From the bee-stung red lips to her trademark platinum curls, Marilyn Monroe was – and still is – the ultimate bombshell and beauty icon, who had a penchant for glamour that resonates with so many of us today. As the Marilyn biopic Blonde divides opinion on Netflix, British Vogue takes a look at the star’s Old Hollywood beauty routine.
She stayed out of the sun
“I’m personally opposed to a deep tan because I like to feel blonde all over,” explained Monroe of why she stayed out of the sun – despite the fact it was in “vogue in California”. Forget the bronzers and fake tans many of us swear by today, she was all about the alabaster look.
She liked a very specific shade of blonde
If you’ve ever wondered what hair hue Monroe requested when she graced the colourist’s chair, you probably wouldn’t guess it was “pillow case white”. According to the author Pamela Keogh, Monroe had her hair bleached every three weeks with a roster of hairstylists including Pearl Porterfield (who also tended to Jean Harlow’s pale blonde hair) and Kenneth Battelle. To avoid washing it too much (which can affect the colour), she swore by a makeshift dry shampoo – Johnson’s Baby Powder – applying every two days to keep her hair looking fresh.
A nifty make-up artist’s trick for plump lips
How to create the full, pouty lips Marilyn was so well known for? A clever use of lipsticks, no less. Her make-up artist would apply up to five different red hues – darker, plummy reds on the outside, and lighter towards the inside – to create the illusion of dimension and plumpness. A clever tip that many make-up artists still use today.
She knew the importance of sleep
A woman who enjoyed her sleep, Monroe took between five and 10 hours of shut-eye a night in a wide single bed. On Sunday? “[It’s] my one day of total leisure. I sometimes take two hours to wake up, luxuriating in every last moment of drowsiness,” she said in an interview with Pageant magazine.
What she wore to bed
Monroe famously didn’t wear clothes to bed, stating that pyjamas and “creepy nightgowns” disturbed her sleep. What she did wear, however, was five drops of Chanel No.5, a perfume that she is also said to have added into her ice baths.
Yes… ice baths
While Wim Hof and numerous athletes have since popularised ice-cold showers and baths, Marilyn was well ahead of the curve. It is said that she used to take ice-cold baths to keep her skin firm and tight.
How she looked after her skin
Monroe joined the likes of Audrey Hepburn in regularly seeing Hungarian dermatologist, Erno Laszlo. Suffering from dry skin (she is rumoured to have obsessively washed her face up to five times a day to ward off breakouts), Laszlo prescribed the actress a rigorous skincare routine, which differed depending on the time of day and occasion. Her evening skincare routine began with an oil cleanse, using the Erno Laszlo Active Phelityl Oil, then she applied the Active Phelityl Cream and washed it off. She finished with the Controlling Lotion. All of these products are still available today.
Get the Monroe glow
While today we go wild for highlighter, Monroe got her glow in another, perhaps less tempting, way. Deploying the K-beauty trend for “slugging”, she would apply layers of Vaseline under her foundation to help skin catch the light. She was also a fan of cold cream, like Pond’s, and other iconic products we still use today, including Elizabeth Arden’s Eight Hour Cream and Nivea Creme, and even olive oil, which she also reportedly applied to her skin to offset dryness.
She wasn’t a natural exercise fanatic
“I don’t count rhythmically like the exercise people on the radio; I couldn’t stand exercise if I had to feel regimented about it,” said Monroe about her approach to working out. Many of us will relate. Instead, she enjoyed a “simple bust-firming routine” which involved lifting two, five-pound weights above her head 15 times, moving from a “spread-eagle arm position”. She would do it bedside until she was tired each morning.