Fantastically Fashionable

Like so many of you, we were intrigued and excited to learn of the initiative between Warner Bros. and Tonner Doll to invite twenty top fashion designers to recreate outfits for the “three leading ladies of Oz”— Dorothy, Glinda, and The Wicked Witch. In fact, this inspired us to look at how the make-up and wardrobe for these three iconic characters made the transition from page to screen more than seventy-five years ago.

In The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, author L. Frank Baum doesn’t describe Dorothy except to say that she was an orphan—not even her age is noted. But in his fifth Oz sequel, The Emerald City of Oz, Baum writes that Dorothy “was like dozens of little girls you know. She was loving and usually sweet-tempered, and had a round rosy face and earnest eyes.” In the first Oz book, illustrator W.W. Denslow pictured Dorothy as a somewhat sturdy child with thick brunette braids; but in Baum’s subsequent books, new illustrator John R. Neill drew Dorothy as slightly older, slender and blonde. By the time preproduction on M-G-M’s The Wizard of Oz commenced in 1938, there were over thirty Oz books in print, with Neill’s version of Dorothy as the best known. And beginning in Baum’s third Oz book, Ozma of Oz, Dorothy was made a princess in the Land of Oz and was often shown wearing a gold coronet.

Working from this template, Judy Garland’s earliest make-up test for the part of Dorothy in April 1938 had her wearing a blonde wig of long curls. Her wardrobe was also conceived with the “Princess Dorothy” idea in mind. Film fashion designer Adrian created a series of test dresses for Judy that were frilly, lacey, or had a satin finish—perfect for a princess but all wrong for Depression-era Kansas. When the decision was made to make Judy look more natural in keeping with mainstream America, Adrian revisited Baum’s text in which Dorothy’s dress is a simple frock of blue-and-white checks. In the book, this had a deeper meaning: the Munchkins appreciate Dorothy’s dress because white is the color of good witches, and blue is the favorite color of the Munchkins. Also, Dorothy’s magic shoes were silver in Baum’s story but they were adjusted to become the now-famous Ruby Slippers to make the shoes appear more vibrant and mystical on screen.

The Good Witch of the North, as personified by actress Billie Burke, is a character created with artistic license by screenwriters Florence Ryerson and Edgar Allan Woolf. In The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Dorothy befriends two different good witches. As in the movie, the Good Witch of the North greets Dorothy when she arrives in the Land of Oz; but Baum describes her as a little old woman whose “face was covered with wrinkles, her hair was nearly white, and she walked rather stiffly.” The Good Witch wears a white gown over which is sprinkled little stars that glisten like diamonds. This witch is nameless although in a 1928 Oz story she is called Tattypoo.

Glinda is the Good Witch of the South in the original book. She is described as young and beautiful with blue eyes and hair that “was a rich red in color” and fell over her shoulders. She too wears a white dress, although Glinda presides over the southern-most region of Oz where the predominant color is red. When the scriptwriters merged the two different witches into one character named Glinda, Adrian designed a gown that reflected the attributes of both witches. It was a coral pink in color—combining the white and red hues associated with each witch—and was scattered with Baum’s sparkly stars. Because Glinda can fly, Adrian added a butterfly motif with “wings” at the shoulders. As the movie Glinda now hails from northern Oz, her gown features icy snow crystals as well (also serving to foreshadow the snowstorm she later sends to rouse Dorothy, Toto, and the Cowardly Lion from the poppy field). At fifty-four, Billie Burke was the perfect age for a character that was a cross between the elderly and youthful witches, and her red hair and blue eyes were a match for Baum’s Glinda.

Portraying the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz was the subject of indecision and debate. Baum’s Wicked Witch wears a patch over one eye, carries an umbrella—not a broom—due to her water phobia, and is afraid of the dark. Denslow shows her wearing a pointed witch’s hat.

After nixing the idea of a gruff but traditional harridan who cracked one-liners, producer Mervyn LeRoy decided to cast actress Gale Sondergaard in the part. Sondergaard was known for playing “heavies” as much as she was recognized for her beauty. (In 1936, LeRoy had directed Sondergaard in her Academy-Award-winning performance as a villainess in Anthony Adverse.) The thought was that the Wicked Witch would be sinister yet slinky in her looks and delivery. Sondergaard tested in a gorgeous form-fitting gown with a cape and a witch’s hat covered in black sequins. But once LeRoy went public with this concept, Wonderful Wizard of Oz fans protested and he acquiesced. Sondergaard next tested in less glamorous wardrobe that included a nondescript black cloak. Reluctantly, she also tried a pointed false nose and a fright wig before she and LeRoy agreed that her career wouldn’t be enhanced by looking “ugly” for the movies.

Comedienne and character actress Margaret Hamilton was quickly cast to replace Sondergaard, and the whole ugly, evil, wicked witch conception was elevated to a new echelon. Hamilton’s costume, with its flowing cape, bishop sleeves, and sleek medieval styling, gave her Wicked Witch a lean, spidery appearance that heightened her treachery. The black garb also contrasted well with Hamilton’s skin—which was tinted a gangrenous poison-green, even though the witch in Baum’s story didn’t have such colored flesh. Margaret Hamilton’s performance as the ruthlessly driven Wicked Witch of the West arguably gave motion picture history one of its greatest villains of all time!

Given this unique history of how the female characters in The Wizard of Oz were developed and portrayed, it will be fascinating to see how the leading designers of today’s fashion world re-envision Dorothy, Glinda, and the Wicked Witch of the West!

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