The Body of Marilyn Monroe

Old post brought to mind by Kate’s post on “Marilyn’s Law.” Many links are dead, and dress sizes are based only on the patterns I had around at the time…maybe 20, so numbers are not definitive. One more caveat: seems to me that pattern sizes run considerably smaller than ready-to-wear sizes. Not sure if that’s vanity sizing at work, or what.

Also, the tone in which this is written — it strikes me as so earnest and…young! Awwww.

Marilyn Monroe

Marilyn’s Body: The Debate

This has been a topic of some mild debate, both online and off. I have some opinions on it since I have studied Marilyn Monroe’s life a bit. Don’t ask me why…it’s a long, convoluted, weird story. But I’ve been interested in her life for about five years.

The point of this is: the Marilyn body-size debate. Some people claim that she was quite large (by today’s standards) and would be a size 16 today. Others say she was slender and small like today’s actresses and models. But I’ve only seen one person (*Sex&Candy*) cite sources.

The sources I have accessed are these:

-Marilyn’s reported measurements (both studio and dressmaker claims) from marilynmonroe.com, the official Marilyn website maintained by CMG Worldwide, the representative for Marilyn’s estate. They are: 37-23-36 (Studio’s Claim), 35-22-35 (Dressmaker’s Claim), and height: 5 feet 5 1/2 inches. I will go by the Dressmaker’s claim, seeing as how a dressmaker requires accurate measurements for his work, and the Studio would be publishing measurements to titillate a male audience and gain publicity…therefore, they might ‘pad’ the measurements to make someone’s figure seem more ‘hourglass’ and fashionable.

-Today’s size requirements to be a fashion model, available from blufire.com, an online Model Registry.

-Lena Pepitone’s book (Marilyn Monroe Confidential), which includes an account of Marilyn’s body size and weight gain. Pepitone worked as Marilyn’s maid when she lived in NYC, and did some of her sewing/mending.

-Some original Simplicity and Butterick patterns from the 1950s, which have measurements and size charts printed on the back. Also, contemporary patterns with sizing charts.

-The BMI (Body Mass Index) which is the tool currently used to determine if a person is overweight by contemporary medical standards.

The claims I have heard are these:

-Marilyn Monroe would be considered “overweight” today (claim made by the NAAFA.)

-Marilyn Monroe wore a size 16.

-Marilyn Monroe would wear a size 6/8 in today’s clothing.

Other:

-On one website created by a devoted Marilyn fan, the fan took a trip to L.A. to see some Marilyn artifacts, including several of the dresses Marilyn wore. The fan remarked on how ‘tiny’ they seemed.

So, using my sources, I have come up with the following answers to these claims:

-Marilyn was not overweight. According to Lena Pepitone, Marilyn’s maid in NYC who was in charge of mending her clothes and other functions (like bathing and laundry) which would give her a good idea of Marilyn’s body size, Marilyn regularly wore clothing so tight that they would split at the seams, requiring Lena to do a lot of mending. Also, she reports that before the filming of Some Like it Hot, Marilyn went through a period of depression and ate compulsively, gaining enough weight to put her at 140 lbs. (The studio claims that Marilyn weighed between 115 and 120 lbs., at a height of 5’5 1/2″.) By current standards (the BMI), a weight of 140 at a height of 5’5 1/2″ would result in a BMI of 22.9, well below the cut-off BMI of 24.9 for ‘overweight.’ At 140 lbs. she was reportedly unhappy, but was still able to go out in public and be revered as a sex goddess.

-However, Marilyn would probably not fit the requirements of a contemporary fashion model. According to the BluFire Model Registry: “Female fashion models typically are at least 5’8″…and 34-24-34, plus or minus one inch…for each dimension. (Sometimes hip size is 36 inches.)” Therefore, Marilyn would have been too short at 5’5″. Though her measurements were about right, her height would have made her seem wider. But, “She was working as a model in the mid-’40s, gracing the covers of hundreds of magazines and winning beauty contests (she was 1947′s Miss California Artichoke Queen.)” (According to swinginchicks.com.) Obviously, in the 40s and 50s, size requirements for models were a bit more lenient than they are today.

