Marilyn Monroe’s ivory “subway dress,” the costume that contributed heavily to America’s love affair with the iconic beauty, sold for $5.6 million at an auction in Beverly Hills on Saturday.
The actual bidding price for the dress was $4.6 million, but the unidentified buyer, who bid over telephone, must pay an additional $1 million commission fee. The dress was expected to fetch $2 million.
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The Travilla halter dress with a plunging neckline and accordion pleats, which Monroe wore in the 1955 film The Seven Year Itch, remains one of the most recognizable frocks in film history. In the famous and then-titillating scene, Monroe’s curves oozed out of the billowing dress while standing above a subway grate; when a train passed underneath, wind from the grate blew the bottom of her skirt to her waist.
The scene was generating buzz before it was even shot. Details about the filming were revealed to the public; by the time the publicity stunt/film shoot occurred on 52nd Street and Lexington Avenue, thousands of rowdy men were present to catch a glimpse of Monroe’s long legs in heels. Underwear sightings rendered the scene a 1950s version of Girls Gone Wild, but being Monroe, she kept it classy while cooing and squealing under her co-star’s gaze.
On Saturday, the 12-hour auction sold nearly 600 costumes belonging to actress and collector Debbie Reynolds. Other notable bids included Monroe’s red-sequined dress from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, which sold for $1.2 million, and Audrey Hepburn’s Ascot dress from My Fair Lady, which sold for $3.7 million.
Collector Keya Morgan called the bids “totally crazy, especially in this recession.”
In 1999, the sheer flesh-colored dress Monroe wore when she breathlessly sang “Happy Birthday, Mr. President” to John F. Kennedy was sold for a hefty $1.26 million—the highest price tag for a Monroe frock before Saturday. The Jean Louis dress, worn by the screen legend in 1962, was encrusted with thousands of rhinestones and so tight it had to be sewn onto her naked body.
Less than three months after wearing the “Happy Birthday” dress, Monroe was dead at the age of 36.