About the Wearing of Museum Objects

Before I get started on this post, I want to make it clear that this is not about the two women who have worn this dress, Marilyn Monroe and Kim Kardashian. Your comments are welcome, but I must insist that there be no personal comments about either woman. This is about the dress, not the wearers. Well, not directly at any rate.

If you were on the internet at all yesterday then you know all the brouhaha caused by the presence of this dress on the Met Gala red carpet. The dress belongs to the Ripley’s Believe It or Not company, which runs a chain of “museums” in tourist spots around the world. They bought the dress at auction in 2016 for almost $5,000,000.

According to reports (and there are a lot of conflicting stories, of course) Kardashian approached Ripley’s with the idea of wearing the dress. She traveled to Ripley’s Florida headquarters where she tried on the dress. Ripley’s has released video on their website and on social media showing the Ripley’s crew forcing the dress on Kardashian’s body. The dress lacked about ten inches meeting in the back. It was simply too small. Even after a crash diet and loss of sixteen pounds, the dress would not zip, so Kardashian wore a fur stole or coat to cover the gap.

There are strict museum standards about the care of conservation and preservation of textiles and clothing. Rule #1 is that historic clothing is not worn.

At one time, as recently as the 1970s, wearing clothing in museum collections was not really frowned upon. But conservators knew that it was harmful to the textiles, and so industry standards were written that included the no wearing rule.

At this point I guess that we ought to recognize that Ripley’s Believe It of Not is not truly a group of museums. It’s a for profit tourist attraction. They have a valuable dress and they want to make money from it. And what better way than to put the dress on a famous woman at a famous event, knowing it will stir up a lot of conversation. You see, the dress is slated to go on view at the end of this month in Ripley’s Hollywood location. Now that’s what I call timing!

Ripley’s has gone to great trouble to insist that the dress was not comprised in any way, but their own video tells another story. Just the action of pulling the dress onto a body is enough to strain the delicate fibers of a sheer fabric studded with sparkles.

Ripley’s also took great care to say that Kardashian did not pay them to wear the dress. But the publicity produced by this is greater than gold. They certainly knew this when they agreed to loan the dress. Simply put, a historic garment was endangered all for the sake of a publicity stunt.

The dress is not important simply because it was worn by Marilyn Monroe. It was the context of the wearing, at a celebration for President Kennedy where she sang Happy Birthday to him. The dress symbolized so much about celebrity and politics and, yes, sex, in the 1960s.

And now the recent re-wearing of this dress says so much about what is valued in the 21th century. We live in a world where only a celebrity would be allowed to wear this dress. We live in a world where profit trumps preservation of historic artifacts. And unfortunately, we live in a world where misogynistic comments about the two women who wore the dress ran rampant across the internet. In short, it appears that not much at all has changed since 1962.

I will repeat, ugly comments about the wearers will not be tolerated. The conservation is about the dress and about historic preservation, not about anyone’s worthiness to wear a garment.

24 Comments

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24 responses to “About the Wearing of Museum Objects

  1. “In short, it appears that not much at all has changed since 1962.” Sad but all too true, unfortunately.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Polly

    I remember the original event. My mom watched it on TV and said, “Slinky!” But we all loved Marilyn Monroe and my mom’s comment was more admiring than otherwise.

    Like

  3. Hi
    I thought celebrities did this all the time. How many times have I read so-and-so is wearing vintage Dior, so-and-so is wearing vintage Halston. Are they wearing copies or maybe these are not museum pieces? Perhaps nothing is sacred these days. My husband used to watch that awful show about pawnbrokers in Los Vegas. I would say many objects being bought and sold privately belong in a reputable museum, not someone’s private collection. When non conservators purchase vintage clothing bad things happen I guess. What’s that saying “knowing the price of everything but the value of
    nothing” ? Note that I’m not referring to either woman when I type this. Some might argue that in order to keep public museums funded what happened with that dress is the way forward. I loathe to think that one day the Smithsonian’s pair of Adrian’s ‘painstakingly restored’ ruby slippers might be shoved on to the too large feet of someone famous for a soft drink commercial
    or that the Met would loan out Mainbocher’s Wallis Simpson wedding dress for a a celebrity photoshoot.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Cat B

    It certainly takes away from the mystique of the dress, now that someone else has worn it. What ashame.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. lissaann58

    I really enjoyed this article and learned alot.

