Dress worn by Marilyn Monroe to serenade JFK goes on display

Dress worn in 1962 arrives by private jet in Newbridge for exhibition before auction

The dress Marilyn Monroe wore in May 1962 when she sang a breathy Happy Birthday to president John F Kennedy at a Democratic fundraiser in New York is on display in Newbridge.

The glittering “skin and beads” dress in soufflé gauze, which arrived in Ireland by private jet on Thursday, will be on display in Newbridge for a week prior to its auction in November. It will be the only public viewing in Europe.

“It is the most important dress of the 20th century because of its historical, political and ultimately tragic associations,” said Martin Nolan, executive director of Julien’s Auctions in Los Angeles, at a private viewing in Dublin.

Affair with Robert Kennedy

A letter from Jean Kennedy Smith confirming the film star's affair with Robert Kennedy will also be on display.


The dress was created by Hollywood costume designer Jean Louis, who had made something similarly seductive for Marlene Dietrich 10 years earlier, and was known for his mastery of artifice. When Monroe, then 36, minced onto the stage in front of an audience of 15,000 in Madison Square Gardens and shrugged off her white fur wrap to reveal a flesh coloured backless gown outlining her hourglass figure, and sparkling with 2,500 rhinestones, the effect was sensational.

It was her last public performance. Three months later she was dead and a year later, so was Kennedy.

Monroe’s belongings were left to Lee Strasberg, director of the Actors Studio, and in 1999 the dress – which originally cost $1,475 – was sold at auction in Christie’s to a financier in New York for $1.26 million, the most ever paid for a single item of personal clothing.

Monroe's daring performance, which scandalised America at the time, seems paradoxically innocent in a modern age when nude bodysuits worn by Beyoncé, Kim Kardashian or Britney Spears no longer make news.

The dress, which is expected to fetch millions when auctioned on November 17th in Los Angeles, will be on display in Newbridge at the Museum of Style Icons (whose associations with Monroe items goes back a decade) from October 29th to Sunday, November 6th.

To book a one-hour guided tour, visit newbridgesilverware.com

Deirdre McQuillan

Deirdre McQuillan

Deirdre McQuillan is Irish Times Fashion Editor, a freelance feature writer and an author