Celebrities are often targets of gossip and rumors, and what may have been a slight exaggeration at first can become outrageously amplified or completely wrong over time. Marilyn Monroe has been the subject of multiple rumors since her screen reign of the 1950s, and some of these assertions are still debated today. One point of contention is about her dress size. Today we’ll take a look at the claim that Marilyn Monroe wore a modern size 16 dress.
First, let’s examine statements by two popular celebrities in recent years which focused attention on Marilyn Monroe’s dress size. In 2000, a somewhat derogatory statement came from actress Elizabeth Hurley, who told Allure magazine her thoughts about seeing Marilyn Monroe’s clothing at an exhibition. In the interview she explained, “I’ve always thought Marilyn Monroe looked fabulous, but I’d kill myself if I was that fat,” and then added how she, “wanted to take a tape measure and measure what her hips were. She was very big.”
Because comments like Hurley’s were made decades after this iconic woman could defend herself, women like comedian and actress Roseanne Barr tried to laud fuller-figured women in her usual tongue-in-cheek manner. In 1996, she explained, “I’m more sexy than Pamela Lee or whoever else they’ve got out there these days. Marilyn Monroe was a size 16. That says it all.” Barr’s comments were applauded by many fans who supported having less rigid beauty standards for women.
In the years after these women made comments about Marilyn’s size, the topic has remained as polarizing as ever, but both statements placed Marilyn in the plus-size category.
Like most women, Marilyn Monroe wore different sizes at different times in her career. However, we can get the best idea about her size during her career by looking at the measurements reported by both her personal seamstress and the studio. A summary of her reported measurement ranges is provided below:
- Weight: between 115-140 pounds
- Bust: between 35-37 inches
- Waist: between 22-23 inches
- Hips: between 35-36 inches
Interestingly, Elizabeth Hurley is reportedly not much smaller in size with her measurements of 34-24-34 for her bust, waist, and hips respectively. Perhaps her impression of Monroe’s clothing was incorrect?
Sizes Then and Now
Today’s dress sizes are different than they were during Marilyn’s time. Many refer to this change as “vanity sizing,” meaning that size numbers have been lowered to make women feel smaller as they shop for clothes. Behind the scenes sizing hasn’t changed in the fashion design industry, however, so one can evaluate Marilyn’s size by looking at the clothing patterns of her dresses. Unlike the range of sizes found in stores, you’ll see standardization when comparing the size charts of sewing pattern companies like McCall’s, Vogue, and others. This makes it easy for us to determine Marilyn’s sizes during her career.
At 5’5″, Monroe would fit the Misses sizing chart, which lists her smallest measurements within the range for a size 12 and her largest for a size 16, though this is mostly due to her ample bust. While there isn’t a true standard in stores today, we can still see that on average Marilyn Monroe would not fit into the plus sized clothing range. With her hip and waist measurements, you’d expect Monroe to wear a 6 or 8 bottom. Her bust would be harder to accommodate since it’s within the range for a 16-18, so smaller tops with stretch fabrics or custom tailored pieces would be needed to keep her figure-hugging style.
There have been several recent examinations of Marilyn’s clothing which have shown her figure to be on the petite side. While discussing Marilyn’s clothing, Daven Hiskey revealed that the famous dress from the film Seven Year Itch fit on a size 2 mannequin. However, Monroe’s dresses were often so tight for films that they were sewn on, so she most likely would have fit a modern size 4 when wearing casual clothing off the set.
Unlike Elizabeth Hurley, British Journalist Sara Buys was given the rare opportunity to try on several pieces of Marilyn’s clothing in 2009, and explained, “Contrary to received wisdom, she was not a voluptuous size 16 – quite the opposite. While she was undeniably voluptuous – in possession of an ample bosom and a bottom that would look at home gyrating in a J-Lo video – for most of the early part of her career, she was a size 8 and even in her plumper stages, was no more than a 10.”
How do you Compare?
If you’re curious how you stack up to Monroe, you can use either of these charts to see what size your measurements would have given you in Marilyn’s time. Keep in mind that women still wore girdles then, so that’s one of the reasons that waist measurements are not as small today.
Perhaps due to celebrity comments in recent years, Marilyn Monroe’s dress size has become somewhat of a modern obsession. Some have asserted that Monroe wore a size 16 dress, yet this is highly unlikely given her approximate measurements, along with modern examinations of some of Marilyn’s actual clothing.
Finally, a true source of fiction that has been attributed to Marilyn is a quote saying, “To all those girls who think they’re fat for not being size 0 its not you who’s ugly its society.” Using the charts referenced above, we can see that size 0 was not a concept that was known to Marilyn or her contemporaries. Marilyn did, however, embrace a similar belief, which is illustrated by her saying that, “Imperfection is beauty, madness is genius and it’s better to be absolutely ridiculous than absolutely boring.”
Revised May 29, 2016
Originally published June 2014