    Like

  6. jacq.staubss@yahoo.com

    The event -and it’s organizers/patronage itself bespeaks of the social conditions we are forced to witness in the name of fools gold. The Monroe dress being catapulted onto center stage on its borrower is befittingly appropriate. Your description /history of this dress is spot on. If ever a dress could talk this one screamed!

    Like

  7. Andrea Migliore

    Bob Mackie and the late Jean Louis created this stunning dress for Marilyn Monroe. I would love to hear Mr. Mackie’s thoughts about this.

    Like

  8. Deb C from the UK

    The dress and the value are in the original story, the wearer and the context of when it was worn. To be honest, if I’d not known that the dress had originally been worn by Marilyn Munroe, I’d have dismissed it as just another sheer tube dress. The way it was worn originally, with the shape of the wearer and the undergarments, gave it a very different look and this was a fail for the recent outing. I agree that you don’t pull any garment, new or old to fit someone it is obviously too small for, but especially not one of this age and fabric. I am not sure the dress now being associated with two wearers doesn’t devalue it for me, as from being an item of historical interest it now appears like a dress for hire (albeit not for money but publicity). Interesting post and one that demonstrates the cult of celebrity, which is definitely not something I have much of an interest in other than the damage it can do by projecting unrealistic images; here I am talking about the hype of getting into the dress, losing weight quickly and it actually not fitting then being hidden by a fur wrap!

    Like

  9. It would have been a very easy thing to make a replica.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Which, interestingly enough, they did make. After the red carpet walk Ms. Kardashian changed into the replica. So what exactly was the point? In my opinion, it was to get all the free publicity for the up-coming display of the dress at a Ripley attraction.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. The Met Gala is a freak show. I could not believe the ugliness and vulgarity of 90 percent of what I saw. It was also disturbing to see women parading around half-naked to look “sexy.” There was very little that was beautiful or inspiring. Also what is the point of having a theme? It’s totally ignored. I know these comments are off-topic, but it seems to me the disrespect and profit motive that underlie the abuse of that historic dress are exactly what motivates the Met Gala. They have one of the great repositories of historic clothing in the world and they NEVER display it. It’s always current designers, because of $$$$.

    Like

    • I really don’t have much of an opinion about the Gala, mainly because for the most part, celebrities don’t interest me. But I do strongly agree about how the Met does not show the historic clothing collection to its best advantage. The latest exhibition, or rather part 2 of In America, appears to show more historic clothing. I’m seeing a lot of it on Instagram, and I love how there are mise en scènes set up in the Met’s historic rooms. But read the fine print and you see that a lot of the clothing is borrowed from other collections. What the heck! They have that amazing treasure trove of clothes and yet they are borrowing?

      Like

  11. Sorry to leave a link, could not figure out how to share on IG, Vintage Jantzen buckaroo sweater, you just have to look at it https://www.ebay.com/itm/134105296748?mkcid=16&mkevt=1&mkrid=711-127632-2357-0&ssspo=aDiSkp0JSBK&sssrc=2047675&ssuid=&widget_ver=artemis&media=COPY

    Like

  12. I evidently have been out of the loop! this is an amazing dress and it makes me sick that anyone tried to wear it. Unfortunately, you’re right Lizzie, it’s all about money and access, not even privilege these days. And people are unfortunately, just the same 60 years later …

    Like

  13. lorrelmae

    This lady brings up some other good points, too. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vro6Df57YsQ&ab_channel=AbbyCox

    Like

  14. jacq.staubss@yahoo.com

    HI LIZZIE! HOPE YOU ARE OK? PLEASE LET US KNOW?! XO! Jacq

    Like

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