Marilyn Monroe evening dress sells for $254,000 at Julien's

Dress sells for 5x estimates as demand for actress' memorabilia remains sky-high

Cover Image for Marilyn Monroe evening dress sells for $254,000 at Julien's
Marilyn Monroe wore the dress to an event with then-husband Joe DiMaggio, left. (Credit: Julien's Auctions)

An evening dress belonging to Marilyn Monroe sold for $254,000 against a $50,000 high estimate Thursday at Julien’s, highlighting the jam-packed auction of more than 1,200 lots.

The auction was heavy on movie props, such as an animatronic "E.T." and a production-used covenant from “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”

Considering the price tag, the dress isn’t exactly the most historically significant Monroe piece. She was photographed when she wore it to an event with Joe DiMaggio hosted by Bob Hope, though, all things considered, it’s not one of Monroe’s more intriguing dresses.

Yet, the astronomical price is not an anomaly. Monroe is a singular figure and has grown into the ultimate collectible celebrity.


'One of the most famous stars in Hollywood's history'

When Monroe died at the age of just 36, the New York Times called her “one of the most famous stars in Hollywood's history.”

That was in 1962.

Julien's has a long history of selling Monroe's gowns and memorabilia. (Credit: Julien's Auctions)
Julien's has a long history of selling Monroe's gowns and memorabilia. (Credit: Julien's Auctions)

It has been more than 60 years, and that assessment continues to be proven over and over again, not only in her cultural relevancy, but also, and perhaps most significantly, in the voracious appetite for her memorabilia.

In 2022, Kim Kardashian approached Darren Julien, co-founder of Julien’s auctions, and asked him to help her “borrow” Monroe’s famous dress she wore on the evening she serenaded President John F. Kennedy, according to the New Yorker.

Julien, who had sold the dress in 2016 for a record $4.81 million, was able to convince the owner ("Ripley’s Believe It or Not" museum) to lend it out for the event. Kardashian only wore the dress for a few minutes, posing for photos on the steps of the museum before changing into a replica for the rest of the evening.

Kardashian received plenty of blowback.

Costume designer Bob Mackie, who drew the design for the dress in 1962, told Entertainment Weekly, "It was designed for (Monroe). Nobody else should be seen in that dress.”

Dr. Justine De Young, a professor of fashion history at the Fashion Institute of Technology told People Magazine, "Such an iconic piece of American history should not be put at risk of damage just for an ego-boost and photo-op.”

But regardless of how one feels about Kardashian wearing the iconic dress, the entire incident — a modern-day celebrity seeking out the dress, and contemporary society reacting with such intensity — is evidence of Monroe’s enduring fame and stature.

While the nation’s love affair with Monroe has held steady since the 1950s, her collectible appeal was born on a fall evening at Rockefeller Center in 1999. That was when Christie’s sold the actress’ possessions for the first time after years of legal disputes over her estate.

The star of the evening was the “Happy Birthday” dress later borrowed by Kardashian, which sold at the time for $1.267 million. Hammer prices exceeded estimates by orders of magnitude. Her wedding band from her marriage to DiMaggio topped $700,000 against a high estimate of $40,000. Tommy Hilfiger bought multiple items worn by Monroe in films for a total sum far exceeding $100,000.

Suddenly, Monroe was a stalwart of the memorabilia world, and there was enough supply to fuel demand.

The big money has always been in her dresses, such as the one she wore in the film “Seven Year Itch,” which produced the indelible image of Monroe’s dress billowing above a subway grate. It sold for $4.6 million in 2011. The same auction saw a gown worn in “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” sell for $1.47 million, and multiple other dresses fetch over $400,000.

Plenty of other Monroe items have caught the eyes of collectors as well. Her autograph on a plain piece of paper fetches more than $5,000.

For the extremely few number of signed photos, prices rival nearly anyone else’s. Anything connecting her to DiMaggio commands a premium, such as the baseball, signed by both of them, which sold for $384,000 in 2021. The sole known example of a Monroe photo inscribed by her to DiMaggio sold for $300,000 in 2022.

Julien’s is by far the leader in Monroe memorabilia, both in the realms of her beloved dresses as well as the niche, weird and sometimes morbid.

The auction house has sold Monroe’s grave-marker ($212,500), her junior-high diploma ($33,280) and an X-ray of her chest ($25,000), among plenty of other oddities.

Since the Christie’s auction in 1999, Monroe has not merely become a sought-after celebrity for collectors, but her market continues to grow in value and popularity over the years.

Today, auction houses place Monroe items at the top of priority lists when seeking out items from consignment, not just because of the value, but also the headlines she still manages to generate all these years later.

Will Stern is a reporter and editor for cllct.