This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Wednesday, September 23, 1998

September 23, 1998 - Marilyn Monroe's Dress Size

On occasion, libraries are called upon to decide weighty matters.

Recently a local Rotary newsletter editor who shall remain nameless (except to admit that it was me) stuck in filler material from another newsletter. Among these "odd facts" was the statement that "Marilyn Monroe wore a size 16."

This was promptly challenged by another Rotarian (Jim Watson), who pledged $100 to the club if it could be proved true. He said the only way Marilyn Monroe -- from now on, MM -- could have worn a size 16 was if she were pregnant at the time.

I could quickly dredge up two sources confirming that yes indeed, MM wore size 16. Those sources were: People Magazine (Sept. 29, 1997) and the prestigious New Statesman (July 31, 1998). Moreover, the claim was repeated in a number of web sites, many of which contained remarkably comprehensive information about MM's life.

End of story, right?

Wrong. Just having sources doesn't mean that something is true.

Besides, various other web sites denied it. One site stated (rather authoritatively, I thought) that MM wore a dress size of 12, pants 8, shoes 7AA.

So I combed through some MM biographies. No help there.

One of my magazine articles mentioned that MM's famous white dress of "Seven Year Itch" (the one she was wearing when she stood over the subway grill) was at the Debby Reynolds Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada. There I managed to locate and speak with one Michael Rennie, Manager of the Hollywood Movie Museum, of the Debby Reynolds Private Collection.

This collection boasts 15 MM dresses, all sized differently. According to Rennie, the white dress was a size 8 "in today's sizes." The other dresses range from 4 to 8. "But she was busty," he said. That's a significant comment.

Here's what I can verify from several sources. MM was 5' 5-1/2" tall. Her weight varied from 118 to 140 (during her pregnancy, when "Some Like It Hot" was filmed).

Again according to Rennie and other sources, MM's measurements around 1955-56 really did reach what she herself said should be her epitaph: "Here lies Marilyn Monroe, 38-23-36."

According to the Los Angeles Herald Examiner, she once wore a 36D bra. (Isn't it terrible when a newspaper knows your underwear size?) (And isn't it worse that here I am, repeating it?)

Today, a 5' 5-1/2" woman weighing 140 pounds probably would wear a size 12 dress. A dress chart from 1962 (culled from dress making patterns) shows that anyone with a bust of 38" would wear a size 18 dress. A dress chart from 1976, however, gives the same measurement a size 16.

Dress sizes (for you men out there) are based on bust and hips measurements. Usually, there isn't 10 inches difference between the larger of these measurements and a woman's waist. Because of MM's famed "hourglass figure" (generous bosom and hips, but very slender waist), all of MM's most memorable movie dresses were custom-made. Custom dresses don't really have "sizes."

But, as suggested above, dress sizes have changed over the years. According not only to the charts I cited, but an article quoting Ellen Goldsberry, director of the Southwest Retail Center for Education and Research and a professor of retailing and consumer studies at the University of Arizona, women's clothing sizes are deceptive.
A size 8 dress, for example, would have been a size 12 back in the 1940's, when clothing standards were originally determined. "Over the years manufacturers have added on slightly, then slightly more, to areas of the body where women have gotten larger -- the waist, the hips, and the bust," she said.

According to Goldsberry, "Women feel better about buying dresses in smaller sizes, so the designers figured out that they could please customers by cutting the clothing larger." Dubbed "vanity sizing," this trend has caught on practically everywhere. The article concluded, "The result is that women who weigh a few pounds more than they did a decade ago may actually be purchasing clothing a size smaller -- no matter where they shop, from the classiest boutique to the cheapest discount house."

So what's the answer? Basically, MM did not wear (for most of her career) a dress that would be considered a size 16 today. But since dress sizes have changed by at least two sizes over the past forty years, she might well have worn something considered size 16 in the fifties even when she wasn't pregnant.

So it seems to me that MM both did, and did not, wear a size 16 dress. Reluctantly, I have to conclude that Jim Watson does NOT owe $100 to the club.

And that's the reference business in a nutshell: interesting, informative, but not necessarily quite what you wanted to hear.

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