Marilyn Monroe was not a size 12: can we put this myth to bed now?

It has been a slow crawl for the doll. In the 50s and even the 70s – the 60s were a tentative audition for today – a size 12, with hips and breasts, could make it on to a billboard or into a movie. Marilyn Monroe, Jane Russell, Ava Gardner – all had flesh and interesting faces and imperfections. Russell\’s eyebrows looked like draft excluders and Gardner had a cleft chin you could topple into. They looked like individuals. No more. Models and actresses are tiny now, and curiously similar, with every trace of fat melted off, every shadow painted out.

I\’m sorry but she just wasn\’t. From the recent auction of her dresses:

Sharing a rotating mirrored platform with Hedy Lamarr’s peacock gown from “Samson and Delilah” and Kim Novak’s rhinestone- fringed show dress from “Jeanne Eagels,” Monroe’s costume was displayed on a mannequin that had been carved down from a standard size 2 to accommodate the tiny waist. Even then, the zipper could not entirely close.

But that’s just one dress. Perhaps the star was having a skinny day. To check, you could look across the room and see that Monroe’s red-sequined show dress from “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” was at least as petite, as were the saloon costume from “River of No Return” and the tropical “Heat Wave” outfit from “There’s No Business Like Show Business.”

Half a Person

In fact, the average waist measurement of the four Monroe dresses was a mere 22 inches, according to Lisa Urban, the Hollywood consultant who dressed the mannequins and took measurements for me. Even Monroe’s bust was a modest 34 inches.

That’s not an anecdote. That’s data.

The other actresses’ costumes provided further context. “It’s like half a person,” marveled a visitor at the sight of Claudette Colbert’s gold-lame “Cleopatra” gown (waist 18 inches). “That waist is the size of my thigh,” said a tall, slim man, looking at Carole Lombard’s dress from “No Man of Her Own” (a slight exaggeration — it was 21 inches). Approaching Katharine Hepburn’s “Mary of Scotlandcostumes, a plump woman declared with a mixture of envy and disgust, “Another skinny one.”

An American 2 is a British 6, a zero a 4.

It just ain\’t true that Monroe was Sophie Dahl sized. Can we finally kill this one?

9 thoughts on “Marilyn Monroe was not a size 12: can we put this myth to bed now?”

  1. As noted in the comments on the linked article, in those days girdles were commonly worn. A (modern UK/50’s US) size 6 with a girdle would be size 8 or 10 without?

    Also, Sophie Dahl lost a lot of weight after her first couple of years modelling; she’s now apparently a (modern) US size 6:
    – as well as being 5’11” tall.

  2. She might’ve been a 16 at her heaviest, but I’ve heard that she was a size 12 on average, and the waist for size 12 was around 26 inches give or take back then; therefore, a 16 would’ve been small as well

  3. I just saw an old episode of Dr. Oz where they clear up the whole vanity sizing issue. Interesting that they chose Marilyn as an example of a size 12 (US) and used her waist measurement as a standard to measure a current size 12 (US).

    According to a professional designer and pattern maker the US size 12 has changed from having a 26″ waist in the 50’s, to 28″ in the 70’s, 33″ in the 80’s, and currently a US size 12 would fit a 36″ waist. But those aren’t standard sizes by any means, it depends on the brand really. It’s a stretch to say that at 5’5″ and 117 lbs, with a 25-26″ waist Marilyn would be a size 12. Dress size doesn’t even mean anything anymore anyway.

    Just to put it into a little more perspective, I’m 5’5″ also and have a 25″ waist (but about 15 lbs lighter than Marilyn) and I wear a US size 0, but can rarely find a dress that fits off the rack.

    (I’m sized out of a lot of brands because of vanity sizing. It gets worse every year. I’ve stayed about the same weight since high school and went from wearing size 8 jeans in 1995 to size 0-2 today?)

  4. To be honest her hips are curvy which is great, she was sexy and slim or not fat by any means, but hip wise she would obviously be a 12-14 UK size by today’s standards, or an American 8-10 US size by today’s standards, not more but not less. Certainly not a US 6 and definitely NOT a UK 6 size! She wasn’t fat by any means – but she wasn’t as slim as you’re trying to make her out to be- particularly round the hips when she was at her heaviest. She was great looking but not a US 6 in today’s clothes, so please keep it real, peace!

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