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Look of the Week: Was Sydney Sweeney’s Oscars after-party look a subversive nod to Marilyn Monroe?

Editor’s Note: Featuring the good, the bad and the ugly, ‘Look of the Week’ is a regular series dedicated to unpacking the most talked about outfit of the last seven days.

There was something uncanny about Sydney Sweeney’s look at the Vanity Fair Oscars party last night. The wavy ‘lob’ she cut last week had been sheared into a soft, blown-out bob; while her plunging, cream-colored halter-neck dress looked more like it should be wafting over a subway grate than trailing along a red carpet. In short, the 26-year-old actor bore a striking resemblance to Marilyn Monroe.

Of course, Sweeney isn’t the first to try to conjure the likeness of the world’s most famous starlet — Anna Nicole Smith, Kim Kardashian, Madonna, Beyoncé and even James Franco are just a few who have purposefully imitated Monroe’s platinum coiffure and scarlet lips. But the homage paid by the “Anyone But You” star Sunday evening felt more poignant — even if it was unintentional.

Last week, Sweeney made her “Saturday Night Live” hosting debut with a string of jokes centered around her sexualized typecasting, rumors of affairs with co-stars and the size of her chest.

With a sweeping, blown-out bob and plunging halter-neck gown, Sweeney looked more like she should be standing over a subway grate than walking a red carpet. - Danny Moloshok/Reuters
With a sweeping, blown-out bob and plunging halter-neck gown, Sweeney looked more like she should be standing over a subway grate than walking a red carpet. - Danny Moloshok/Reuters

The episode — which included Sweeney appearing as a Hooters waitress in a skit that has already been watched 3.7 million times on YouTube — set in motion a spirited debate online. Were Sweeney’s breasts, as one writer for Canada’s National Post put it, “double-D harbingers of the death of woke”? In other words, by framing Sweeney’s body as a visual punchline, were SNL signalling a swing back towards ogling at and commenting on women’s bodies? “We’ve spent years being chastised for desiring or admiring beauty,” wrote the National Post’s Amy Hamm. “(But) with Sweeney, what it really comes down to is this: Sex sells.”

Since then, it’s been open season for Sydney Sweeney boob jokes, especially in comments under the actor’s Instagram posts. A torrent of reactive opinion pieces have sprung up in response. “Leave Sydney Sweeney’s boobs out of this,” wrote The Cut. “Saturday Night Live did Sydney Sweeney dirty,” read the headline of a Vanity Fair think piece, which likened watching Sweeney’s episode to “watching Barbie before her existential crisis.”

The Marc Bouwer dress was originally worn by Angelina Jolie at the Oscars exactly twenty years ago. - Carlo Allegri/Getty Images
The Marc Bouwer dress was originally worn by Angelina Jolie at the Oscars exactly twenty years ago. - Carlo Allegri/Getty Images

All of which contributes to the affecting nature of Sweeney’s after party look. Was Sweeney’s embodiment of another exploited female actor intended to send a message to the industry? We can’t be sure. But the gown — a satin Marc Bouwer number worn by Angelina Jolie for the Oscars in 2004 — was certainly styled differently on Sweeney, worn with a golden smokey eye and a romantic bob, compared to Jolie’s winged liner and tattoos.

These days, it’s difficult for a reference to Marilyn Monroe to not be read as melancholic. As more of her traumatic history comes to light, Monroe’s starry accomplishments and glittering acting career have in some ways been replaced by the image of a woman hounded and harassed for her body. Even today, biopics dedicated to Monroe have been accused of perpetuating the film star’s exploitation beyond the grave with “trauma porn.” Clothes have been plucked from her wardrobe for museum exhibits, and then plucked from museum exhibits for red carpet events.

The neckline of Sweeney's gown bore a striking resemblance to Monroe's infamous white dress worn in Billy Wilder's 1955 film "The Seven Year Itch." - United Archives GmbH/Alamy
The neckline of Sweeney's gown bore a striking resemblance to Monroe's infamous white dress worn in Billy Wilder's 1955 film "The Seven Year Itch." - United Archives GmbH/Alamy

The pressure of being considered a “sex symbol” has also been explored by others more recently. “I wasn’t just famous; I was famously sexy,” wrote model and actor Emily Ratajkowski in her debut book “My Body” (2021). “In many ways, I have been undeniably rewarded by capitalizing on my sexuality… But in other, less overt ways, I’ve felt objectified and limited by my position in the world as a so-called sex symbol.”

While few will know how Sweeney truly feels about the cultural conversation swirling around her image since the now-infamous SNL appearance, one can only hope that she’s been in on the joke from the start.

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