October 2010

(Image: Source Unknown)

The pair of ruby slippers on perpetual display in the Popular Culture wing of the National Museum of American History at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC, sometimes referred to as ‘The People’s Shoes’, bear a plaque that reads simply:

Sixteen-year-old Judy Garland wore these sequined shoes as Dorothy Gale in the 1939 film classic The Wizard of Oz. In the original book by L. Frank Baum, Dorothy’s magic slippers are silver. For the Technicolor movie, they were changed to ruby red to show up more vividly against the yellow-brick road. One of several pairs used during filming, these size-five shoes have felt soles, suggesting they were used for dance sequences.

However, this omits a great many fascinating details of this particular pair of slippers. These ruby slippers, like the Arabian pair, were found by costumer Kent Warner, who, according to Rhys Thomas, “presented them to the MGM auction officials saying, ‘Look what I found! The ruby slippers!’ Nothing more. He let the auctioneer, and everyone else, assume they were the one, and only pair” (“Treasure”).

As displayed at the MGM auction (Image: Courtesy of Rhys Thomas)

The shoes are in poor condition, relative to other known pairs, clearly, Thomas believes, well worn by Judy Garland during the production (A&E’s “Treasure”). They are widely believed to be the first, and principal, pair worn during the making of the film and, therefore, were in all likelihood, worn more than any other pair known to exist.

These shoes are, according to Thomas, size 5C, and 5BC, and are, therefore, obviously, not a matching set. “On the white kid [leather] lining of the right shoe, the manufacturer’s number has been stamped 5C 15250; on the lining of the left [shoe] the number is 5C 11869 D536” (221). Importantly, according to Thomas, “the numbers in the right shoe of the pair owned by [Michael] Shaw […] [match] the numbers in the left shoe owned by the Smithsonian Institution,” further, “Shaw’s left shoe […] match[es] the Smithsonian’s right shoe” (225). Thomas’s findings, “clearly suggest[…] the shoes themselves were mixed and matched before the sequined overlays were attached” (225).

Kent Warner, holding the ruby slippers, at the MGM auction (Image: Time Warner / Warner Bros.)

This is particularly apparent given the overlays themselves do not match; while “the Smithsonian overlays are rough and worn[,] Shaw’s overlays [were (as of 2005)] in perfect condition” (225). While “the shoes are basically the same size, they are nevertheless subtly different” (225), with the left possessing an overall sleeker appearance, with a slightly higher heel, and longer toe than the right. They are also noticeably sequined differently, with the left shoe sequined very nicely, while the right is more haphazard, with notable gaps in the stitching exposing a great deal of the underlying georgette.

This ultimately means “that Judy Garland wore a wider shoe on her left foot than on her right for [much of] the production of the movie” (225). This also supports the belief “that the basic ruby slipper – the French heeled pump – was purchased in quantity by either Western Costume or MGM, depending on who [one wants to] believe made the shoes” (225) and after dying the white silk shoes red, the overlays were attached without much regard for properly matching the pairs (225). Such disregard, however, seems to support Aljean Harmetz’s claim that the shoes were made by the costumers at MGM.

(Image: The Costumer's Guide to Movie Costumes)

Harmetz wrote simply, in The Making of the Wizard of Oz, “It was in Mrs. Cluette’s Beading Department that Judy Garland’s ruby slippers were made” (239). Marian Parker, who worked in the Wardrobe Department at MGM in 1938, is quoted as telling Harmetz, “The sequins were on a very fine chiffon” [It is, in reality, silk georgette], “and the beaders were working frantically with their little needles pushing those red sequins onto the shoes. They had hoped to get by with just spraying a leather shoe red, but that didn’t work” (239). Vera Mordaunt, who also worked in the Wardrobe Department, told Harmetz, “The first thing, they painted some shoes with a kind of shiny patent-leather paint. They must have tried five or six ways to make the shoes. I think the final shoes were satin. They were definitely some kind of cloth. The chiffon with the sequins was formed in the shape of a shoe and then sew[n] onto the cloth shoe” (qtd in Harmetz, 239)

The Smithsonian Shoes, as worn by Judy Garland (Image: Time Warner / Warner Bros.)

