Amazingly enough individuals are willing to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to own something a celebrity once owned or wore during filming. Costumes are an important part of movies, especially in elaborate historical productions such as Cleopatra, which featured Elizabeth Taylor in an array of 65 costumes that cost no less than $194,800, the equivalent of $1.4 million today. Many times it’s the make-up and special effects including prosthetic devices that make up the largest portion of a movie’s costume budget such as in the movie, Avatar.
For now though, let’s take a look at the prices of movie costumes once worn and later auctioned off to the public. You might be surprised at the extreme increase in their value. Interestingly enough there are some studies that show we place value on celebrity items depending on whether the actors have worn them as the character of a villain or a hero. People are also willing to spend more on well-liked individuals as opposed to those that are universally disliked.
Experts tell us that people’s desires to possess celebrity memorabilia comes from their belief in the idea that a person’s essence can be transferred through an object they have worn or touched; the concept is called contagion. It may very well be true as the price for celebrity items worn does decrease if the item has been washed or sterilized. It’s no longer as interesting or valuable to many fans. What are fans willing to pay for some of the costumes or pieces of costumes worn by those celebrities they admire in movies they’ve enjoyed? The answer may surprise you.
10 Bruce Lee’s Costume Coat: $77,000
The coat was worn by Bruce Lee for the 1973 filming of Game of Death, which was never finished. Lee died later that year at the age of 32. The fur lined coat was sold in 2011 in Hong Kong and brought in almost nine times more than it was expected to, fetching a price of $77,000. Lee wore the coat for film publicity shots as well as to the premiere of his film, Enter the Dragon.
9 John Wayne’s True Grit Costume: $167,300
The outfit John Wayne wore in his Oscar-winning role as Rooster Cogburn is very recognizable and features the cowboy hat, shirt, jacket, waistcoat, pants, boots and the iconic eye patch. The long sleeve shirt made of blue cotton was custom-made for Wayne for the film and both the jacket and shirt has a label with his name. Wayne died in 1979 at the age of 72. The costume was expected to bring in $164,000 total. The eye patch was sold for $47,800 and the cowboy hat went for $119,500.
8 John Wayne’s Costume Hat from The Green Berets: $179,250
The 1968 American made war film featured John Wayne in a lead role. Although it wasn’t received well by the critics, John Wayne’s character, Mike Kirby was loved by his fans. Produced in 1968, during America’s involvement in the Vietnam War, John Wayne wanted to make the film to combat the anti-war atmosphere. He received full cooperation and material from the military under the direction of President Johnson. The beret was auctioned off for $179,250. The proceeds from the auction went to cancer research and the treatment of and education by the John Wayne Cancer Foundation. The actor died from stomach cancer in 1979.
7 Marilyn Monroe’s Pink Costume from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes: $310,000
Marilyn Monroe wore this bright pink gown in the 1953 movie, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Easily recognizable, this gown was worn during the famous musical number, “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend,” performed with her co-star Jane Russell. Although Howard Hawks, Director, was totally satisfied with the musical number, Marilyn continued to call for retakes, not satisfied with her own performance. Being the perfectionist definitely didn’t hurt this film though; it’s one of the most popular films of its time. The dress was created by William Travilla. Done in satin it was strapless and floor length with side slits the color chosen for this dress was called “shocking” pink. It was lined with felt so that it would stay stiff during the elaborately choreographed dance routines. The dress was expected to bring in between $150,000 - $250,000 and instead sold for $310,000 making it number seven on our list.
6 Judy Garland’s Costume Ruby Slippers from the Wizard of Oz: $612,000
These ruby shoes were worn as part of Judy Garland’s costume in The Wizard of Oz. There are only four surviving pairs from the film, a few in mint condition. They are among the most well-known shoes in the world. The slippers were created by Gilbert Adrian, MGM’s chief costume designer. A few pairs were made to test including an early version of the slipper which was done in an Arabian style with curling toes. That design was rejected and replaced with the simpler version we see today.
There were a few modifications as the original bugle beads made to look like rubies were too heavy so they were then replaced with sequins, each shoe was covered in approximately 2,300 of them. The shoes had to be dyed red first then the sequins added, actually a color of burgundy sequin was attached to the shoe’s upper piece and heel. It was the three-strip Technicolor process used for the film that required the sequins to be darker so that in the film they would appear a true red. If bright red sequins had been used they would have looked orange on film. Also, felt was glued to the bottom of the shoes to quiet the sound made when Garland danced down the “yellow brick road”.
