Marilyn snuggles against a cool morning on the beach at Santa Monica in the summer of 1962 for photographer George Barris. The sweater is a self-belted cream wool bulky knit cardigan embellished with a bold brown geometric pattern at the collar, across the center, and at the cuffs.
The prior February, Marilyn and her housekeeper Eunice Murray were shopping in Toluca, Mexico for furnishings for Monroe’s new Brentwood home. In 1975 Murray recalled that Marilyn noticed a stack of the sweaters in a little shop where they were handmade and said, “I can wear these on chilly mornings when I have to leave the house early.”
The Barris photos of Monroe in the sweater weren’t published until Norman Mailer included one in his popular book on Marilyn in 1972. When Marilyn’s fans saw the Barris photos they became fascinated by the sweater. They tracked down the maker and began ordering so many that he had to hire extra help. Because it tied like a bathrobe, the sweater could be worn by members of either sex and this, coupled with its cheap price, made a hugely popular import within a couple of years. Several Mexican firms began producing versions. By the mid-’70s, it was a ubiquitous fashion among young people, who wore the sweater over T-shirts and funky jeans. It remained a wardrobe staple until the early ’80s. A variation of the sweater was worn by Paul Michael Glaser in the hit TV series Starsky and Hutch. With her whimsical sense of humor and democratic social views, Marilyn would surely have enjoyed the fact that she instigated this unexpected fashion craze, not for a glamorous Hollywood creation, but for an inexpensive shmatte that could be worn by anyone.