Nearly 47 years after her 1962 death at the age of 36, Marilyn Monroe continues to bewitch. So the news this week that a brassiere once worn by the beguiling blonde sold at auction for $5,200 shouldn't be a surprise. The undergarment in question is a marvel of engineering, a double-slung sling described by lingerie authorities as an antecedent of the Wonderbra.
Perhaps more than any actress of her generation, Monroe lived the truth behind the Oscar Wilde quip that to be natural is such a difficult pose to keep up. The late Holly Solomon, an art dealer who befriended Monroe when both studied at the Actor's Studio in New York during the 1950s, sometimes shared a cab with her to the Sutton Place apartment where they both lived. Solomon liked to tell the story about how impressed she was that in the era of long-line foundation garments and binding girdles, Monroe seemed unbound by underwear and the proprieties of the day. "In the elevator one day I screwed up the courage to tell Marilyn that I wished that I could, like her, go braless," Solomon recalled. To her surprise, Marilyn giggled and unbuttoned her blouse to reveal a sheer brassiere that had nipples embroidered on its cups. "It's about illusion," Monroe confided.
Art historians tell us that famous nudes (think of Goya's Naked Maja) are depicted displaying their wares as though corseted in the fashion of the day, but with the foundation garments stripped off. So the figure is both clothed and unclothed, as it were. In this sense, Monroe continued this longstanding visual arts tradition.
Looking at photos of the brassiere sold at auction, I'm guessing that it was worn under the white spangly dress she wore in Some Like it Hot where she sings "I Want to Be Loved By You." That and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes are my two favorite Monroes. Yours?