-Marilyn wore between a size 10 and 18 in the 1950s. According to several original 1950s patterns I own, Marilyn’s bust measurement (36) would be a size 18 or 16; her waist (22) would be about a size 8 (none of the patterns listed as low as 22 for waist…the lowest was 23 1/2, which was a size 9); her hips (35) would be 12 or 14 (or 13 junior.) Anything above a size 12 (measurements 32-25-34) might’ve been considered “plus-sized” as evidenced by a “Slenderette” pattern by Simplicity. “Slenderette,” I imagine, was their special designation for patterns that would make larger girls seem more slender. I have not been able to find any sources on this though.

-Marilyn’s size today would be between 6 and 14. According to a modern Simplicity pattern, her bust (36) would be a size 14; her waist (22) a size 6; her hips (35) a size 10, 12 or 14. Many people have claimed that pattern sizes are wildly different between the 1950s and today, but this is not the case. Between different pattern companies there is always a wide range of different sizes based on measurements, although there does seem to be about one or two sizes difference between most patterns from the 1950s and most contemporary patterns. This does not constitute a huge disparity, however, as some have claimed (for example, that a size 16 in the 1950s would be a size 8 today.) Since sizes generally move up in two-number increments, this would be a difference of four sizes…whereas the largest difference I could find for Marilyn’s old size and her contemporary size was two sizes: sizes 6 to 10, and 14 to 18.

-Also, I’d like to note that a reason occurred to me why Marilyn’s dresses would seem so tiny when viewed in person: Marilyn’s dresses were often sewed onto her and, as Lena Pepitone asserts, her clothes were often so tight that they required regular mending of split seams and zippers. To get her clothing onto a dressform without ripping out seams and re-sewing them, they would have to choose smaller-than-Marilyn dressforms so that the dresses would maintain a normal amount of ‘ease’…though in Marilyn’s lifetime, she wore them without that ease. If you stuffed them as tight as sausage-casings, as she wore them, you could have an accurate 3-D depiction of her nude body size/shape (since it is reported that she didn’t even wear underwear [Lena Pepitone], let alone girdles and other shaping garments popular at the time.)

All in all, I tackled this just to show that nothing is as clear-cut as we’d like it to be. No, Marilyn was definitely not fat and would not even be considered overweight by today’s standards. However, she was certainly not as tall or skinny as today’s fashion models and many actresses, and she did not wear a size 0 or 2, as is becoming the norm for ‘beautiful women’ in contemporary society. Like all of us, her weight even fluctuated a bit over her lifetime.

Cause guess what? Sex goddess or no, she was human too.


Added later: Thanks to CelestialRaine’s tip, I checked out the website she mentioned, and it comes to pretty much the same conclusion I did. Thanks!

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14 Comments

  1. Emerald
    Posted September 18, 2009 at 10:19 am | Permalink

    This is interesting.

    I’m 5’5″, and back in the 80s, in my teens, I weighed around 140lb and was a size 14. My waist at that dress size measured 28″ (and size 14 skirts, even then, were slightly loose round the waist on me because I bought them to fit my comparatively wide hips). I gather a 28″ waist is a size 12 today. (These are British sizes, note; I’m guessing you’re talking US sizes, and the exact difference between the two is something I struggle with every time I go Stateside!)

    It’s notable, though, that as a 14, I was not generally regarded as ‘fat’. The average size of my classmates was 12-14 and, I recall reading at the time, the average size of an adult British woman then was a 16. I was bullied out of ballet class, and I had a very thin mother who thought I was fat, but those people had serious weight-based issues of their own.

    Today, I notice a lot of comments on UK media stories implying that a 12 (old 14), 10 (old 12) or even 8 (old 10) are ‘fat’ or ‘obese’. So it looks as if, while sizes may well have changed a little, the benchmark of what constitutes ‘acceptably thin’ has moved downwards.

  2. Posted September 18, 2009 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

    “One more caveat: seems to me that pattern sizes run considerably smaller than ready-to-wear sizes. Not sure if that’s vanity sizing at work, or what.”

    “According to a modern Simplicity pattern, her bust (36) would be a size 14; her waist (22) a size 6; her hips (35) a size 10, 12 or 14.”

    You appear to be muddling this up quite a bit, because you are not understanding that RTW (ready-to-wear) clothes are not sized like patterns today – at all. Or did I miss something?

    Marilyn’s 36″ bust is a size 14 – both today and in the 50′s – when you are looking at SEWING PATTERNS. That does not mean she’d pull a size 14 off the rack if she were shopping today. She’d fit into something much smaller – I’m thinking an 8.

