There’s no question that Marilyn Monroe was a fashion icon, so it’s also no surprise that modern fashion icon Kim Kardashian asked to borrow Marilyn’s famous “Happy Birthday” dress from Ripley’s Believe it or Not! for last night’s Met Gala.
But how did Marilyn’s famous – and famously scandalous – dress end up at Ripley’s?
The dress Marilyn wore when she sang a breathy version of “Happy Birthday” to President John F. Kennedy on May 19, 1962, was purchased by Ripley’s Believe It or Not! in 2016 for $4.8 million (more than $5 million with taxes and fees), making it the world’s most expensive dress ever sold at auction – and (Believe It or Not!) the gown is now valued at over $10 million.
Sixty years later, Kim Kardashian has become the only person besides Marilyn to wear the iconic Bob Mackie-designed dress.
Monroe asked famed Hollywood costumer Jean Louis to create an iconic look, reportedly saying, “I want you to design a truly historical dress, a dazzling dress that’s one-of-a-kind, a dress that only Marilyn Monroe could wear.” Based on that, a young Bob Mackie (in his first job out of college) drew the original sketch of the skintight gown adorned with more than 6,000 hand-sewn crystals.
Marylin’s performance in the dress is one of the most remembered moments of her career. First because of her alleged affair with the president, but the sheerness of the dress was a scandal itself as the unlined gown covered in thousands of strategically-placed rhinestones was purposely made to look “barely there” because it didn’t allow for any undergarments and its color perfectly matched her skin tone.
In fact, the dress fit so perfectly that Marilyn was reportedly stitched into it just seconds before her appearance – causing her to miss her curtain call twice.
However, when prepping for JFK’s birthday event, Marilyn threw a curveball to the press by saying she would wear a demure high-necked gown – much like the rumors surrounding Kardashian’s Met Gala look – so when paparazzi spotted Kim at the Ripley’s Believe It or Not! headquarters in Orlando, Fla., social media began to put the pieces together about the Monroe-focused look.
Little did the rumor mill know that Kim (a huge Marilyn fan) had put the plans in motion to wear the “Happy Birthday” dress long before her Orlando visit, but considering the historical significance of the multi-million dollar dress, there were obviously concerns on Ripley’s part.
The dress has rarely been separated from its dress form, let alone worn by anyone other than Marilyn. Still, after consultations with garment conservationists, appraisers, archivists, and insurance, Ripley’s and Kim knew they could make the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity happen, agreeing that the garment’s condition was the top priority and no alterations could be made to the dress. And, because the preservation of the historic gown was the highest priority, Kim only wore the original dress for her carpet appearance and changed into a replica for the rest of the event.
The Exhibits and Archives team at Ripley’s Believe It or Not! consider Marilyn Monroe’s “Happy Birthday” dress – now also Kim Kardashian’s 2022 Met Gala look – to be the most famous item of clothing from twentieth-century culture, with both political and pop culture significance.
Luckily for Marilyn and Kim fans, the dress will be displayed at Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Hollywood for a limited time beginning Memorial Day weekend when visitors can get an up-close look at the spectacular gown and see a behind-the-scenes peek at Kim’s Met Gala look and other Marilyn Monroe and John F. Kennedy memorabilia.
Click here for more information and to purchase tickets.