Dorothy's ruby slippers step out from US for first time for V&A exhibition

An original pair made for The Wizard of Oz is being lent to show on Hollywood costume but has to be home for Thanksgiving

The ruby slippers that danced Dorothy down the yellow brick road in The Wizard of Oz are leaving the US for the first time, to sparkle in the V&A's major exhibition on Hollywood costume. However, they have to be home for Thanksgiving.

Since Judy Garland wore them in the 1939 movie – a tale of kindness, courage and magic in hard times which touched the hearts of the nation and generations since – the slippers have become some of the most famous shoes ever created, copied in every fancy dress store, available in every size from small girl's dream to big foot transvestite.

The shoes are coming to London on loan from the Smithsonian in Washington, the first time they have ever left the States, but they are so cherished by museum visitors that they have to be back on display for the Thanksgiving holiday, when the film is invariably shown on American television.

In the exhibition, which opens to the public on 20 October, they will be reunited with Dorothy's blue and white gingham pinafore for the first time since the film was made.

Several pairs were made for the film. The exhibition curator, Hollywood costume designer and historian Deborah Nadoolman Landis, spent years tracking down the four pairs believed to have survived, and trying in vain to persuade private owners to lend their treasures, before the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History – which acquired its slippers as a donation in 1979, and displays them in an exhibition called American Stories – finally agreed to a four-week-only loan. The deal was only finalised this week, within weeks of the V&A exhibition opening.

Nadoolman Landis said: "The ruby slippers transcend Hollywood costume design and have the power to transport us to the limits of our imagination. These precious shoes exemplify the best of cinema storytelling because they evoke memory and emotion."

Martin Roth, director of the V&A, said the museum was incredibly grateful to the Smithsonian "for this rare and generous gift".

The Smithsonian museum's performing arts curator, Dwight Blocker Bowers, said: "The ruby slippers are beloved by our visitors and we look forward to sharing them with an international audience. The message of self-sufficiency in Wizard of Oz has endured for more than 70 years and the slippers illustrate the importance of a journey for what you need, and only after travelling that journey, you find that you already had all that you were searching for."

The slippers were designed along with all the other costumes for the film by Adrian Greenberg – always just known as Adrian – the chief costume designer at MGM studios, whose favourite childhood book was Frank L Baum's 1900 classic, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

In the original screenplay, Dorothy's shoes were silver: scriptwriter Noel Langley is credited with changing this to "ruby slippers", which would give a more striking colour contrast when she is magically transported from black-and-white, storm-torn Kansas to the Technicolor magical world of Oz.

They were made in Los Angeles by a veteran shoemaker, Joe Napoli, from red satin shoes with a one and a half inch heel, covered in red sequins hand-stitched on to fine chiffon, with a centre bow edged with red glass beads and crystals. Visitors to the exhibition may be surprised to see that they are actually a deep winey garnet colour, designed to photograph as scarlet in Technicolor.

When the shoes go home, a replica pair made specially for the exhibition by the Western Costume Company, the original manufacturers, will be substituted. But to true believers, a little of the magic will have flown away with the real slippers.


Maev Kennedy

The GuardianTramp

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