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  • Writer's pictureBy Panthea Vine

The Art of Glamour #6 - Marilyn Monroe's Make-up


Marilyn Monroe's Make-up
Marilyn Monroe

No one epitomises the glamour of the golden age of Hollywood more than Marilyn Monroe - a beauty icon who, nearly 60 years after her death, is still considered the apotheosis of the Blonde Bombshell.


Young Marilyn Monroe
Image: Wikimedia Commons

She didn’t start off as such. The young Norma Jeane, possessed of an unknowing prettiness, had to be completely reinvented to become Marilyn Monroe, the luminescent goddess.


An instrumental part of this process was, of course, the make-up.

‘Beneath the makeup and behind the smile I am just a girl who wishes for the world.’
- Marilyn Monroe

Marilyn Monroe's and Make-up Artist Alan ‘Whitey’ Snyder

Alan ‘Whitey’ Snyder was the man Monroe turned to, not only for the initial transformation, but also as the make-up artist she would use throughout her career. From preparing her for her first screen test at Twentieth Century Fox to keeping his promise of making her beautiful at her funeral, Whitey was always by her side.


Monroe battled insecurities stemming from flaws, real or imagined, in her appearance, and together with Whitey they would develop an array of innovative beauty techniques.


Transcendent superstar or not, even Monroe suffered from dry skin, and she moisturised religiously. Before starting any base, she would apply generous amounts of Erno Laszlo Active Phelityl Cream, Nivea Crème, and then Vaseline. This was followed with fine layers of foundation; a particular favourite was Anita d’Foged’s (now Anita of Denmark) Day Dew foundation in Ivory Medium, which was lightly powdered until a perfect, radiant complexion was achieved.


‘Whitey showed me how to put a base on so thinly, blend it so delicately, and shade it so subtly that it was hard to tell the difference between cosmetics and my own skin.’
- Joan Collins

Another aspect of herself Monroe was self-conscious about was her forehead, which she believed to be too long. In came Whitey to the rescue. He defined her eyebrows into pointed, triangular shapes, and emphasised them in a more central arch. He then highlighted parts of her forehead and used contouring techniques under her cheekbones and chin, narrowing the jaw and slimming her lower face, the effect of which was a more heart-shape look.


While today darker shades are the norm for contouring, Whitey chose youthful shades of pink and coral. It was these colours he used to shape Monroe's nose, which she considered too ‘bulbous’. Whitey would work his magic and leave it looking smaller and more defined.


Marilyn Monroe's Make-up
Image: Wikimedia Commons

As for Monroe's sensual, heavy-lidded 'bedroom eyes,' which was a look inspired, it should be noted, by Greta Garbo, Whitey would replicate the 'Garbo eye' by first dusting a brilliant-white powder shadow up from her eyelid to brow bone.


Greta Garbo Eye, Marilyn Monroe's Make-up
Greta Garbo - Image: Wikimedia Commons

Then, using a darker shade, he would blend into the crease, creating an almost theatrical, deep-set appearance. Next came a pearl-white applied to the inner corners, the effect of which was to enlarge the eyes. The finishing element was akin to an Old Master glazing his work, with Whitey brushing on a light coat of Vaseline or coconut oil over the lids.


The application of eyeliner was also complex. It began with a soft brown kohl eye pencil to line her upper eyelids: starting from the inner corners and extending out into wings that lengthened and widened her eyes. A tiny false shadow was added on the end of her bottom lash-line, a clever trick that led admirers to think her eyelashes were so long they cast shadows.


Another trick they employed, this time for a ‘doe eyed’ effect, was to draw small white triangles at the outer corners of her eyes, in the gap left intentionally open between the top and bottom eyeliner. False eyelashes were then cut in two and attached to the outer corners only. Finally a tiny red dot was applied to the tear ducts, creating a bold contrast that enhanced the whites.


Marilyn Monroe's Make-up Secrets
Image: Wikimedia Commons

One of Monroe’s lesser-known beauty secrets was that she embraced her downy facial hair or 'peach fuzz', which was the result of her using a hormone cream. The studio asked her to remove it, but she felt it enhanced her looks under the harsh studio lights, giving her face a soft radiant glow.


Of course, who is Marilyn Monroe in the eyes of the millions who have fallen under her spell over the years without those poetic lips. That is, the perfect poetic artistry created by Whitey Synder. He used five different shades of red lipstick: darker reds on the outer corners, lighter shades in the middle. Once he was happy with the colour gradient, he would then add a highlight to bring out the Cupid’s bow and also to the centre of the bottom lip to add dimension. Next came a special ‘gloss’ mixed by Marilyn and Whitey, which was thought to contain beeswax and vegetable wax.


‘You don’t just wake up in the morning and wash your face and comb your hair and go out looking like Marilyn Monroe - she knew every trick in the book’
- Milton Green

For many, no other celebrity has exuded the same spellbinding luminous quality as Marilyn Monroe. We mere mortals can but strive to recreate a touch of this radiance, using Laszlo’s potions and what we know of Whitey’s techniques. And of course a humble pot of Vaseline.


Marilyn Monroe's make-up products...








The Art of Glamour, the style and beauty secrets of Hollywood's golden age


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