Marilyn Monroe wore a white dress in the 1955 film The Seven Year Itch, directed by Billy Wilder. The dress was created by costume designer William Travillaand was worn in one of the best-known scenes in the movie. The dress is regarded as an icon of film history and the image of Monroe in the white dress standing above a subway grating blowing the dress up has been described as one of the iconic images of the 20th century.
When the costume designer William Travilla, known simply as Travilla, began working with Marilyn Monroe, he had already won an Oscar for his work in The Adventures of Don Juan in 1948. When Travilla began working with Marilyn in 1952 in Don't Bother to Knock, he was still one of the many costume designers of 20th Century Fox. Travilla designed the clothes of the actress in eight films, and according to his revelation, also had a brief affair. In 1955 he designed the white cocktail dress worn by Marilyn Monroe while his wife Dona Drake was on vacation. It remains his most famous work. According to Hollywood Costume: Glamour! Glitter! Romance! by Dale McConathy and Diana Vreeland, Travilla did not design the dress but actually bought it off the rack (although the costume designer always denied this claim).
In the film, the white dress appears in the sequence in which Marilyn Monroe and co-star Tom Ewell exit the Trans-Lux 52nd Street Theatre, then located at 586 Lexington Avenue in Manhattan, having just watched the 1954 horror film Creature from the Black Lagoon. When they hear a subway train passing below the grate in the sidewalk, Monroe's character steps onto the grate saying "Ooo, do you feel the breeze from the subway?", as the wind blows the dress up exposing her legs. Originally the scene had been scheduled to shoot on the street outside the Trans-Lux at 1:00 am on 15 September 1954. However, the presence of the actress and the movie cameras caught the curiosity of hundreds of fans, so the director Billy Wilder was forced to reshoot the moment on a set at 20th Century Fox. The depiction of Monroe over the grate has been compared to a similar event in the 1901 short film What Happened on Twenty-third Street, New York City. It has also been described as one of the iconic images of the entire 20th century.
After Monroe's death in 1962, Travilla kept the dress locked up with many of the costumes he had made over the years for the actress, to the point that for years there was talk of a "Lost Collection". Only after his own death in 1990, were the clothes put on display by Bill Sarris, a colleague of Travilla. It joined the private collection of Hollywood memorabilia owned by Debbie Reynolds at the Hollywood Motion Picture Museum. During an interview with Oprah Winfrey, speaking of the Monroe dress, Reynolds stated that "[the dress] has become ecru because as you know it is very very old now." In 2011, however, Reynolds announced that she would sell the entire collection at an auction, to be held in stages, the first on 18 June 2011. Before the auction, it was estimated that the dress would sell for a price between $1 and 2 million, but it actually sold for more than $5.6 million ($4.6 million plus a $1 million commission).
The dress is a light-colored ivory cocktail dress in a style which was in vogue in the 1950s and 1960s. The halter-like bodice has a plunging neckline and is made of two pieces of softly pleated fabric that come together behind the neck, leaving the wearer's arms, shoulders and back bare. The halter is attached to a band situated immediately under the breasts. The dress fits closely from there to the natural waistline. A soft and narrow self belt was wrapped around the torso, criss-crossing in front and then tied into a small neat bow at the waist, at the front on the left side. Below the waistband is a softly pleatedskirt which reaches to mid-calf or below the calf length. There is a zipper at the back of the bodice, and tiny buttons at the back of the halter.
Monroe's husband at the time the movie was filmed, Joe DiMaggio, is said to have "hated" the dress, but it is a popular element of Monroe's legacy. In the years following Monroe's death, images of her wearing the white dress were shown in many of the imitations, representations, and posthumous depictions of the actress. It has been emulated even into the 21st century in cinema, worn by Fiona in Shrek 2 (2004), by Amy Poehler in Blades of Glory (2007), and Anna Faris in The House Bunny (2008), among others. In the film The Woman in Red, Kelly LeBrock repeats the same scene, but wearing a red dress.
The fashion web site Glamour.com has classified the dress as one of history's most famous dresses. A similar survey conducted by Cancer Research UK voted the dress number one of all-time iconic celebrity fashion moments.
Anna Nicole Smith appeared a number of times wearing a similar dress and parodied the grate scene.
In July 2011, a 26-foot statue of Monroe created by John Seward Johnson II called Forever Marilyn displays the dress with the pose from The Seven Year Itch and was unveiled at Pioneer Court along Chicago's Magnificent Mile and was intended to remain there until the following spring. It was then moved to Palm Springs, California.