An iconic treasure in film costume history, Dorothy Gale’s look has established one of the most recognisable images in cinema. So while the classic story has been reworked and tainted by style overhauls as well as subtleties, it was Judy Garland’s portrayal of Dorothy in 1939’s The Wizard of Oz that epitomised a stereotyped look that changed our expectations of the small town heroine and how she ought to look.
Instantly recognisable for her sky blue gingham dress, red slippers and dark pigtails, Dorothy’s lasting appearance could have been very different if it weren’t for the intervention of the studio, MGM. Initially directed by Irving Thorpe, although his short lived 2 weeks on the job brought many changes, it wasn’t long before he left due to “artistic differences,” but not before we had a chance to imagine a blonde Dorothy.
Clearly unfavourable to the lighter haired look for Dorothy, Thorpe’s succeeder Victor Fleming returned her to a darker shade and concentrated on the other changes taking place in the costume department.
A pop of colour from her apron dress and ruby red footwear, the subtlety of the blue works softly to capture the image of a young girl from Kansas, yet it was the expressive desire for MGM to capitalise on the magic the introduction of Technicolor brought to film. Despite the exploitation of colour for the film, Dorothy’s dress was in fact white in the original 1900 novel.
Almost 50 years later Dorothy’s character was portrayed once again – this time by Fairuza Balk in Return To Oz (1985). With the story taking on a slightly less cosy feeling than before, the costumes altered too, adopting a more reserved look far colder than the warming styles worn by Garland.
From her tight plaits, strong blue eyes and lined patterning of her pale dress, Dorothy’s costume was designed to lack colour and feelings of comfort in order to heighten the sense of fear posed by her adventure back to Oz.
Dorothy’s dress captures the essence of her childhood, heightened by the bulk of material swamping her tiny frame, as well as the tailoring of the dress, which appears reflective of 20th century style for smart children. Lined with a subtle trace of pink, depending on her surroundings, the dress either appears a darker rusty tone, or a paler beige.
Two contrasting styles fitting to the film’s feeling, while the older version confidently shows off colour to its full potential, Return To Oz takes a modest approach that is comfortable in its own right, without the need to conform to the stereotypical image generated by the success of The Wizard Of Oz.