Marilyn’s Western Rhapsody in Denim

Although best-known for her ultra-feminine glamour, Marilyn often wore denim onscreen in an era when the versatile fabric was expanding from its traditional workwear niche into women’s fashion. On the BAMF Style blog (BAMF stands for ‘Bad-Ass Men’s Fashion’), a deep dive into Marilyn’s denim look for her cinematic swansong, The Misfits (1961.)

“After spending the first acts of The Misfits in alluring dresses that emphasize Monroe’s famously voluptuous figure, Roslyn takes a step toward shedding her sartorial femininity by dressing in traditionally male clothing for the traditionally male activity of cowboying. (True, only Roslyn’s jacket is actually menswear, but with looser cuts and reversed buttons, her shirt and jeans wouldn’t be out of place in a man’s wardrobe.)

It’s not just a sartorial transformation for Roslyn Tabor but also for Monroe herself, introducing a now-iconic costume removed from the feminine elegance of Gentlemen Prefer BlondesThe Seven-Year Itch, and Some Like It Hot, desexualising her (by 1950s standards) with a more tomboyish look that defied expectations of audiences used to seeing her in curve-gripping satin, wind-blown skirts, and beach-ready bathing suits. The costume feels significant, as if these last moments of Monroe’s released filmography ask us to finally see her as a person rather than a sex symbol.

Roslyn dresses for the job at hand by pulling on a dark indigo denim Lee Storm Rider, the woolly blanket-lined variation of its original 101J ‘Cowboy Jacket’ … Roslyn wears a white cotton voile shirt, more traditional than the snap-front Western shirts worn by her male cohorts. While the soft, sheer fabric may be one of the costume’s few concessions to sexualisation, voile would also serve a practical purpose of wearing light and cool in the often 100-degree heat of the Nevada desert.

Roslyn had already started wearing blue jeans as part of her life with Gay, though—unlike her denim jacket—these particular jeans were originally intended for women as evident by the cut and how closely they follow her form.

On their own blog, Levi Strauss & Co. describes how their risk would ‘forever [alter] the course of women’s fashion’ in fall 1934 when they introduced Lady Levi’s, ‘the world’s first jeans made exclusively for women.’ At the time, the world was still getting used to the idea of women wearing long pants …

By this time in the mid-1950s, Lady Levi’s were already being sold across the United States, featuring the modified fit designed to better flatter women’s curves as well as the replacement of the classic Levi’s button-fly with a zip-fly. 1954 was also the year that Marilyn Monroe had first appeared in jeans, wearing a pair of dark and skintight J.C. Penney ‘Foremost’ jeans—albeit quite anachronistically—in Otto Preminger’s 1870s-set Western drama River of No Return. [Actually, Marilyn had already worn jeans in 1952’s Clash By Night.]

Monroe again pulled on jeans in The Misfits, though the signature arcuate stitch across the pointed back pockets suggests a pair of indigo denim Lady Levi’s, styled with the usual long rise up to Monroe’s natural waist line and a slim cut through the legs down to the bottoms, which she wears self-cuffed.

Roslyn holds up her jeans with a narrow tan tooled leather belt that tapers toward the front, where it closes through an embossed gold-finished Western-style curved single-prong belt buckle and a matching gold-toned metal keeper.

Roslyn completes her authentic Western appearance with a pair of tan leather cowboy boots, which Monroe evidently kept after the production and were auctioned in October 1999 by Christie’s among other pieces of her personal property. Made by storied Kansas bootmaker Hyer, Monroe’s screen-worn boots have relatively short shafts decoratively stitched in olive and tan, with curved tops, over-the-top ear pulls, and the traditional ‘bug and wrinkle’ medallion stitch over the pointed toes.

When joining Gay and Perce for the mustang roundup, Roslyn dons her issued cowboy hat, made from a light beige felt though with a round, telescopic crown that differs from the pinched cattleman-style crowns of her compatriots’ hats. Roslyn’s hat also has a curved brim and a light-colored band.”