Thomas believes, and photographs support, that the shoes now in the Smithsonian are, the same slippers auctioned by the David Weisz Co, at MGM, on the same soundstage were Judy Garland once began her trip down the yellow-brick road in Munchkinland, on Sunday, May 17, 1970 (221). While “nobody really expected much action from the frumpy pair of sequined shoes” (“Treasure”) they sold for $15,000 (and the bidder was authorized to pay up to $22,000) (Thomas 26; 40). They instantly became the most valuable piece of Hollywood memorabilia in existence (“Treasure”). The anonymous buyer of the slippers is considered by Smithsonian officials “to be the only link between the museum and MGM” (221). The shoes were donated to the Smithsonian in December, 1979, potentially for tax reasons, according to the museum’s technician in charge of the donation, Susan Schreiber (43), and have since been on near-continuous exhibition at the museum.

Physically, undoubtedly following Adrian’s revised designs for the slippers, “the uppers and heels of the Smithsonian pair are covered with red silk faille and overlaid with the hand-sequined georgette. The leather soles are painted red, with orange felt adhered to the front foundation” (Thomas 221). The felt was added “to deaden the noise made during the dance numbers, as MGM’s yellow-brick road was actually made of plywood” (“Treasure”). Further, “[a] black rubber cap, [painted red,] is on the heel of the right shoe, but missing on the left. The bow on the right shoe has 43 rhinestones surrounding bugle beads, and three large red [rectangular] stones in the center; the left bow has 41 rhinestones surrounding the bugle beads and three large stones. Rhinestones are missing on both bows” (Thomas 221).

Concerning the Innes label, it is found “[i]nside the right slipper[, …] embossed […] reading Innes Shoe Co. Los Angeles, Pasadena, Hollywood. The color has been [almost entirely] worn from the label” (221). Despite Schreiber’s assertion that “I am positive there [are] no marks on the shoes. Judy Garland’s name [is] not on them, no numbers, just the manufacturer’s label,” (qtd in Thomas, 43) along the right side of each shoe is, in fact, written JUDY GARLAND in block letters. While the color has greatly worn away, Garland’s name is still present on the shoes.

While the buyer of the ruby slippers at MGM in 1970 and the donor of the slippers to the Smithsonian Institution are unknown, it can be reasonably assumed, according to Thomas, they are one and the same, lending the shoes a, “somewhat clear providence” (222).


For those interested, I would like to begin reviewing the histories of the various pairs of authentic ruby slippers known to exist today. There are five pairs that have publicly surfaced which are known to have been used in the production of the film, the first of which I will review here. As noted elsewhere, large tracts of the following is indebted to Rhys Thomas, and his book The Ruby Slippers of Oz.

Arabian test pair (Image: Life Magazine)

Arabian test pair on Garland's right foot. (Image: Warner Brothers / Time Warner)

The first of the authentic pairs of ruby slippers are those known today as the “Arabian test pair.” Designed by Gilbert Adrian, like the other pairs of slippers, after designing the shoes that would ultimately become the ruby slippers, they appear “only in test shots” on the feet of Judy Garland, “photographed in October 1938,” but were not used in the film (Thomas, 224). Photos of the shoes suggest that they, like the other pairs, are covered with sequins, along with an elaborate design of round and heart shaped beads.

They, like several other pairs, according to Thomas, were found by costumer Kent Warner in February or March 1970 while setting up for the massive auction of MGM’s costumes and props. Today the shoes “are owned by Debbie Reynolds, who purchased them from […] Warner [in 1970] for, reportedly $300” (Thomas, 224).

For a time in the 1990′s these shoes appeared at Reynolds’s Hollywood memorabilia museum in Las Vegas. As recently as 2010, there were intentions of including the shoes in another Hollywood museum, to be founded near Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.

Reynolds herself has claimed Judy Garland was partial to the Arabian pair, saying, in the A&E special on the shoes, “I know Judy wore them, and I know she liked them best of all. She [Garland] said, ‘I want the pair with the pointy toe.” Ultimately, the shoes were deemed too ornate, clashing with Dorothy’s farm girl image, so the simpler French heeled schoolgirl Innes pumps were used instead (“Treasure”).

The shoes as they appeared in the Profiles in History catalogue.

Reynolds ultimately sold the shoes, along with many pieces from her vast memorabilia collection (including the dress worn by Judy Garland in wardrobe test photo above), through auction house Profiles in History, in an effort to pay back debts, on 19 June 2011 in Beverly Hills. The shoes ultimately sold for a high bid of $510,000.00, with a buyer’s premium, and taxes, of $117,300.00, for an ultimate price of $627,300.00.

