Celebrities Fashion Lookbook

Marilyn Monroe and fashion as a shield

“‘Do you want to see me become her?’ I didn’t know what she meant but I just said ‘Yes’ — and then I saw it. I don’t know how to explain what she did because it was so very subtle, but she turned something on within herself that was almost like magic. And suddenly cars were slowing, and people were turning their heads and stopping to stare. They were recognizing that this was Marilyn Monroe as if she pulled off a mask or something, even though a second ago nobody noticed her. I had never seen anything like it before.” – Amy Greene, wife of Marilyn’s personal photographer Milton Greene.

The name Marilyn Monroe immediately conjures a certain image – diamonds (a girl’s best friend!), white dress billowing over a subway grate, Andy Warhol’s pop art. All visuals that have become synonymous with the blonde bombshell, actress, singer, sex symbol, and the many other roles Marilyn has come to occupy in popular culture.

Confidence is a quality often associated with icons and tastemakers. To make an impact you must be unapologetic – Rihanna, Cher, Josephine Baker, Audrey Hepburn, and even Marilyn Monroe herself join these ranks. Despite the fact that her life was cut short, the fashion statements she made – immortalised in countless photos – are memorable, timeless, and recreated often, making her one of the most recognizable fashion icons ever.   

The archives of Marilyn’s own writing, however, paint a drastically different picture of the person she was underneath the bombshell. Plagued by crippling insecurity, the fear that the mental illness that had claimed her mother would come for her next, an absent father, a childhood spent between foster homes, betrayals from those closest to her, and a teenage marriage to escape the orphanage, she was a young woman trailed by her many demons. Her writing reveals someone who was terrified of disappointing the people around her – worlds away from the breezy, disarming confidence she projected on-camera.

She writes about a dream she had where her teacher, Lee Strasberg, cuts her open ‘and there is absolutely nothing there…. devoid of every human living feeling thing — the only thing that came out was so finely cut sawdust—like out of a raggedy ann doll.’

Monroe’s debilitating insecurity and complete lack of confidence left her entirely at the mercy of external opinions from husbands and co-stars. A member of the latter group, Don Murray, highlighted this paradox when he said, “For somebody who the camera loved, she was still terrified of going before the camera and broke out in a rash all over her body.”. 

He was right about the camera loving her, there’s absolutely no trace of insecurity in Marilyn Monroe, the persona that Norma Jean referred to in the third person, and could turn into at the drop of a hat. Marilyn Monroe was a vessel for Norma Jean’s own talent, a vessel she would often critique in the third person – “She wouldn’t do this. Marilyn would say that.”.

Marilyn Monroe was as much a part of Norma Jean, as Norma Jean was a part of Marilyn. Amy Greene’s anecdote about Marilyn “becoming” the larger than life force that persists to this day attributed the Marilyn effect to an inner force from within the woman herself. It wasn’t just about the clothes she wore but how she projected herself in them that would transform her into a timeless icon.

The image of Marilyn Monroe that persists today should be more than the one-dimensional figure of tragic fame. Her magnetism on-screen is a testament to the talent and skill that she never could recognize in herself, and the work she was able to produce despite her personal troubles leaves room to imagine how much she was capable of achieving if she had more faith in herself. 

Marilyn is a reminder of the transformative effects of confidence, and how much this one quality can alter our perceptions. Norma Jean felt she needed to become Marilyn Monroe to have the impact that she did, but would she still be the icon she is today if she hadn’t projected that particular persona, or that particular shield? 

Whether you think of Marilyn Monroe dripping in diamonds, performing the opening number from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes in red sequins, photographed on the beach in her final days, or as a writer who revealed her true self on the page, she wasn’t just a bundle of insecurities in beautiful clothes – she possessed all of the skill, talent, and depth she never thought herself capable of. 

Monroe is a fashion icon whose influence has inexplicably grown to make her a historical figure characterised by glamour and confidence. By sticking to this narrative, we reduce her legacy by only sharing the fragments of her story that were seen on camera. Her reality is a harsh indicator of how blinding insecurity can be, and her lasting legacy is a mark of the achievements she barely acknowledged.  