The beloved screen classic, The Wizard of Oz, features Garland’s character, Dorothy clicking her heels together and making a wish so that she could be home again, instead of the strange world of Oz that she found herself in. This caused slight scuffing to the shoes which accounts for part of the reason why several pairs of these were made, in total there's thought to be six or seven. It is said that Judy Garland herself requested a pair in a larger size that she could wear in the afternoon’s when her feet had become swollen from shooting all day. The ruby slippers were sold for $612,000 in May of 2011.
5 Judy Garland’s Dorothy Costume from Wizard of Oz: $910,000
The blue and white gingham dress was worn by Judy Garland in the film, Wizard of Oz, released in 1939 by MGM Studios. There were actually seven versions of the pinafore made before the final one was chosen. The costume was designed by Gilbert Adrian, MGM’s chief costume designer. The costume is made of cotton and was partially sewn by hand. A small label on the inside collar is marked with Judy Garland’s name. The dress was worn with the famous ruby slippers in the film which were sold at auction for over half a million dollars. The blue pinafore is a beloved icon for the film and has been used in displays to raise money for Children’s charities.
4 Steve McQueen’s Racing Costume from Le Mans: $984,000
Steve McQueen wore this racing suit in the famous movie Le Mans in 1971. The suit has the name of McQueen’s character, Michael Delaney, embroidered on its pocket and the jacket features the logos of Gulf, Firestone, Heuer, and the American Flag. It was made by Hinchman of Indianapolis. It was sold for $984,000 making it the most expensive piece of racing memorabilia sold outside of an automobile.
3 Michael Jackson’s Thriller Costume: $1.8 Million
The famous Thriller jacket was worn by Michael Jackson in the debut of his video for the Thriller album released in 1983.The red and black jacket has winged shoulders and a stand-up collar. The jacket was gifted afterward by Jackson to his costume designers Dennis Tompkins and Michael Bush. There is an inscription to them on the lining and the sleeve is signed, “Love Michael Jackson.” It was estimated to go for approximately $200,000 - $400,000 at auction, instead surprising everyone by selling for $1.8 million. Some of the proceeds will go toward the Shambala Preserve, home of Michael Jackson’s two Bengal tigers, Thriller and Sabu. The singer died on June 25th, 2009 from a drug overdose.
2 Audrey Hepburn’s Ascot Costume: $3.7 Million
The Ascot Costume is the black and white dress with the matching hat worn by Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady. The movie was released in 1964 and starred Audrey Hepburn with leading man, Rex Harrison. Based on the George Bernard Shaw play, Pygmalion, the movie won eight Oscars including Best Picture and Best Costume Design. The Costume Designer, Cecil Beaton, designed the Ascot costume for the horse racing scene at Ascot, the world famous racecourse in England. Audrey Hepburn’s character, Eliza appears wearing the fabulous black and white costume including a wide picture hat decorated with flowers and ostrich feather plumes. The dress is made of silk with a linen undergarment and overlaid with lace and hand embroidery. The men and women dressed in their finery set an impressive scene and the Ascot imposes a dress code for those in attendance even today. Interestingly enough the dress appeared in almost every promotional image of the film ever since its release. Its easily recognizable, a factor that most likely played a part in the bid of $3.7 million dollars that was paid at the auction.
1 Marilyn Monroe’s Costume from the Seven Year Itch: $4.6 Million
This white dress was worn by Marilyn Monroe in the 1955 film The Seven Year Itch directed by Billy Wilder and released by 20th Century Fox. William Travilla, costume designer created this dress that has become an icon in film history. The famous scene in the movie where Monroe is standing over a subway grate and the air from a moving train beneath her blows the dress upward is an image that is instantly recognizable. In the film, the dress is worn in the scene in which Marilyn Monroe and co-star Tom Ewell are walking along Lexington Avenue in Manhattan after seeing a movie together and when they hear a train coming, Marilyn steps onto the grate and asks Ewell if he can feel the breeze from the train. The scene had been scheduled to be shot on the street outside of the Trans-Lux on September 15th, 1954 but hundreds of curious fans impeded the shot so Billy Wilder had to recreate the scene on a 20th Century Fox set.
The dress is an ivory colored cocktail dress with a plunging neckline and a halter bodice. It fastens with a zipper in the back and ties around the torso. Age has caused the dress to now appear to be a darker cream color as opposed to the original ivory. Interestingly enough, Monroe’s husband at the time of filming, Joe DiMaggio, hated the dress. It last sold at auction for $4.6 million making it the most expensive costume sold at auction on our list.