A new world record was set on November 17, 2016 for the most ever paid for a personal dress. This for the “Happy Birthday Mr. President” nude illusion gown worn by Marilyn Monroe on May 19, 1962 as she sang from the stage to President Kennedy at Madison Square Garden. The gown, designed by Hollywood costume and fashion designer Jean Louis, was auctioned for $4, 810,000 including commission and taxes. It was bought by the Ripley’s Believe it or Not Museum at Julien’s Auctions . Marilyn Monroe had the gown made for her for $12,000. She died three months later.
Marilyn called the gown “skin and beads,” and the audience gasped when she removed her coat on stage, thinking at first she was naked. The gown was made of a flesh-colored souffle, and decorated with rhinestones, not beads. But Marilyn’s point was that it was tight enough to be her skin. It sold at auction at Christie’s New York for $1.2 million in 1999. Marilyn’s film-worn “subway” dress from The Seven Year Itch actually set a higher record at auction, fetching $5.5 million dollars at the Debbie Reynolds/Profiles in History auction in 2011.
Here are the 10 most expensive movie star gowns and costumes ever sold:
1. Marilyn Monroe’s The Seven Year Itch, 1955 “Subway” rayon crepe halter dress with pleated skirt designed by William Travilla. Sold at the famous Debbie Reynolds-Profiles in History auction of June 19, 2011 for $5.5 million.
2. Marilyn Monroe’s “Happy Birthday Mr. President” gown, made of souffle with hundreds of sewn rhinestones and designed by Jean Louis. Worn at the Madison Square Garden Democratic Party fundraiser/Birthday Party for John F. Kennedy. Sold at the Julien’s auction of November 17, 2016 for $4.8 million
3. Audrey Hepburn’s My Fair Lady, 1964 “Ascot” white embroidered lace Edwardian gown with black trim designed by Cecil Beaton, including the large picture hat. This was another costume sold at the Debbie Reynolds/Profiles in History auction of June 19, 2011 for $4.4 million.
4. Judy Garland’s Dorothy Pinafore from The Wizard of Oz. This was the costume worn by Judy Garland throughout the movie. The blue and white checked pinafore and off-white blouse with rick-rack trim was designed by Adrian. Several “test” versions were designed before this final dress was used in the film. A solid blue “test” version was sold at the Debbie Reynolds auction in 2011 for $1.1 million, although the heavy promotion for the auction had much to do with that price. The pinafore being auctioned here is one previously owned by Kent Warner, the costumer who had “liberated” many costumes from MGM including several pairs of the Ruby Slippers. He always picked the most important items, with his rationale being to either preserve them, or in the case of the 1970 MGM auction, as payment for organizing costumes for the auction. Kent Warner first had this costume up for auction at Christies in 1981. Labels in this costume have Judy Garland’s name and the number 4461, a sure way to trace its provenance. Sold at the TCM/Bonhams auction on November 23, 2015 for $1.625 million.
5. Marilyn Monroe’s Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, 1953, “Two Little Girls from Little Rock” sung with Jane Russell in a matching gown. Red sequin showgirl gown with deep V cut designed by William Travilla. Sold at the Debbie Reynolds auction of June 18, 2011 for $1.44 million.
6. Judy Garland’s Wizard of Oz, 1939 “Dorothy” pinafore – a solid blue “test” variant designed by Adrian. This pinafore was worn for the first two weeks of shooting before the director was replaced. Sold at the Debbie Reynolds/Profiles in History auction of June 18, 2011 for $1.1 million.
7. Audrey Hepburn’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s, 1961 black evening gown designed for the scene where she eats a croissant while looking at the Tiffany’s window,. Sold at Christie London December 5, 2006 for $900,000. The sale was to raise money for the City of Joy – aid for India’s poor. The gown was donated by its designer Hubert de Givenchy, although it was not the gown worn by Miss Hepburn in the film.
8. Marilyn Monroe’s Some Like it Hot black souffle dress decorated with strands of bugle beads. It was designed by Orry-Kelly for her scene in Some Like it Hot, 1958, where she sings sitting on a piano. It sold at the Julien’s auction of November 17, 2016 for $460,00 .
9. Marilyn Monroe’s Something’s Got to Give , 1962 silk crepe large rose-print dress with deep V cut back, designed by Jean Louis and worn for the never completed film. Marilyn was fired from the 20th Century-Fox film but when co-star Dean Martin said he would walk if she was let go, she was later re-hired. She died in August 1962 before the movie could finish. Sold for $358,000 at the Julien’s auction of June 27, 2015.
10. Marilyn Monroe’s “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” hot-pink silk taffeta gown with the huge bow at the back worn when she sings the song in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, 1953. Designed by William Travilla, sold at the Profiles in History auction of June 11, 2011 for $356,500
Movie costumes and gowns are fragile and rare collectibles, and few of the older ones have survived from Hollywood’s Golden Age. They command even higher prices than jewelry, and have that quality of being the most intimate and iconic of objects. Six of the top ten were once owned and worn by Marilyn Monroe. Two were worn by Audrey Hepburn. Two of the others were worn by Judy Garland as Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. If other Oz costumes were included, they would have made the top ten also, such as the Cowardly Lion costume and the Ruby Slippers. One of the most expensive of costume items are Dorothy’s Ruby Slippers. There are several pairs in existence. The ones in best condition were purchased from the Profiles in History consignor in 2013 after they failed to sell for $2 million. They were purchased privately by Leonardo diCaprio and Steven Spielberg to go to the new Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences Museum. The Wicked Witch’s Hat from The Wizard of Oz, fetched $230,000 at its last auction. Some costumes came close to the Top Ten, including Kate Winslet’s “Rose” dress from Titanic at $330,000, Jennifer Lawrence’s Katniss “Fire” gown from The Hunger Games, designed by Trish Summerville, which sold at auction for $300,000 in 2013. One of Julie Andrew’s costumes from The Sound of Music was frequently reported in the media as selling at auction for $1.56 million. These media sources failed to say that the auction was for a set of costumes from the film, not just hers, so I do not include it in the Top Ten. The prices quoted in the Top Ten includes auction house commissions, which are generally the total figures reported in the media.
The stellar prices paid for these costumes, and the fact that relatively few are in institutional hands, should mean that some will reappear at auction and set new records. This is the second Top Ten list I’ve produced in as many years.