The Seven Year Itch (1955), which is playing at the BFI this week as part of its month-long Marilyn Monroe retrospective, is not one of my favourite Marilyn films but it is a very summery movie – and it features some of my favourite MM summer outfits, in particular the dotty, backless, halter neck dress (above) worn by “The Girl” when she makes her rather chaotic entrance in the brownstone where literary agent Richard Sherman (Tom Ewell) is living alone, having waved his wife and kids off on their vacation, during a sweltering Manhattan summer.As with six of her previous films – notably Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and How to Marry a Millionaire – Marilyn was dressed by costume designer (William) Travilla for The Seven Year Itch, which was set during a blistering heatwave. Trying to stay cool and slipping in and out of comfortable/uncomfortable clothing and is a recurring theme in the film and the pastel pink shirt and capri pants ensemble below (which always reminds me of one of Audrey Hepburn’s outfits in the fashion shoot sequence of Funny Face) was what The Girl changed into from her tight sundress. Of course, the most iconic dress of Marilyn’s film career is the “subway” dress, the white halter neck with pleated full skirt which The Girl wears for a wander round New York after dark. Pausing over a subway grill, she is blasted with a gust of air which makes her skirt billow and provides some welcome relief from the oppressive heat – as well as a prolonged flash of the Monroe thighs (and big pants!) for passers-by to ogle.
What you can’t see in the many stills that feature the Subway Dress is the fact that there is more to Travilla’s most famous frock than the bust-emphasising, drapy halter neck and the light, floaty pleated full skirt. There is a beautiful mid section which highlights the fact that this is a Grecian-style dress, with a distinctly 1950s twist. This photograph from a wardrobe test shows off the full effect. And although The Girl doesn’t go to any formal events in The Seven Year Itch, Marilyn Monroe’s wardrobe for the film did include a striking evening gown which is almost as memorable as such previous Travilla designs as the hot pink Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend number in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. The “Tiger” dress appears in a fantasy sequence, when she visits Richard’s apartment and falls under his spell when he plays Rachmaninov’s 2nd Piano Concerto for her.* The Seven Year Itch is showing at the BFI on Friday June 19 and Sunday 21. For more on the BFI’s Marilyn season, which runs till the end of June, click here