Dorothy's 'lost' dress from Oz up for sale

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It is one of the most recognisable outfits in American movie history, the blue-and-white checked gingham dress Judy Garland wore as Dorothy in the classic 1939 film The Wizard of Oz.

For decades, one of the versions of the dress Garland wore in the movie was assumed lost at Catholic University of America, where it had been given to someone in the drama department in the early 1970s.

But the clearing out of some office clutter last year led to the discovery of the dress in an old shoebox, and now it is headed for the auction block.

When she first saw it, "all I could think about was watching the movie when I was a child and growing up with it", said Jacqueline Leary-Warsaw, dean of the school of music, drama and art at Catholic University in Washington, DC.

"In a way it was like I was looking at my past childhood."

She and others are hopeful that nostalgia factor will come into play when the costume goes up for sale at Bonhams Classic Hollywood: Film and Television auction on May 24 in Los Angeles, where it has a pre-sale estimate of $US800,000 to $US1.2 million ($A1.1 million-$A1.7 million).

Helen Hall, director of popular culture for Bonhams, said the market for memorabilia, and film costumes in particular, is strong, and that The Wizard of Oz is a cultural touchstone.

There was more than one of the costumes made for Garland while filming.

Hall said four are known to exist and only two, including the one found at Catholic University, also include the blouse the actor wore.

Bonhams sold the other one with a blouse at an auction in 2015 for more than $US1.5 million ($A2.1 million).

The rediscovered dress had initially been given to the head of the university's drama department in 1973 by actor Mercedes McCambridge, Leary-Warsaw said.

The department lost track of the costume until it became "something that people had thought was just a myth", she said.

In researching the dress, it was determined Garland wore it in the movie in the scene where she is confronted in a castle by the Wicked Witch of the West.

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