Ruby Slippers

Dorothy’s ruby slippers were worn by actress Judy Garland in the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz. The shoes are blanketed in sequins, heeled, and topped with a bow. In the film, the slippers allow Dorothy to access magical, anti-wicked powers, and their crimson iridescence begs for the audience’s attention. The image of the ruby slippers can be seen from drag performances to replacing the ball dropped on New Year’s Eve at gay clubs.

Dorothy’s ruby slippers first appeared in the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz worn by actress Judy Garland. The shoes asserted themselves as Dorothy’s most defining accessory and commonly serve as her symbolic representation. The ruby slippers are of a defining deep red, which in fact was a cinematic choice—the original slippers in the novel version were silver, but red was chosen as a more vibrantly visible color. Doused in countless sequins, the shoes constantly shimmer. In fact, they appear significantly darker when not under the movie lights; but when they are, the slippers are brought to life and amass to a multiplicity of ruby shades in accordance to the amount of light. The slippers have petite “kitten” heels that elevate the latter half of Dorothy’s feet. In order to keep her feet within the shoe as she moves, the heel is designed to hug her foot with a thinner frame and a curved rear end to keep the heel from poking out. As the finishing touch, a bow is placed on the top end of the shoe, directly in front of the foot opening. The bows are studded with differently-sized jewels to offer a contrast to the texture of the sequins.

In the film, the ruby slippers actually originally belong to the Wicked Witch of the East, who Dorothy kills when her house falls on top of her. Once Dorothy kills the witch, the town of Munchkinland celebrates, praising Dorothy for liberating them from their oppressor. During the celebration, the slippers can be seen being worn on the witch’s feet, whose legs from her dead body hang out from beneath the house. Later, both the Wicked Witch of the West and Glinda (the Good Witch of the North) arrive at the scene. Glinda magically transports the shoes from the witch’s feet to Dorothy’s, stating that it will be impossible for the shoes to come off of Dorothy’s feet. So, the slippers have been reclaimed as an oppressive object to Dorothy, the (accidental) liberator. Before, the shoes would “stomp on” the people of Munchkinland, but now they guide Dorothy along the yellow brick road to Oz.

Additionally, the slippers possess magical powers. Whenever the Wicked Witch of the West attempts to grab the shoe’s from Dorothy’s feet, she gets an electric shock. The shoes are thus untouchable by the wicked. Dorothy then reaffirms her anti-wicked positionality through the slippers—her unremovable shoes almost melding with her body. Furthermore, the shoes’ most notable quality is their returning of Dorothy home. At the end of the movie, Dorothy finally gets her wish to return home, the lesson acquired on the journey being never to take her home for granted. Glinda reveals that if she clicks her heels three times while reciting “There’s no place like home,” she’ll immediately transport back. Dorothy does so and arrives in Kansas to realize that her journey to Oz was supposedly a fever dream of sorts. Nevertheless, the shoes had the ability to magically teleport her to where she felt most at home. In fact, in earlier drafts of the film, when Dorothy arrived back in Kansas and gives thanks to her friends and family, the camera would slowly pan to reveal that she still was wearing the ruby slippers.

Judy Garland later achieved status as a gay icon, and the film has much to do with it. Garland’s “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and its lyrics that yearn for a world of liberation resonated with queer people, most especially gay men, and arguably inspired the rainbow-striped pride flag. In the few decades after the film, where queerness was still heavily illegal and thus forcibly clandestine, gay men would secretly ask other men if they also were gay by inquiring if they were a “friend of Dorothy.” Interestingly, Garland passed away the same day as Stonewall. However, the slippers that Garland flaunted seemed to be similarly impactful. The shoes can be seen as icons and logos in gay bars and other queer spaces, worn by drag queens in performances, and even as an everyday fashion accessory. The slippers have a distinct flamboyance to them, a camp sensibility, that seems to resonate especially with queer people.