All images from Harper's Bazaar.
On September 15, 1955, Marilyn Monroe stood above a New York City subway grate wearing a white dress while filming The Seven-Year Itch. As a train passed underground, her dress blew upwards, with Marilyn flirtatiously trying to keep it down. While the moment only lasted a couple of seconds on film, it became one of the most iconic scenes in movie history—and that little white number is now one of the most famous dresses of all time.
The scene itself was shot a total of 14 times on-location in New York City on the corner of Lexington Avenue and 52nd Street. Dozens of male photographers and thousands of spectators were present for the history-making moment. However, none of those takes were ultimately used in the movie, since the noise from the crowds rendered each one unusable.
As far as the dress goes, designer William Travilla created the costume for the star (he also designed Marilyn's outfits in several other films, including the pink dress from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes). Even though William didn't think much of the white dress (he once called it "that silly little dress"), the gown has been celebrated for generations. Following William's death in 1990, his costume sketch for the gown sold for $50,000.
So whatever happened to the famous frock itself? It was actually purchased by actress Debbie Reynolds in 1971 for $200, and she added it to her robust movie costume and prop collection. "It has become ecru, because as you know it is very, very old now," she once told Oprah Winfrey.
In June 2011, Debbie put much of her collection up for auction, including the white cocktail dress. It was purchased for $5.52 million, the most money ever paid for a movie costume. The winning bid was made over the phone, and the dress is now part of a private collection—the mysterious owner has remained unidentified.
The last time the dress was seen in public was in October 2012, for the "Hollywood Costume" exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. The last-minute addition was made possible by another actress, Meryl Streep.
The exhibition's curator happened to tell Meryl that she was hoping to add Eliza Doolittle's Ascot dress from My Fair Lady to the show. Meryl claimed she knew the dress's current owner, and helped the curator track her down. But it turned out the woman didn't have the Ascot number, but she did, in fact, own Marilyn's iconic costume. She agreed to loan the gown to the exhibit, and just like that, it made its way to London, into the spotlight once again.