Marilyn Monroe Invented Revenge Dressing With Her Iconic DiMaggio Divorce Dress

The following article includes allegations of domestic abuse. 

When you hear the word "revenge dress," you probably think of the black off-the-shoulder number that Princess Diana sported after King Charles III (then Prince) admitted to his affair with Camilla Parker-Bowles (now Queen Consort). Princess Di's iconic revenge look made heads turn all over the world, creating an enduring template for women who want to make a statement after a breakup without saying a single word. Yet it was actually another public figure who initiated the trend — Hollywood star Marilyn Monroe. 

Monroe took to wearing all black during her divorce proceedings with Joe DiMaggio, the second of Monroe's three husbands. While announcing the split to the public, she sported a form-fitting zip-front dress that made her look fabulous, even in the face of such unpleasant circumstances. The ensemble, retrospectively dubbed the "DiMaggio Divorce Dress," was captured by dozens of photographers — and thus, its significance in pop culture history was cemented. Read on to learn about its storied past, present, and future.

Fashion played a crucial role in Monroe's divorce

The inciting incident for Marilyn Monroe's divorce with Joe DiMaggio was actually another dress —namely, the white dress she wore in "The Seven Year Itch." In the film's most famous scene, shot in September 1954, Monroe walks over a subway grate in the dress, causing its skirt to billow up. DiMaggio, who was on set the day, was horrified by the scene's sexual undertones, leading him to pick a fight with the actor. The argument didn't come out of nowhere — according to PBS, at least one person, Monroe's actor friend Brad Dexter, could see the turmoil within Monroe and DiMaggio's relationship. Dexter recalled a phone conversation in which Monroe told him that DiMaggio was a jealous and controlling partner: "'I'm extremely unhappy,' she says... 'He doesn't want to know about my business. He doesn't want to know about my work as an actress... He wants to cut me off completely from my whole world of motion pictures, friends, and creative people that I know.'"

When Monroe returned to Los Angeles, DiMaggio got into another fight with Monroe — and this time, he reportedly beat her. Shortly after, in October 1954, Monroe requested a divorce on the grounds of "mental cruelty." Although the process of separation was especially grueling given that Monroe and DiMaggio had been newlyweds, Monroe remained classy and put together throughout the drama. And thus, outfits such as the "DiMaggio Divorce Dress" became symbols of her poise and glamour. 

If you or someone you know is dealing with domestic abuse, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233. You can also find more information, resources, and support at their website.

The legacy of the DiMaggio Divorce Dress has lived on

Even all these decades later, Marilyn Monroe's "DiMaggio Divorce Dress" is remembered as iconic. In 2019, it returned to the spotlight once more when it was auctioned to the highest bidder at GWS Auctions' "Archives of Hollywood & Music" sale. The starting bid was a whopping $20,000 dollars. 

According to Brigitte Kruse, owner and lead auctioneer of GWS Auctions, the dress had been missing for decades when a collector she had worked with for years showed it to her. "With collectors, very often you have to earn their trust. I visited him a couple months ago, and he walked into the room carrying this black dress in a see-through garment bag," she told the Hollywood Reporter. The collector said he would offer her the dress if she guessed who it had originally belonged to in five tries. Marilyn Monroe was her third guess.

As soon as the dress was announced as a part of the auction, potential buyers jumped out of the woodwork. "We've had interest from all over the world," Kruse said. "We had to build a standalone inquiry page for the dress because the response was so phenomenal." It seems that Monroe's strategy worked — she was able to turn a difficult public breakup into a fashion moment that is still talked about today.