It is difficult enough to simply exist, let alone occupy the status of an icon, when you are your own worst enemy – and yet, the narrative that persists of Marilyn Monroe’s time in the spotlight might be her best performance of all.

Gender & Identity Life

I can’t seem to stop changing my hair and I don’t know why

When I was fourteen I dyed my hair for the first time in my friend’s bathroom with a manic panic dye. We tried to ombre the blue on the bottom of my hair and somehow managed to not get dye everywhere. I felt cool and edgy. When we washed it out and it dried I couldn’t stop twirling the unnaturally colored hair around my finger. I threw all my hair into a bun and put on hat, prepared to shock my mom when I got home.

Dramatically, I entered the den she and my brother were watching a movie in and whipped off the hat in a big reveal. My mom raised her eyebrows slightly and my brother yelled in shock. Which was not the reaction I expected. All she said was “is it permanent?”

It wasn’t, and a week later it was completely gone from my hair and my flirtation with the edgy side was over for at least a year before I tried again.

Since then I have had a lot of different hair colors. I’ve pretty much covered the rainbow in pastel colors, gone completely white, and then completely red. Each time its a rash decision, with a dash of boredom and too much free time. And I have tried to stop. I really have. After three years of constant bleaching and coloring I was genuinely curious what my natural hair color even was. So I stopped bleaching and let it grow. For two years I managed to keep my natural roots growing, only adding different pastels to the already bleached hair at the bottom.

But I got bored.

A lot.

I would eye the dye section in Shoppers and wonder if I should snag a box on rainy afternoons constantly. Something in me just can’t seem to stop wanting to fuck up my hair and I cannot figure it out.

Maybe it’s the fact I like to look different. I don’t want to blend in like a robot. I like weird patterns and wearing old jeans that are way too big for me. Growing up in Vancouver it was all about finding the new thing before anyone else. The new craze, style, or music. It was better if people didn’t know where you bought something or how you found that artist. Maybe the fact I have to reinvent my hair every six months is just my constant need to be new and different than I was before.

When I dyed my hair blue for the second time it was when I had blonde hair (bleached from my natural brunette). I liked it but soon after everyone was turning blonde. The weather was warming up and suddenly it seemed like every day there was a new blonde in one of my classes. So one day I drove to Sally’s, stared at the boxes of Ion Semi-Permanent dyes until I found one called Shark Blue. It was a grey toned pastel blue and it looked like nothing I had seen before. So I bought three and by that evening I had blue-grey hair.

Or maybe it’s because I’m not actually original. Maybe I don’t have any new ideas and I’m not really different. The only reason I even get ideas is because I see something somewhere else. I was blonde maybe a bit ahead of the season that everyone seems to turn blonde but it was still the blonde turning season. Maybe everything I see and want just gets filed away in my brain for later. After all, there are no new ideas under the sun. When I dyed my hair red I had been watching this Youtuber with beautiful, long red hair, that was always styled perfectly. Sure, maybe I had the idea myself. Or maybe I just wanted to look like her.

Maybe it’s neither of those. Maybe dying and changing my hair has just been my way of lashing out. As a kid I was always told to look presentable, never put my elbows on the table, the usual stuff. But as I got older I got angrier and more self-conscious. My mom trying to “fix” my hair seemed to me her insulting the way I did my hair. Her comments on my outfits were just her concerns that I would go out not looking good but they were clothes I liked and I was comfortable in, so to my ears she was just calling me ugly. Rather than conform and have her fix my hair or change my shirt, I would bleach the life out of it and go to thrift stores just to find an extra large shirt. If she didn’t like blue hair then I would dye my hair blue three more times. If dressing and looking how I wanted was ugly then I was going to be the ugliest motherfucker in the room.

But maybe, just maybe, it’s none of these. Maybe I dye my hair because I want to and it’s as simple as that. There is no answer to why because I don’t know why I want to do it so badly. What I do know is that with every cut and every color I have never once regretted the outcome.