(Image: Time Warner / Warner Bros.)

I must admit, here and now, these shoes are proving more challenging than I ever expected, and I never thought they would be easy! It seems the pattern I established with the left shoe, has repeated itself with the right. I have removed and resewn all the work found there as well. Let me try and explain some of the process I’ve gone through.

Replica Slippers

Beginning on the shoes, I used painter’s tape to mark out the first line of sequins. The tape actually doesn’t stick to the georgette much at all, so it doesn’t leave any sticky residue, although it does have a tendency to take off some of the red paint on the soles, so I will have to touch them up once the sequining is complete. Once I establish the first line of sequins, I follow that line as a guide for each subsequent row, maintaining the angle (as best I can) around the shoe. While, in theory, this would be fairly straightforward, it’s really not, as the shoe, obviously is not a flat surface. This is one area where creating a proper overlay, as was originally done, would have it’s advantages, as straight lines are much more easily established, and maintained, on flat surfaces (of course) than on the shoe itself. So, I have to constantly check that the angle the design wants to take, due to the shape of the shoe, is authentic with that found on the original shoes. That is where the extremely high-resolution photos of the Smithsonian shoes have been so helpful, as I can see exactly what the design should look like, and make sure I am maintaining the same design.

Left Smithsonian Shoe (Image: The Costumer's Guide to Movie Costumes)

Yet, knowing all of that, I can only guesstimate the first line of sequining, and on the second shoe, I seem to have guessed incorrectly. (If only I’d known at the time!) Working forward from my initial line, upon reaching the toe I found my lines were going across the toe in a slight curve, rather than cutting across it in the angle of the original. So, the work had to be removed and redone to give the design the proper angle, and therefore authenticity. This cycle of trial, error, and repair is probably why I’ve received comments from people who suspect the project is not advancing. It is, but perfection takes time!

To establish the proper line on the shoes (for those who might use the same method to create the slippers, or even for those who would like to glue their sequins), I’ve found it’s best to start this line along the side of the shoe just behind the toe (about at the front of the opening for the foot), as this seems to allow a consistant angle along the toe, and establish the proper angle for the side of the shoe. However, as I’ve worked back toward the heel, I find the shape of the shoe tends to lead to a slight rounding of the design, making maintaining the angle of the design difficult. This same slight rounding of the design is evident on the Smithsonian shoe, so, clearly, it was something the beading women at MGM also encountered when initially creating the shoes.

Replica Ruby Slippers

As of now, I have the left shoe well underway, roughly, 75% sequined. I am also approaching the finish of the right toe. From there, I will work back on both shoes, until I reach where the upper meets the heel. I then plan on sequining the lower heels, before I sequin the upper above, to allow the sequins on the upper to slightly overhang and cover the top threads on the lower heel. But that is a few weeks away yet! For those that are curious, my rate of sewing is about five to eight rows every day, and each shoe has, approximately, a hundred rows, so they take a lot of time!

Later, we will tackle the bows! Who else is excited?! Those have already been a barrel of fun I look forward to sharing, believe me!

(NOTE: Much of the technique described above would later prove faulty, and has since been revised, as the shoes were later entirely stripped and resequined. This post, and others like it, remain to accurately reflect my full experience of replicating the slippers.)

(Image: Time Warner / Warner Bros.)

Resequined Replica Slippers

Dissatisfied with the sequining work shown in the photographs found in the previous post, I decided to remove much of the sequining work and resew it. Ultimately I’ve removed some 80% or so of the work, leaving only a small portion of the toe, as shown below. Everything in blue has been removed and resewn, while the portion in red has been left.

(Alteration of Tod Machin diagram to show sequining progress)

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve previously removed, and resewn, a great deal of the sequining work. However, this was only one or, at most, two strands at a time. But, examining the work recently, I was disappointed with the vast majority of it, and decided to remove a great deal of it (which itself took hours, as the sequins had to be removed just as meticulously as they were applied, to avoid damaging the underlying georgette)!

