Dorothy’s Ruby Slippers

Ruby Slippers from The Wizard of Oz

Sixteen-year-old Judy Garland (1922–1969) wore these sequined shoes as Dorothy Gale in the 1939 film classic The Wizard of Oz. This fantasy tale about a journey to a magical land was based on the 1900 novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum (1856–1919). The story had previously been made into a cartoon, a stage musical, and several silent motion pictures before MGM created its hit film. In addition to its many other merits, the MGM movie ranks as a milestone in the history of Technicolor because of its extensive color sequences set in the Land of Oz.

In Baum's book, Dorothy's magic slippers are silver; for the movie, they were changed to ruby red to show up more vividly against the yellow-brick road. Created by Gilbert Adrian, MGM Studios’ chief costume designer, they played a central role in the film. In the story, Dorothy obtains them from Glinda, the Good Witch of the North, and kept them from the Wicked Witch of the West in order to get home.

Several pairs of slippers were made for the movie, a common practice with important costumes and props. These shoes are well-worn, suggesting they were Garland's primary pair for dance sequences. The felt on the soles would have muffled her dancing footsteps on the yellow brick road. The shoes are size 5, although the left shoe is marked "5C" and the right shoe is marked "5BC."

The most pervasive and influential form of popular art in the 20th century, American movies reach millions of people around the world and provide imagery that helps shape perceptions of and about Americans. Unlike most films, The Wizard of Oz has endured and even attained greater popularity as it was introduced to new generations of audiences through television. One explanation for the movie's lasting appeal to Americans is its central message: in pursuing what you need, you find that you already have it—an affirmation of the virtue of self-sufficiency.

Since the donation of the slippers in 1979, they have been one of the most popular artifacts at the Smithsonian. They are currently on display in the American Stories exhibition at the National Museum of American History. In the fall of 2016 the Smithsonian launched its second Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign, called “Keep them Ruby.” Its goal was to fund the conservation and display of the Ruby Slippers. The project was very successful and gained more than 6,450 backers.

In April 2017, the slippers will come off display for a significant period of time so that they can be studied, stabilized, and preserved to prevent future deterioration. The last day to see them before they are removed for conservation work is Sunday, April 23, 2017.

Video Features

The Ruby Slippers
Bright red is how we remember them, but Dorothy's famous shoes were originally silver.

The Secret Behind the Sparkle
Take a look behind the scenes to see how the Smithsonian keeps the ruby slippers sparkling in the spotlight.