As a huge fan of the iconic, blonde bombshell, I felt honored to be able to recreate vintage Marilyn Monroe photos every day for a week. Monroe was one of those seemingly effervescent people, who lit up any room she was in while inspiring masses of people. In the eyes of many, she was Hollywood glamour incarnate. Even though many of her on-screen characters were personifications of blonde stereotypes, there was an authenticity and profoundness to Monroe — characteristics arguably overlooked by the public but that were captured in several iconic photographs.
Personally, I adore all sides of Monroe: The bubbly, vivacious, glamour goddess, the doe-eyed Norma Jeane, and the journal writer who shared her internal battles on paper. As a singer in a vintage girl band, I perform a couple of her most renowned songs and always try to channel her playful performances. When I put on my full-length, sparkly sequin dress and white gloves to accompany a full face of makeup and retro-inspired hair, I feel her confidence surging through me.
The lesser-known sides of Marilyn were documented through vintage photographs. So I wanted to delve deeper into the other aspects of her life by recreating some of my favorite shots in the hopes of learning more about the woman behind the screen. Here's what I discovered.
To start the week, I chose to recreate this photograph of Monroe under the sheets. She's sporting an unsure expression and looks incredibly vulnerable, as though she is trying to cover herself up. I didn't fully nail her expression, but I think I got her bed head hair pretty on point. If anything, mine was probably a little too bedraggled.
IMO, there is something slightly unnerving about Monroe's expression here. It's a far cry from the popular and bubbly persona she is renowned for, often featuring a beaming grin, voluptuous pout, and general cheekiness. Perhaps the photographer was trying to show a different side of Marilyn Monroe, or capture the "real" Marilyn. Regardless, I felt a strange sense of intimateness with the late actor and singer when recreating this vulnerable shot.
This is definitely a more classic Marilyn Monroe image. However, it's difficult to decipher whether this was an actual reaction to something or an acting shot. It's worth mentioning that there was no way I was going to get my thick, long locks into a short, curled bob without the help of a professional hairdresser. Instead, I tried to style mine into similar but long looks throughout the experiment.
Here, Monroe wore a slicked-back style that was a different take on her usually fluffy curls. She had a little volume on top, so I tried to recreate that. Monroe doesn't appear to be wearing much makeup, so I opted for a minimal beauty look and I sported a faux fur shrug in an effort to copy her trim.
I love how she managed to make a shocked expression look effortlessly beautiful. I'm not going to lie: I struggled with trying to pull a perfect face that was surprised without looking outraged. This was my best shot out of numerous attempts.
I adore this photo of Monroe because it feels so relatable. It captures how many of us feel when we're procrastinating exercise. Or post-workout when we're too exhausted to move. I put my own modern spin on this image by wearing a sports crop top instead of what I presume to be a costume-style bikini top, purely because I thought this was a more realistic representation of today's modern women.
However, in my haste to get into this unusual position before my camera timer expired, I missed out her cheeky grin — the finishing touch that set the tone of this photo. I love that she wasn't afraid of looking a little silly when having her picture taken. In a contemporary world full of selfies, in which people are often trying to find their most "flattering" angle, this was super refreshing to come across.
I love how engrossed Monroe looked in this off-duty-style photo. She appeared to be reading a manuscript or perhaps learning her lines while dressed in comfy slacks, which were a million miles away from the decadent ball gowns and glittering apparel she famously sported.
I put on my comfiest tee and sweatpants and flicked through a wedding magazine. Although I've not quite nailed Monroe's position — mostly due to my chair being a different style — I believe I've channeled a similar laid back aesthetic. And I felt genuinely laid back while doing it.
I picked this photo because I loved Monroe's sparkling dress juxtaposed against her vacant expression. Whenever she dressed up to the nines and was captured in a photograph, Monroe's expression and pose usually seemed to be full-on pinup girl, with beaming, pouting, or sultry poses. It was very odd to stumble across this image — one that I think speaks a thousand words about the realities of being a celebrity. The lifestyle simply isn't all Hollywood smiles, parties, and fun.
According to The Museum Of Modern Art (MoMA), photographer Richard Avedon took this photo during a lull in a portrait shoot with the starlet. As reported by the MoMa, Avedon has said, “For hours she danced and sang and flirted and did this thing that’s — she did Marilyn Monroe. And then there was the inevitable drop. And when the night was over and the white wine was over and the dancing was over, she sat in the corner like a child, with everything gone. I saw her sitting quietly without expression on her face, and I walked towards her but I wouldn’t photograph her without her knowledge of it. And as I came with the camera, I saw that she was not saying no.” This feels like a more genuine representation of Monroe and I adore it.
On Saturday I was performing with my band, so I picked a photo of Monroe that I could incorporate into my schedule. I love how effortlessly chic she looked here, even in her smart/casual attire. There were no sequins to be seen, but she still looked as gorgeous as when she was glittering from head to toe.
I'd like to wear this look every day if I could, but unfortunately I wouldn't have a chance in hell in trying to emulate this elaborate up-do on my own. I had to enlist the help of my friend and band mate for this one. It would seem that I might have to stick to Hollywood starlet-inspired makeup for now.
As a girl from Yorkshire — a county in England where people adore tea — I couldn't resist recreating this picture. With it being Sunday, I was loving the laid back luxe vibes of the photo, featuring Monroe in her robe or casual wrap top.
So I donned my robe and pretended that I was backstage sipping my tea, as I imagine the actor was in this moment. I love how chilled she appeared, and I thought this showed yet another side to her personality. Like all women, she was a multi-faceted human.
It was honestly a pleasure to be able to recreate some of Monroe's lesser known photos — all of which I felt portrayed the many different aspects of her personality and style. This experiment helped me realize that although she was undoubtedly one of the most glamorous women in history, she was also one of the most down to earth. At the end of the day, Monroe was just an ordinary gal thrown into extraordinary circumstances.
And that is precisely the allure of Marilyn Monroe: The multi-faceted personality that is emblematic of the many facets of womanhood. She was a sparkling glamour girl who loved getting dressed up for special occasions. But she was also a laid back, casual babe in her downtime. If there's anything I learned after recreating her images for a week, it's that nobody is one-dimensional. No matter how they might be portrayed in media.
This experiment also taught me to embrace my natural beauty in my downtime and when the opportunity presents itself, but also to channel my inner bombshell and become a sparkling version of myself should I feel inclined. In the meantime, you can catch me chilling in my robe and comfy slacks because one cannot wear sequins and diamonds all the time.
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Images: Phoebe Waller