Much of this was due to my own ignorance when I began of exactly how to work with the sequins to create the uniform fish-scale like pattern found on the original shoes. Particularly I had issues with determining the spacing between each string of sequins so they both don’t look jumbled, nor show gaps of georgette (a radical aesthetic difference that can often be determined by moving a stitch a millimeter, or less). I also had issues in determining how far the lowest sequins above the soles on each toe should hang, which is particularly problematic since I am stitching from the sole up the side of the shoe, so placement of the initial stitch determines how the entire row will ultimately hang. Initially I had these sequins hanging low enough that they were actually touching the surface on which the shoes sat. While the shoes themselves are not the best source of information in this area due to their deterioration, many of my initial strands simply looked very, very wrong, which an examination of photos of the Witch’s Shoes only confirmed. Feeling a few strands (at the least) had to be redone, I removed them. Once the shoes were completed, these small discrepancies would have only worked to make me further displeased, so, ultimately, I was left no choice but to simply start over again.

I had found, as anyone working on a project for an extended period is bound to, that first attempts are not always the best, and technique is honed over time. Practice, as they say, makes perfect. But still, I have to admit, even now as I have been resewing the sequins, there are few strands I have sewn in a single attempt. Many lines have been sewn, only to be removed and resewn, often due to my displeasure at a single sequin. I realise many people would have been perfectly pleased with the first attempt. But I’m a perfectionist, and I ultimately want these shoes to please no one more than myself, a tall order, even I acknowledge!

I will soon post updated photographs of the left shoe once I have completed the resequining. I expect the first shoe to be completed in around a week. In redoing much of the work, while it may seem to some time-consuming and, potentially, unnecessary, it has yielded (I believe) a shoe that reproduces the sequining pattern on the left Smithsonian shoe almost identically, with a neatness which (I feel) gives them an air of the Witch’s shoes.

I couldn’t ask for anything more.

Resequined Replica Slippers

(NOTE: Much of the technique described above would later prove faulty, and has since been revised, as the shoes were later entirely stripped and resequined. This post, and others like it, remain to accurately reflect my full experience of replicating the slippers.)

Left Shoe, Partially Sequined

Over the past month I have been, slowly but surely, working on sequining the left shoe, using the round blood red translucent 5mm (3/16ths inch) Schrum sequins which are identical to the sequins found today on the authentic slippers. While some believe the authentic sequins were not originally translucent, but have become so due to wear, and were rather a dark, metallic red in 1938, I have always intended to make the shoes as they appear today and have chosen to use the translucent sequins to accomplish this.

Regardless the sequins, sewing them is an agonizingly slow process, about which I am making discoveries, and therefore adjustments, as I work. Therefore, I have removed and resewn a great many of the sequins in the process.

Replication Left Toe

In the meantime, it is suffice to say, I have used detailed photographs of both the Witch’s shoes and the Smithsonian shoes as the basis for the sequining, the best of which are posted below.

These photographs of the Witch’s shoes are my own image captures from A&E’s special on the shoes: “Treasure: The Search for the Ruby Slippers.”

Left Witch's Shoe (Image courtesy A&E Television Networks)

Left Witch's Shoe (Image courtesy A&E Television Networks)


Witch's Shoe Bow Detail (Image courtesy A&E Television Networks)

Right Witch's Shoe (Image courtesy A&E Television Networks)

Right Witch's Shoe Heel (Image courtesy A&E Television Networks)

Right Witch's Shoe (Image courtesy A&E Television Networks)

Witch's Shoe Toe (Image courtesy A&E Television Networks)

Witch's Shoe Sequining (Image courtesy A&E Television Networks)

Witch's Shoes (Image: The Wizard of Oz: The 50th Anniversary Pictorial History, pg 230)

An extremelly detailed version of the above photograph of the Witch’s shoes can be found on page 230 of The Wizard of Oz: The Official 50th Anniversary Pictorial History, although the book, erroneously, labels them as the Roberta Bauman pair.

The following photographs of the Smithsonian pair have proven useful. I’ve focused on the left Smithsonian shoe for sequining the shoe, as the right shoe seems to have either been badly sequined in 1938, or has aged much more rapidly than any of the other shoes. Almost all of these photos were originally found on  The Costumer’s Guide to Movie Costumes, and are reproduced here with permission.

Toe of Left Smithsonian Shoe (Image: The Costumer's Guide to Movie Costumes)

Left Smithsonian Shoe (Image: The Costumer's Guide to Movie Costumes)

Heel Left Smithsonian Shoe (Image: The Costumer's Guide to Movie Costumes)

Heels of the Smithsonian Shoes (Image: The Costumer's Guide to Movie Costumes)