The dress worn by Marilyn Monroe when she sang Happy Birthday to John F Kennedy has sold for a world-record price of $4.8 million ($6.8 million) at auction.

The sheer tulle design, scattered with tiny crystals, was worn by Monroe on May 19 1962 as she performed for President Kennedy before his 40th birthday.

It was an instant sensation and paved the way for "naked" dresses, which are still popular today with celebrities such as Kim Kardashian and Beyonce.

Monroe's dress was bought by Ripley's Believe It Or Not Museum for a total surpassing the previous record, for Monroe's white dress from The Seven Year Itch which went for $4.7 million in 2011.

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Edward Meyer, the vice-president of Ripley's Believe It Or Not, said: "We believe this is the most iconic piece of pop culture that there is. In the 20th century I cannot think of one single item that tells the story of the 1960s as well as this." The auction is part of a year of celebrations for what would have been Monroe's 90th birthday.

The dress was sold by a New York collector who bought it in 1999 for about $1.26 million.

"It's the most historic, important piece of Marilyn Monroe that could ever be offered - it's like the holy grail," said Darren Julien, chief executive of Julien's Auctions.