Few items are as iconic as a simple silhouette that can be easily recognized by everyone anywhere in the world.
That is the strength of Disney and its iconic image, Mickey Mouse, which has evolved from a cartoon mouse to a corporate logo.
When Disneyland and California Adventure reopened for the first time in over a year on Friday, a fast scan of the crowd revealed just how famous the 93-year-old mouse is.
Since the company’s first theme park opened six decades ago, it has developed a distinct community within its amusement parks.
Anything Disney does is intentional and in pursuit of creating an unrepeatable experience, from how its cast members are told to go about their jobs to the ambiance of the various lands that make up the park.
Wearable Mickey and Minnie’s ears are perhaps the most common example of this.
For decades, Mickey ear hats have been a common souvenir at Disney parks. Roy Williams designed the iconic black Mickey Mouse ears for the Mouseketeers on “The Mickey Mouse Club” in the 1950s.
Since Disneyland first opened in 1955, getting a pair of custom embroidery has become a rite of passage for many park visitors.
Disney started offering a headband version of these hats in the mid-1980s.
However, it wasn’t until the park’s 50th anniversary that the famous ears were revamped. Disney released a line of golden ears to commemorate the occasion.
The golden hat became such a hit that the company decided to create additional models for special occasions and holidays. These timeless keepsakes have developed into sought-after trendy and Instagram-able accessories over time.
Ears are a popular item in Disney parks, and the company has worked hard to keep up with demand.
From plain sequined ears to pairs honoring fan-favorite characters and attractions, the brand has produced hundreds of different pairs.
Most Disney’s ears cost about $30 a pair. Due to the success of the headbands, Disney has teamed up with a variety of designers to create limited-edition specialty ears that can cost upwards of $100.
Crafters have taken to Etsy to make and sell their own versions of these ears because they’ve become so famous.
Many visitors are shopping for special ears and masks to wear around Disneyland in anticipation of the park’s reopening.
To be sure, Disney isn’t the only theme park that places a strong emphasis on merchandise. Six Flags has licensing deals with Warner Bros.’
Looney Tunes brand and Universal Studios sells Hogwarts robes and Minions T-shirts at its parks. Even so, there’s something unique about Disney’s Mickey ears that distinguishes them from other souvenirs.
These ears have evolved into something more than a singular memento. For Disney Park visitors, they are valuable collectibles.
Krissy Reynolds, a 35-year-old Virginia restaurant manager, has over 40 Mickey ears in her set. During a college trip, she picked up a pair of red and black sequined Minnie Mouse ears, which became the start of her collection.
Her family usually spends five days at Walt Disney World, she said. She packs two or three pairs of ears from her collection for the ride and buys a few new pairs once she arrives at the parks.
“Every day, we coordinate our outfits to match the park we are visiting,” Reynolds said. “We do ‘Toy Tale’ costumes with tops and ears and caps or shoes, much like Hollywood Studios.”
Reynolds, her husband, Wesley, 43, and son Cayson, 8, dress up as classic Disney characters like Mickey and Minnie at Magic Kingdom. The “Lion King” is typically the theme at Animal Kingdom.
Since Disney does not allow adults to dress up in costumes, older guests who are still children at heart have found other ways to honor their favorite Disney characters, movies, and moments.
If you look closely, you’ll see someone dressed as Peter Pan, Rapunzel, or Snow White, a pattern known as “Disney bounding.”
Reynolds admitted, “I’m a sucker for everything ‘Sleeping Beauty.'” “I also enjoy sequins and one-of-a-kind products, such as when [Disney] creates special food or holiday [ears].”
One pair of ears isn’t enough for many people like Reynolds, who spend many days at theme parks in Florida or California.
Although Disney offers a wide variety of Mickey ear styles, the demand for one-of-a-kind headbands has risen to the point that independent vendors have entered the market.
Etsy, in particular, has become a hotspot for small business owners selling custom ears and ears based on obscure characters. These vendors have seen a large increase in revenue in the weeks leading up to Disneyland’s reopening.
“For the majority of the pandemic, sales were hit-or-miss,” said Rachel Vega, owner of the Etsy shop Enchanted Story Ears.
“It really picked up in January, I suppose, when we started seeing things move forwards with [Disney World] opening and the expectations of Disneyland opening up at some point.”
For the past year, Vega, a high school orchestra coach, has been selling handmade Mickey ears on the e-commerce platform.
Her best-selling item is a pair of graduation ears with a small black academic cap that can be personalized with the graduate’s school colors. Her ears range in price from $35 to $40.
“After falling in love with making custom ears for a sisters’ holiday, I decided to open a shop to sell the ears I make,” she explained.
“When I go to the parks, I enjoy having ears that are special and comfortable, and I know there are many others who feel the same way. At the parks, it’s unquestionably a type of personal expression.”
Thousands of results appear when you search for Mickey’s ears on Etsy, ranging from dainty, fairy-like headbands based on famous characters to fabric-patterned ears with big bows and glitter.
To avoid infringing on Disney’s intellectual property, the sellers must adhere to strict guidelines.
That means adhering to rules such as not using real Disney characters or fabric representing Disney’s copyrighted images in their designs or shops.
Since March 2019, Arisa, a student turned entrepreneur, has been selling her version of Mickey ears. In the last two years, she has sold over 900 items through her shop Ears by Arisa.
Loki, Wanda Maximoff, Baby Groot, and Rapunzel are currently her best-selling ears. Depending on the style, her ears cost between $24 and $31.
“Since the bans on theme parks in California were removed, more people have written to tell me how excited they are to wear my ears on their upcoming trips,” she said. “I also had a few custom orders from people who wanted their ears to fit their masks.”
Disney-themed masks have also been a big profit engine for small businesses during the Covid pandemic.
Visitors to Disney parks during the pandemic have welcomed the mask requirements, taking advantage of the opportunity to openly display their favorite fandoms in public.
Debra Dix sews and sells masks while she isn’t employed as a case manager in Goodwill’s workforce department. She opened her shop in December 2020 and has already sold over 500 products.
She uses Disney-themed fabrics for the bulk of these masks. A Disney parks snacks pattern and an animal print Mickey design are currently her two best-selling designs.
“In the last two months, I’ve certainly sold more masks,” Dix said. “Customers usually buy one mask, but lately my typical order has been three to five masks.”
These masks and ears are a part of the Disney experience, and they can help visitors make lasting memories.
Meagan Remmes, 30, of Asheville, North Carolina, bought a pair of bridal Mickey ears to wear on her Disney World honeymoon this year.
“We knew we wanted something special to celebrate the fact that it was our honeymoon, and although the buttons are free, they’re not exactly a statement maker,” she explained of her choice of veiled white ears.
“It was either going to be Mickey ears or custom T-shirts,” she said, “but nothing we looked at felt quite right.” “Mickey ears were a quick fix that made us feel extra special in the most Disney way possible.”
- mickey mouse ears: Ashley Eckstein Instagram