Meet Your New Style Icon: Marilyn Monroe, Circa Her College Years

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The show notes for Max Mara’s fall 2015 collection taught me something I didn’t know: that Marilyn Monroe attended college classes (and loved reading, leaving behind a 400-book library when she died). The above snap of Marilyn is from a 1950 photo shoot in the backyard of a Hollywood agent, one of the years right before her career really took off, and, according to The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe by J. Randy Taraborrelli, a time period when she was taking literature classes at UCLA.

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The majority of photos we’ve all seen of Marilyn are either movie stills or promotional pics and they all play to her sex-bomb persona. There’s a whole other strata of her personal style though—less documented but worth paying attention to—where she’s off the clock and wearing classic basics that are less curve-hugging.

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I dug through a lot of vintage snaps, and these were the most inspiring I saw. If you’re craving more, Life shared images from a shoot 24-year-old Marilyn did when she was still relatively unknown (so much so that the magazine declined to publish them). Her clothes, monogrammed shirt included, hinted at that bookish side, as did the photographer’s note that the images were taken when “we’d go out to Griffith Park and she’d read poetry.”

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I’m a big fan of the way the star’s cerebral side has been reinterpreted for now. “Marilyn’s ‘me’ time menswear classics are reinvented…silhouettes are shrunken or maxi-sized,” the Max Mara notes read. “A vision which is brainy, sexy, and modern.” The show opened with Gigi Hadid, a modern-day bombshell of Marilyn caliber, pulling a camel coat around her. Joan Smalls followed in a chunky cardigan sweater that was inspired by one Marilyn wore in an iconic 1962 beach photo shoot, and Lindsey Wixson wore a camel set that turned the sweatshirt into something any sex kitten would covet.

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