Tatiana Kelley is a full-time mother of two toddlers. And while the 33-year-old Orange County resident has paused her career as a therapist for special-needs kids in order to manage her own, she’s made room for another passion: going to Disneyland at least once a week (thrice a week in summer). And to be clear, that’s for her — not her kids.
“I fell in love, and it’s become an outlet for me to go out and meet new people, make new friends,” Kelley tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “The Disney community is welcoming and full of positivity, and that’s something that’s nice and cool that I want to be a part of.”
Kelley is what’s known as a “Disneybounder,” someone who dresses in regular clothing — as opposed to costumes — but styles them in ways inspired by Disney characters. That means wearing, say, an A-line pleated turquoise dress and gold jewelry — not a crop top and harem pants — as an ode to Princess Jasmine of Aladdin.
Disneybounding is interpretive, not literal, and it’s become a phenomenon among adults. It’s also a function of the fact that Disney park attendees are prohibited from dressing in character costumes — for safety reasons, as well as to ensure brand integrity.
Leslie Kay, a 28-year-old living in Toronto, coined the term “Disneybound” over six years ago, when she started a Tumblr page devoted to all things Disney. The noun became a verb, as Kay started putting outfits together and posting them on her page. Soon after, a media outlet (the name of which Kay can no longer remember) discovered her and helped her go viral. Across Kay’s social media accounts, she now has more than 500,000 followers.
That may not sound like much when you compare it to someone like Kendall Jenner, who has 83 million followers and counting, but it’s enough that Kay’s been able to turn her hobby into a full-time job. Once an executive assistant at a law firm, she now spends her days managing Disneybound accounts and acting as the director of marketing for online retailer Cakeworthy, which caters to Disneybounders. Cakeworthy started as the ultimate Disney fan’s go-to shopping destination; now it’s an official partner.
The site sells graphic shirts and accessories with sayings that reference Disney’s most iconic titles (“Never grow up,” “Take me to Wonderland”). But it’s not the only option for shoppers who want Disney-inspired or official Disney-licensed merch outside of the 350 official Disney stores worldwide. There are accessibly priced wears at Uniqlo, for example, which sells $15 Mickey Mouse T-shirts.
For those with elevated tastes and a budget to match, there are $3,978 Beauty and the Beast–inspired Christopher Kane dresses (currently discounted) ; $500 Alice in Wonderland–inspired Marc Jacobs sweaters; $200 Comme des Garçons camouflage T-shirts that, if you look closely, are comprised of dozens of abstract Mickey mice; or, most recently, Muppets by Miu Miu (Disney owns Muppets).
And that list is far from exhaustive. There has been a 150 percent increase in Disney new-product arrivals across the apparel space for the first half of 2017 compared to first half of 2015, according to data from research firm Edited.
“Nostalgia themes are prevalent right now,” Edited senior retail analyst Katie Smith tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “Whether that’s through Disney-style outfits or throwback trends on the runways, by wearing these products, customers are seeking comfort and reassurance, particularly in today’s climate.”
The Disney company declined to comment for this story. But according to the most recent annual filing, its consumer-products segment, which includes licensed apparel, generated the least revenue for the company (after studio entertainment, parks and resorts, and media networks). Still, it accounted for $5.5 billion of Disney’s $55 billion revenue.
To be sure, Disneybounding doesn’t require participants to wear Disney-licensed merch. In fact, it’s actually encouraged that you rely on non-Disney apparel to create on-trend outfits, says Kelley, noting that she doesn’t usually splurge on high-ticket items unless she thinks she’ll be able to reuse them for different characters. Instead, she prefers thrifting — unlike Kay, who splurged on a pair of Alexander Wang boots for a Princess and the Frog outfit and says she maintains separate Disneybound and non-Disneybound closets in her home.
The most popular characters for Disneybound folks are the classics: Snow White, Belle from Beauty and the Beast, and Mickey Mouse, according to the number of Disneybound outfit sets created on social shopping site Polyvore. But Disneybounders also embrace newer Disney characters like Baymax, a creature from the movie Big Hero 6 that looks like a 21st-century Icon Ghost, and characters from Frozen, the highest grossing animated film of all time.
Bottom line, says Kay: “Disneybounding is a fun way to express yourself. You’re allowed to have fun and break the rules. Isn’t that what fashion is all about?”
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Alexandra Mondalek is a writer for Yahoo Style + Beauty. Follow her on Twitter @amondalek.