Visitors walk between plexiglass as they step on Touch of Disney at Disney California Adventure in Anaheim, California on Thursday, March 18, 2021.
MediaNews Group / Orange County Register | Getty Images
Few things are so iconic that a simple silhouette is instantly recognizable to anyone in the world.
This is the power of Disney and its strong icon Mickey Mouse, which has gone from the comic mouse to the corporate emblem. When Disneyland and California Adventure reopened for the first time in more than a year on Friday, a quick scan of the crowd showed just how ubiquitous this 93-year-old mouse really is.
In the six decades since Disney opened its first theme park, the company has cultivated a distinct culture within its amusement venues. From the way the performers are instructed to do their jobs to the ambiance of the different countries that make up the park, everything Disney does is on purpose and is there to create an experience that is unrepeatable.
Perhaps the most common example of this is wearable Mickey and Minnie ears.
Mickey ear hats have been a staple in Disney parks for decades. The classic black Mickey Mouse ears were created in the 1950s by Roy Williams for the Mouseketeers on “The Mickey Mouse Club”. Since Disneyland opened in 1955, getting a pair with custom embroidery has been a rite of passage for many park visitors.
In the mid-80s, Disney began offering a headband version of these hats. It wasn’t until the park’s 50th anniversary that the product developers redesigned the iconic ears. To celebrate the milestone, Disney offered a set of gold ears.
The golden hat became such a phenomenon that it inspired the company to make other versions for special occasions and holidays. Over the years, these classic keepsakes have become coveted fashionable and Instagram-style accessories.
A woman wears a pair of Mickey Mouse ears and a matching mask.
Ears are a big seller in the parks, and Disney has worked hard to keep up with demand. The company has designed dozens of different pairs, from simple sequin ears to pairs that honor fan-favorite characters and attractions. Most of the ears in Disney’s collection cost around $ 30 per pair. However, due to the popularity of headbands, Disney has partnered with a number of designers to create specialty, limited-edition ears that can cost closer to $ 100.
These ears have become so popular that artisans turned to Etsy to create and sell their own designs. In preparation for Disneyland’s reopening, many guests purchase special ears and masks to wear around the park.
Of course, Disney isn’t the only theme park that is heavily into merchandise. Universal Studios sells Hogwarts robes and Minions T-shirts in its parks, and Six Flags has licensing agreements with Warner Bros. ‘Looney Tunes brand. Even so, there is something special about Disney’s Mickey ears that sets them apart from other souvenirs.
Wear your fandom
These ears have become more than just a one-of-a-kind keepsake. They are important collectibles for Disney Park fans.
Krissy Reynolds, a 35-year-old Virginia restaurant manager, has a collection of over 40 Mickey ears. The collection started with a pair of red and black sequin Minnie Mouse ears that she acquired during a college trip.
She said her family usually spends five days at Walt Disney World. She brings two or three ears from her collection to wear during the trip and buys a couple of new pairs once she’s in the parks.
“We make outfits that go with the park we go to every day and then we go with each other,” Reynolds said. “As in Hollywood Studios, we make ‘Toy Story’ outfits with shirts, ears, hats or accessories.”
At Magic Kingdom, Reynolds, her husband Wesley, 43, and their son Cayson, 8, focus their outfits on classic Disney characters like Mickey and Minnie. In Animal Kingdom, the theme is usually “The Lion King”.
Krissy Reynolds, 35, and son Cayson, 8, celebrate at Mickey’s not-so-scary Halloween party in Orlando, Florida.
Because Disney doesn’t allow adults to wear costumes in the park, older guests who are kids at heart have used other means to celebrate their favorite characters, movies, and moments from Disney. If you take a closer look, you will see someone wearing an outfit reminiscent of Peter Pan, Rapunzel, or Snow White, a trend known as “Disney Bounding”.
“I’m a sucker for ‘Sleeping Beauty’,” Reynolds said. “I also like sequins and unique things like when [Disney does] special food or vacation [ears]. “
Craftsmen meet the demand
For many like Reynolds who spend several days in the parks in Florida or California, one ear is not enough. And while Disney has a wide variety of Mickey ear designs to choose from, the demand for unique headbands has grown so much that independent sellers have stepped into the picture.
Etsy in particular has become a hub for small business owners to sell customizable ears and ears based on niche characters. In the weeks leading up to Disneyland’s reopening, these sellers saw a significant increase in sales.
“Most of the pandemics have been sold,” said Rachel Vega, owner of Etsy shop Enchanted Story Ears. “It really picked up in January I think as we started to see how things develop with both of them [Disney World being] open and the hopes of Disneyland will open up at some point. “
Vega, a high school orchestra teacher, has been selling handmade Mickey ears on the e-commerce website for about a year. Their best-selling product is a set of graduation ears with a small black academic cap that can be customized with the graduate’s school colors. Their ears cost anywhere from $ 35 to $ 40.
“I fell in love with making custom ears when I was making them for a nurses trip and decided to open the store to sell the ears I make,” she said. “I love to have ears that are unique and comfortable when I go to the parks and know that there are many who feel the same way. It is definitely a method of personal expression in the parks.”
Searching for Mickey Ears on Etsy brings up thousands of results, from dainty, fairy headbands based on popular characters, to fabric-patterned ears with large bows and glitter.
Sellers must ensure that certain rules are followed so as not to infringe Disney’s intellectual property. That means following guidelines, e.g. B. Not to use certain Disney characters or fabrics that depict Disney’s copyrighted images in their designs or in their stores.
Arisa, a college student who turned entrepreneur, has been selling her version of Mickey ears since March 2019. In two years she has made more than 900 sales in her Ears by Arisa store.
Currently, their best-selling ears are based on Loki, Wanda Maximoff, Baby Groot, and Rapunzel. Her ears range from $ 24 to $ 31, depending on the style.
“Since California lifted the bans on theme parks, more and more people have left me notes saying how excited they are to wear my ears for their upcoming trips,” she said. “I even received a few custom orders to match their ears with the masks they have.”
During the Covid pandemic, Disney-themed masks were also a major asset to small businesses. Those visiting Disney’s parks during the pandemic have accepted the mask requirements and used them as an opportunity to proudly wear their favorite fandoms in public.
When Debra Dix isn’t working as a case manager in Goodwill’s human resources department, she sews and sells masks. She opened her shop in December 2020 and already has nearly 500 sales.
Most of the fabrics she uses for these masks are Disney themed. Her two best sellers currently are a Disney Parks snack pattern and a Mickey animal theme.
“I’ve definitely sold more masks in the last 2 months,” said Dix. “Most of the time, customers buy a mask, but recently the average has been three to five masks per order.”
These masks and ears are part of the Disney experience and can help park goers create lasting memories.
Meagan Remmes, 30, of Asheville, North Carolina, bought a set of Mickey bride ears to wear on her honeymoon trip to Disney World this year.
“We knew we wanted something special to remember it was our honeymoon, and while the buttons are free, they’re not exactly a statement maker,” she said of her decision to put a pair of veiled white ears in to take the hand.
“It would either be Mickey ears or custom t-shirts, but everything we looked at didn’t feel quite like us,” she said. “Mickey ears were a simple fix that made us feel special like Disney in the best possible way.”
Disclosure: Comcast’s NBCUniversal is the parent company of Universal Studios and CNBC.
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