ICOM International Committee for Museums and Collections of Costume, Fashion and Textiles

All news

May 11, 2022

About the use of a historic dress that belonged to Marilyn Monroe

09th May 2022,

In the light of recent events, where a dress that belonged to Marilyn Monroe was used by a celebrity in a public event, ICOM Costume has been discussing the topic, and would like to share the following statement. Historic garments should not be worn by anybody, public or private figures.

ICOM (International Council of Museums) has a Code of Ethics for Museums, which sets minimum professional standards and encourages the recognition of values shared by the international museum community. Although not every museum is a part of ICOM, its rules and suggestions of best practices are recognized and respected by many institutions worldwide.The ICOM Costume Committee reunites world’s museum professionals and historians to explore all aspects of presenting, preserving, researching and collecting apparel. It has developed Guidelines, to provide a quick reference for curators and museums to work properly with garments. If you want to read the full Guidelines please go to this link

These guidelines indicate that in order to take good care of a piece, it should be handled as little as possible; it should be not washed or cleaned by anyone except a trained conservator, it must be handled with cotton gloves and without any perfume, skincare or make up on, and jewelry should not be worn to avoid catching on any loose threads. Costume requires trained personnel for handling, and special observations related to light, humidity and temperature levels should be respected. Also photographic lighting and photographic flashes must be avoided. Related to conservation, the most important notion is “Prevention is better than cure. Wrong treatment will destroy an object forever.”

About this particular situation, the dress that belonged to Marilyn Monroe was custom made by French designer Jean Louis in the colour to match her skin tone, it was sewn on her before she went to the event where she sung Happy Birthday for then US President John F. Kennedy in 1962. She didn’t use any underwear to give a more vivid sensation that she was naked. The material is soufflé silk, which is no longer available, so it’s irreplaceable.

Although the dress belongs to a private collection, the heritage must be understood as belonging to humanity, regardless of which institution has custody of the property. As museum professionals, we strongly recommend all museums to avoid lending historic garments to be worn, as they are artifacts of the material culture of its time, and they must be kept preserved for future generations.