year Itch. In September 1954, Magnum’s Bob Henriques captured a thoughtful Marilyn reading her screenplay on a break from filming on location in a brownstone house on East 61st Street in Manhattan.

Marilyn wore glitzier robes in Niagara, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and How to Marry a Millionaire, but the Magnum shots pinpoint a key aspect of her style: a preference for simplicity. (And as Vogue noted recently, she loved to lounge in hotel robes as well – see here.)