Marilyn Monroe's "Happy Birthday Mr President" dress fetched US$4.81 million today at an auction in Los Angeles, becoming the second most valuable piece of clothing in history. Sold last by Christies in 1999 for $1,267,500 (the most expensive piece of clothing ever sold at that time), it just failed to beat Marilyn's subsequent world record of $5.5 million for the subway grate dress from The Seven Year Itch.
Marilyn Monroe wore this dress at a Democratic fundraiser and 45th birthday party for JFK at Madison Square Garden in New York on 19 May 1962. Though the world didn't know Monroe was sleeping with the POTUS before the event, the over-the-top performance caused a scandal.
Monroe told the event planners that she would dress discreetly, she rehearsed in casual clothes, changing into the dress just prior to the performance and wearing a white fur coat over the top of the dress until she was on stage, which prevented anybody getting a clear look at what she was really wearing – a sheer body-hugging dress without any lining, and heels.
The video of the performance above does not quite capture the full visuals seen live by the audience, but Marilyn's dress had been color-matched to her skin tone, and the 2,500–rhinestone gown was sewn on to her "au natural." The gasp from the audience when she removes the fur coat is quite pronounced (1:20 on the video).
Just three months later, Monroe died of a barbiturate overdose, fueling conspiracy theories that still have tongues wagging 54 years later.
Monroe already owns the world record (and 7 of the top 12 dresses on the list) for the rayon crepe halter "subway grate dress" from the movie, The Seven Year Itch which sold for $5,520,000.
Monroe played the female lead role while Tom Ewell played the male lead. Ewell now rates only a footnote in cinematic history, while Monroe's subway grate scene became one of the most recognizable images in modern society.
Previously second and now third on the list for the most expensive piece of clothing ever sold is the dress worn by Eliza Doolittle (Audrey Hepburn) in her "coming out" moment at the Ascot races in the 1964 movie My Fair Lady. The dress sold for $4,400,000 at a Profiles in History auction in 2011.
Another Monroe-worn dress at the same 18 November 2016 auction as the "Happy Birthday" dress sold for $562,000 (buyers premium added to the hammer price) to become the ninth most expensive dress ever sold, but Marilyn still has only five of the top 10, as the "Happy Birthday" dress was already at number five in the list and the now ninth placed cocktail dress worn by Monroe in the movie Some like it Hot displaced another Marilyn dress from tenth place.