The Trick to Marilyn Monroe’s Makeup Routine

“You don’t just wake up in the morning and wash your face and comb your hair and go out and look like Marilyn Monroe. She knew every trick of the beauty trade.” —Milton H. Greene, photographer.

Every time we see Marilyn on film, whether it’s in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes or Some Like It Hot (or even Michelle Williams as the timeless ’50s beauty in My Week With Marilyn), a little wistful thinking goes on. Just looking at Norma Jean kind of makes us want to amp up our beauty routine, even though none of us have time for that level of primping and polishing. (Marilyn spent so much time with her makeup artist, Allan Snyder aka “Whitey,” the two were practically family—he was even one of the pallbearers at her funeral.) However, there are some reasonably easy “tricks of the trade” to take away from Monroe’s classic “bombshell” look.

We all knew a lot of work went into Marilyn Monroe’s (three-hour) makeup routine, but makeup artist Lisa Eldridge really spells it out for us in the video above. While our pores are clogging just thinking about caking that amount of product on our skin, there are a couple of helpful lessons to be learned from the whole elaborate process:

1. The Eyeshadow Trick: One of the main aspects of Monroe’s makeup regime was the little bit of shading along the socket line to give depth to her eyes. As Laren Stover explains in her hilarious tome, The Bombshell Manual of Style: “Bombshells have been know to emulate what Marilyn Monroe called “the Garbo eye,” using a white shadow under the brow and shaping the lip with a bruised, natural-looking blend of blue and smoke, never flattening brown.” One of Whitey’s big tricks was to draw a line under her eyes to look like a shadow from the weight of her lashes. To further enhance this illusion, he used a white pencil in between the two lines and along the waterline and a dot of red at each inner corner to emphasize the white. We may not want a full-on cat eye every time we leave the house, but a little sweep of liner and subtle shadowing is a trick us contemporary bombshells can get on board with.

2. Dewy skin is healthy-looking skin. We’re definitely not about to slather Vaseline all over our faces (especially given how bad petroleum jelly is for the skin). However, the real takeaway is that proper exfoliation and moisturizing is really the basis for any clean, fresh look.

3. Know your optical illusions: Marilyn’s heart-shaped face didn’t come about naturally. Whitey shaded Monroe’s nose (especially the sides and tip) for a shorter, slimmer appearance. He also used blush above and in between her eyebrows, highlighter on the center of her nose and inner cheeks, and white powder on the center of her lower lip to add the desired dimension to her face.

4. It’s all about the brows: Thick eyebrows have definitely been a recurring theme this season. Whether you prefer Cara Delevingne’s bushy-yet-manicured “natural” look or, like the quintessential bombshell, you prefer well-shaped, well-endowed eyebrows with an “expressive, poignant arch,” well-maintained brows frame the face and highlight your features.

5. Attitude is everything: “Sex appeal,” said Dorothy Dandridge, another famous leading lady, “doesn’t depend entirely on physical attributes; it’s a kind of vitality and energy.” Wise, comforting words for those among us who don’t feel like bothering with makeup.