Man Accidentally Discovers Judy Garland’s Lost ‘Wizard of Oz’ Dress

Man Stumbles Upon Judy Garland's Iconic Dorothy Blue-and-White Checked Dress

Judy Garland's name, handwritten in her costume from 1939. (Photo: The Catholic University of America)

Based on the book by L. Frank Baum, The Wizard of Oz (1939) was an early example of the beauty of Technicolor film technology. Particularly, the legendary blue-and-white checkered dress and sparkling ruby slippers worn by a young Judy Garland would have been much duller on the screens only a few years before. Luckily, Garland's costume was designed with Technicolor in mind. Today, the slippers, blouse, and pinafore dress are some of the most valuable movie memorabilia. Unfortunately, the dress has been lost for several decades. However, in a shocking announcement, Department of Drama lecturer Matt Ripa at the Catholic University of America stumbled upon the legendary outfit in a surprising location.

Back in the 1970s, an actress named Mercedes McCambridge was an artist-in-residence at Catholic University. She reportedly donated a blouse and blue pinafore dress worn by Garland on set to the drama school, which was then under the direction of Reverend Gilbert Hartke. However, the Dorothy costume was thought to be long-lost. Rumors of its existence had long been whispered, but lecturer and operations coordinator Ripa could not find the iconic clothes anywhere.

In June 2021, Ripa was clearing items out of a drama building on campus in preparation for renovations. Inside a plastic bag perched above the faculty mailboxes, he discovered a shoebox. Inside the box was the white blouse and checked dress in 16-year-old Garland's petite size. Ripa told The Washington Post, “I was shocked, holding a piece of Hollywood history right in my hands.” According to a note in the box, the dress had sometime before been found in the department chair’s office.

Ripa and a colleague examined the dress using gloves for the fabric's safety. They then contacted the University Archives, and the curators there set to work on authenticating the find. They discovered and recorded images of Reverend Hartke receiving the dress. Curator Maria Mazzenga also reached out to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, where a pair of the famous ruby slippers resides.

According to the Smithsonian experts, five authentic dresses exist from the 1939 film set. These have tell-tale secret pockets for a handkerchief and boast mended rips in the blouse which was reportedly fragile. All five were labeled by someone with Judy Garland's name. While the Smithsonian does not officially authenticate items outside its collection, the experts indicated that the dress is likely authentic. It will now be officially recognized as such by the university. The delightful find will be displayed among the archival collections.

A long-lost dress worn by Judy Garland as Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz has been rediscovered at Catholic University.

The Catholic University Judy Garland Dress

The dress and blouse recently rediscovered at Catholic University. (Photo: The Catholic University of America)

Garland's pinafore and blouse are an iconic movie costume from the early days of Technicolor films.

The Wizard of Oz Dress donated in the 1970s

The Dorothy costume with Rev. Gilbert Hartke and actress Mercedes McCambridge, who donated the dress in the 1970s. (Photo: The Catholic University of America)

The dress was gifted to the Drama Department in the 1970s by an actress, but was then lost.

Wizard of Oz, Judy Garland's Iconic Dress, Press Shot

A press shot from “The Wizard of Oz's.” (Photo: Wikimedia Commons, Public domain)

The rediscovered dress is thought to be authentic and will be held in the University collections.

A Pair fo Ruby Slippers from Oz

The ruby slippers worn by Garland, one of five known pairs, currently held at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. (Photo: dbking via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 2.0)

h/t: [The Smithsonian]

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Madeleine Muzdakis

Madeleine Muzdakis is a Contributing Writer at My Modern Met and a historian of early modern Britain & the Atlantic world. She holds a BA in History and Mathematics from Brown University and an MA in European & Russian Studies from Yale University. Madeleine has worked in archives and museums for years with a particular focus on photography and arts education. When she isn’t writing, she enjoys hiking, film photography, and reading while cuddling with her cat Georgia.
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