Marilyn Monroe's Iconic "Happy Birthday, Mr. President" Dress

September 2nd, 2023

Marilyn Monroe’s “Happy Birthday, Mr. President” dress, 1962. (Julien’s Auctions)

The most iconic dress of all time was worn by the most iconic woman of all time. This is the story about the famous “Happy Birthday, Mr. President” dress.

Less than three months before Marilyn Monroe passed away in 1962, she performed at Madison Square Garden to salute President John F. Kennedy. The rumours surrounding Monroe and JFK had been going on for a while, and when she was booked to perform during the gala celebration of JFK’s 45th birthday. Monroe sang a sensual version of the classic Happy Birthday song, which later became one of her final public appearances.

Marilyn Monroe sings “Happy Birthday” to President John F. Kennedy at Madison Square Garden, 1962. (Bettmann, Getty Images)

What’s most notable and remembered from JFK’s 45th birthday celebration is arguably Monroe’s performance and, more specifically, her dress. Designed by Jean Louis after a sketch by Bob Mackie, the backless nude-colored dress featured more than 2,500 crystal rhinestones. To say that the dress was custom-made for Monroe would be an understatement. The fact is that Monroe was sewn into the dress just minutes before she headed to the main stage with 15,000 people in the audience.

Bob Mackie artwork of Marilyn Monroe’s “Happy Birthday, Mr. President” dress. (Julien’s Auctions)

When Marilyn Monroe passed away on August 4, 1962, she left all her belongings to her close friend and fellow actor, Lee Strasberg. Fast Forward to 1982, and Lee Strasberg dies and leaves all his belongings, including the one he got from Monroe, to his widow, Anna Strasberg. It wasn’t until 1999 that the Monroe items finally entered the auction block.

Christie’s proudly offered the Marilyn Monroe collection, including some of the most important and iconic items from Monroe’s career. The highlight was arguably lot #55, the 1962 “Happy Birthday, Mr. President dress”, which sold for $1,267,500 – a world record at the time. The dress was purchased by the American stock investor Martin Zweig in 2013, and three years later, the dress was up for auction once again…

Close-up of Marilyn Monroe’s “Happy Birthday, Mr. President” dress, 1962. (Julien’s Auctions)

This time, Beverly Hills-based Julien’s Auctions had the honor of selling the iconic dress. The lot was estimated to sell for $2 to $3 million, but the hammer price ended at $4,810,000! The high selling price made the dress retain the title of the world’s most expensive clothing ever to sell at auction. The highest bidder was none other than the franchise “Ripley’s Believe It or Not!”, which today has 29 museums around the world.

Six years later, after the second sale in 2022, the dress made worldwide headlines when the media personality Kim Kardashian wore the dress during the Met Gala. This made Monroe fans all around the world angry and upset, and there are reports saying that the dress was damaged due to Kardashian wearing it.

Kim Kardashian at The Met Gala wearig Marilyn Monroe’s “Happy Birthday, Mr. President” dress, 2022. (Vouge)

The question is, though – if the dress were to appear at auction for the third time, would it set a new world record for the third time in a row? Only time will tell.

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