They called it! Kim Kardashian really did damage that iconic Marilyn Monroe dress

A woman stands on a red carpet posing in a sparkling gown and a white fur stole
(Evan Agostini / Invision/Associated Press)

In shocking news to no one: The historic Marilyn Monroe gown that reality star Kim Kardashian wore to the Met Gala last month is showing signs of damage and, conservators say, now will have the reality star enmeshed in the story of the dress.

Before and after images posted on Instagram this week show new wear and tear on the garment, which Monroe wore in 1962 to sing a sensual “Happy Birthday” to President John F. Kennedy.

The images, posted by private collector the Marilyn Monroe Collection, show the iconic 60-year-old piece appearing to have threadbare sequins, tears along the back closure, puckering and pulled seams after “The Kardashians” star wore it to the annual fashion affair.


Kardashian’s decision at the time had been criticized by fashion historians and textile conservators, as well as the gown’s original designer, Bob Mackie, whose fears about it have been confirmed.

“Every one of us in the museum community and conservation world knew that this was going to happen the instant that we saw that that dress was being worn,” Kevin Jones, curator of the FIDM Museum at the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising, said Tuesday in a phone interview with The Times.

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The Marilyn Monroe Collection, which considers itself to be the world’s largest private collection of Monroe’s personal property archives, posted images on Instagram of the gown while it was on display at Ripley’s Believe It or Not Hollywood. There, visitors could view the piece — and the damage wrought to the garment — themselves.

“So much for keeping ‘the integrity of the dress and the preservation,’ @ripleysbelieveitornot, was it worth it?” said the photo captions, with many weighing in on the damage in the comments. The before photos appear to show the dress while it was on display in 2016.

Representatives for Kardashian and Ripley’s did not immediately respond Tuesday to The Times’ requests for comment.

Textile conservators and fashion historians said that the dress, which hadn’t been worn since Monroe slipped into it, was too fragile to sustain being worn again. They feared that Kardashian was setting back the mission of historic costume collections and the science of conservation with the stunt.


“[Marilyn] was a goddess. A crazy goddess, but a goddess. She was just fabulous. Nobody photographs like that. And it was done for her. It was designed for her,” said designer Mackie in an interview last month with Entertainment Weekly. “Nobody else should be seen in that dress.”

The historic Jean Louis gown — sketched by a young Mackie and custom-made for the “Some Like It Hot” star — is made of a delicate soufflethat already becomes weaker and more brittle with age. The dress also is embroidered with heavy beadwork that pulls down on the fabric as time passes.

A black-and-white photo of a blond woman surrounded by several people
In this May 19, 1962, photo, actress Marilyn Monroe appears in the iconic gown that she wore while singing “Happy Birthday” to President John F. Kennedy during a reception in New York City.
(Cecil Stoughton / White House Photographs / John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum / Associated Press)

The recent walk down the red carpet and up the steep steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art have further sped up the dress’ aging process, confirming the fears of Kardashian’s critics.

“Sadly this comes as no surprise to me, or anyone else in the museum world!” fashion historian Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell, author of “Worn on This Day: The Clothes That Made History,” wrote in an email to The Times on Tuesday.

“A gown of that age and those fragile materials will inevitably be damaged if it is worn. Sequins fall off historic gowns if you so much as breathe on them,” said Chrisman-Campbell.


Curator Jones also said he wasn’t surprised by the damage he saw in the photos, but was “saddened.”

“There was no way ever that the dress could have been worn by anybody and not damaged. Even after all the platitudes of being careful and [Kardashian] not wearing body makeup — damage was going to happen,” Jones said. “This is a 60-year-old dress covered with crystals that’s really heavy. It’s also barely stable enough to mount to a custom-made [dress] form to Marilyn’s measurements, let alone anybody else’s body.”

Monroe’s dress has been described as “the original naked dress.” The “Seven-Year Itch” star had to be sewn into the piece ahead of her 1962 performance at a Madison Square Garden fundraiser that took place a few months before her death.

Jones said the dress was “never meant to be walked upstairs like that,” noting that Monroe was sewn into the gown when she arrived at the event, sang her song and posed for photos. And then took the dress off.

“This was a stunt dress. It was meant to shock. It was meant to be provocative. It was meant to be cheeky. And it was not meant to function in,” Jones said.

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Ripley’s Believe It or Not, a privately owned, for-profit “attractions company,” acquired the gown in 2016 for nearly $5 million, and said the gown was believed to be valued at more than $10 million around the time Kardashian wore it.


The organization initially denied Kardashian, 41, permission to wear the dress to the Met Gala because it didn’t fit her. After she lost about 16 pounds, Ripley’s conceded and said, “Great care was taken to preserve this piece of history.”

Mackie, who designed the gown, publicly said Kardashian wearing it was “a big mistake.”

Aside from fittings, the Skims founder and Monroe superfan wore the gown only for the red-carpet portion of the gala. She paired it with a fur stole to conceal that the back zipper was only partially fastened, then later changed into a replica, leading many to wonder why she needed to wear the original in the first place.

Kardashian then flew the dress from New York to California on her private jet so that Ripley’s could put it on display at its Hollywood location on Memorial Day weekend. She visited it there on May 26 too. Despite the outcry over the Jean Louis gown, Kardashian — apparently styling herself as a modern-day Monroe who will go to great lengths to preserve her own appearance — proudly wore another historic Monroe dress days later.

On Friday, the beauty mogul and reality TV star posted on Instagram that she donned another historic Monroe gown — from when the fallen star attended the 1962 Golden Globes — to a private celebration after Monday’s Met Gala.

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The beauty mogul said that in her quest to find the “Happy Birthday, Mr. President” Jean Louis gown, she’d not only come across the dress Monroe wore to the 1962 Golden Globes but also learned that the owner of Monroe’s Golden Globe Award was a friend, floral designer Jeff Leatham.

“I saw this all as a sign the way that all of the stars aligned. It will forever be one of the greatest privileges of my life to be able to channel my inner Marilyn in this way, on such a special night,” Kardashian wrote on Instagram after wearing the two gowns.

“That era is gone and yet that is the dress that survives to remind us of that time and to take us back,” Jones said. “Now we have to move forward with Kim Kardashian as part of that dress — for what reason? There is no respect for damaging cultural icons — whether they’re a dress, whether they’re a document, whether it’s a building — because the damage can never be repaired and it’s now something that future historians, future conservators, future viewers will see. And that’s something that didn’t need to happen.”


It’s unclear whether the dress controversy will be touched on in “The Kardashians” docuseries on Hulu. Representatives for the streaming service did not immediately respond to The Times’ request for comment.