fashion history: who wore a rhinestone dress?

Fashion History: Who Owned a Rhinestone Dress?

In Fashion & Culture, Student Mingleby Sarah Rabiah

When attending an event, it’s important to dress for the occasion. Some people opt for elegance, some for subtlety, and some — like this iconic person — are all about flash. All eyes were on this woman and her skin-tight rhinestone dress. Who do you think wore it?

May 19, 1962:

It was the day when John F Kennedy turned 45, and to honor the occasion Marilyn Monroe wore an extraordinarily sequined backless dress. On this day, she left her mark in history by singing Happy Birthday to Mr. President in front of a cheering crowd at Madison Square. The birthday celebration was a full house fundraising event for Democratic National Committee. President Kennedy had personally asked Monroe to attend the event. Well, you might be thinking what is so special about this event and why are we talking about it here? 

Let’s just step back a little and focus on that rhinestone dress she was wearing that day.

Just a few years back, the rhinestone-studded dress was bought by Ripley’s Believe It for a whopping $4.8 million U.S. dollars, around 400 times its original value. Known as the most expensive dress in the world, this dress is encrusted with rhinestones and crystal. Exclusively designed for Monroe, by Oscar-winning costume designer Jean Louis, it was priced at $1,440 when it was made.

Sequined with 6000 rhinestones and 2500 hand-sewn crystals, the dress was so snug on Monroe that it had to be sewn into the dress right before the celebration. To quote Adlai Stevenson, former governor of Illinois, the best way to describe the dress and Monroe that night would be “Skin & Beads.” The dress added a touch of intimacy to her breath-taking performance. Her angelic voice was perfectly paired with her attire for the historical event.

The original sketch of her dress was conducted by a young Bob Mackie who was just out of college, and he made it his first job. The Happy Birthday Mr. President moment still remains as the most famous event in fashion history and an extraordinary event in America.

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