    Sewing patterns have remained very consistent; RTW has not – lots of vanity sizing going on there.

    There is an awesome chapter about clothing sizes in Patti Palmer and Maria Alto’s Fit For Real People.

    • Posted September 18, 2009 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

      Yeah, actually, I didn’t address the fact that ready-to-wear sizing is different than pattern sizing. Kate pointed this out for me when I originally posted this article, but I didn’t bring the comments over here, so that important part of the discussion is missing!

      I might move those old comments over, later. I just wanted to post this here, because 1) lots of people seem to search for this article, and 2) I actually wonder if sometimes the weird claim that she was a “size 14″ or whatever, comes from the fact that *pattern* sizes do run like that.

      Marilyn Monroe likely had her clothes (at least the dresses she was most famous for) custom-made, and didn’t buy them off-the-rack. So, at least in that sense, pattern sizes would apply.

      But you’re right that most people are commonly thinking of RTW sizing when they refer to her being a “size 16″ or whatever.

  3. Posted September 18, 2009 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

    “… you’re right that most people are commonly thinking of RTW sizing when they refer to her being a “size 16 or whatever.”

    Yes, that’s why I think the distinction is important. And that peeps shouldn’t look on the back of a pattern then talk about RTW interchangeably.

    My wedding dress was traditionally sized – like a sewing pattern. Imagine my surprise at how “fat” it was. This was back when size meant more to me than what it means now – merely a number.

  4. Marmoset
    Posted February 10, 2010 at 9:05 pm | Permalink

    6-10 in Simplicity pattern of today is an extremely small pattern. I am size 0, but I probably won’t fit into 6-10 at all. It’s much too small.

  5. Loris
    Posted March 18, 2010 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

    RTW clothing also tends to be cut for pear shapes. I have a balanced figure (42-35-42), but my 42 hips fit a size 10/12, my waist fits a 12, and my bust fits a size 16 in today’s US sizes. When I sew, I sew a size 18 skirt and a 20 dress. I’ve found that patterns are consistently two sizes different than RTW.

  6. Francine Boulet
    Posted March 19, 2010 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

    I do agree that Marilyn would be considered overweight by today’s standards; however, I think she was totally sexy and beautifull. If my body looked like her’s today I don’t think I would have to worry about a thing! Besides her alluring figure, Marilyn had a sincere and creative side that added mystery to her. It is ashame that Hollywood and men used her all up!

    By the way, the only time Marilyn was sown into a dress was the time that she performed at President Kennedy’s Birthday party. The dress was very transparent with shiney adornments. It was quite see through. She sang “Happy Birthday, Mr. President” to an audience totally in the dark. She, of course was in the bright spot light clad only in this dress, blonde hair, and red lips.

  7. Barbara
    Posted August 17, 2010 at 7:48 pm | Permalink

    I am 5 ft.5 1/2″ tall and evenly proportioned. Not comparing myself to Marilyn, but the weight at which I feel best is 116-118 lbs. My RTW size at that weight is 4 or 6 (depending on designer). Due to depression, my weight has fluctuated up to 140 lbs. When I weigh 140 lbs. I wear a size 10. Like Marilyn, I am very unhappy at 140, yet others do not perceive me as being overweight.

  8. Sharib
    Posted August 19, 2010 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

    Found this blog while searching for information about sizes on clothing patterns I found from the 1950ies. A ladies bust, waist and hip sizes were equal for a size 14 pattern then is equal to about what a size 8 would be today. I had remembered that they used to say Marilyn Monroe was about a size 14. Your info seems to clarify a little more of what I’ve been learning. Thank you.

    I wonder why they changed the size charts.

  9. Posted September 16, 2010 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

    MARILYN MONROE IS F*N HOT!!!! :) I wish she was still alive, i would so be at her feet begging for her hot sex right now!!!!!!

  10. Posted October 21, 2010 at 10:07 pm | Permalink

    thanks for posting this. it always drives me a little bonkers when people bring up marilyn’s dress size, because it is inevitably pure opinion dressed up as fact. thank you for setting the record straight.

    just to add some random anecdata to the pile, my mum was also a size 14 or 16 in the 1950s. she was 5’7″ and her weight fluctuated between 110 and 120.

  11. Mona
    Posted November 26, 2010 at 5:55 pm | Permalink

    I’m curious to know Marilyn Monoes cup size. I’m a 34 G and have always wondered what Marilyn Monroe’s cup size is.

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