The Disney T-Shirtby Gregg Jacobs, contributing writer
With the inarguable exception of those mouse ears that have long been a right of Disney passage, there is no Disney merchandise staple more classic than the Mickey Mouse T-shirt. They came into being in the 1950s and from then through the subsequent decades, it seems that everyone—whether a Disney fan or not—had to have one. As with much of its merchandise, Disney hit a bit of a creative slump with these in the 1990s and 2000s, but in the last few years, has experienced a creative explosion, releasing a seemingly endless array of designs.
T-shirts in general had their beginnings only around 100 years ago. During World War I, the U.S. Navy issued them to soldiers as a comfortable and easy part of their uniforms. These spread across the military, and became standard issue across all military branches by World War II.
Hollywood entered the scene in the 1950s with A Streetcar Named Desire. Even the most casual movie fan knows about the iconic scene, where a T-shirt clad Marlon Brando screams "Stella!" Rock bands also started seeing their screaming fans wearing logo Ts.
This is also roughly where Mickey Mouse enters the picture. In the 1950s, a Florida company called Tropix Togs got the idea to do shirts for America's theme parks, and entered into a licensing agreement with Disney to produce silk-screened Ts featuring the now-famous image of the mouse.
The popularity of kitschy Ts exploded from there, and are now a wardrobe staple of pretty much everyone. Your company may give you one at a corporate event. You may wear one with your team's logo to your favorite sporting event. You may personalize a T and have your kid's image emblazoned across your chest. Or, in the case of some of us, wear a T-shirt with your favorite mouse or other character to our favorite theme park.
Every self-respecting Disney fan has a collection of these (come on, you know you do). A few years ago, Mouseplanet's own Chris Barry wrote about his personal collection. The funny thing here being that Chris and I have the same vintage Mickey Mouse T-shirt, that we each likely bought 20 years ago (and sorry Chris—I think I just dated both of us).
In terms of adding to your own wardrobe, I'm pleased to say that in the last couple of years, there has been an explosion of new designs, encompassing all aspects of the Disney universe.
If you're a fan of Mickey Mouse, the latest trend I'm seeing in the stores depicts Mickey in his standard pose (one foot up on its heel, arms behind his back), but in silhouette, with some fun print filling the image. For example, I recently bought a gray long-sleeve Mickey T from Walt Disney World. Mickey's outline was filled in with images from old comics, with the Walt Disney World logo emblazoned across the front. There are constantly new patterns from this series coming out (park maps and gardens are two of the favorites that I've seen).
I could write a whole article on Mickey Mouse Ts, there are so many out there now—whether you want him with his Fab Five friends, alone, as a baby, as a hipster, in his vintage pose, or with modern technology, you can have it.
The shirts have also gone well beyond Mickey and the Fab Five. Disney has a nearly 100-year-old cannon of characters that's continually growing, so that only makes sense. That said, Disney did fall into a bit of a rut for a long while in what they were making. During the 1990s and 2000s, there was a lot of homogenized product across the stores and resorts that had one version of Mickey with a standard logo and not much else. I'm happy to report that things have changed, so now whatever character or film you may be into, there's likely a T for you.
As the Disney empire has expanded (much like the Empire in the original Star Wars films—how's that for a segue?), so have the merchandising opportunities. Alongside Mickey, Buzz and Stitch on the racks are Darth Vader, R2D2 and, well, more Darth Vader. From a simple "May the Force be with You" floating on a star field to Chewbacca wearing Mickey ears, you'll find a large selection to choose from. This picture was taken at the Disney Store, so these are available everywhere, but obviously Tatooine Traders at Disney's Hollywood Studios is the best place to start.
Pixar fans can rejoice that they, too, can wear their favorite characters.Toy Story has been a staple for more than 20 years now (though a shirt with Buzz and Woody over a WDW logo is something I've only recently seen), but again, even minor characters are being featured on clothing items now. I'm a big dog lover, and my little (40-pound) one loves nothing more than pulling on her leash when she sees a squirrel (no, she may not have one of her very own), so yelling "Squirrel!" whenever that happens, after Dug from Up, has been a family joke for years. Imagine my surprise at seeing a Dug T-shirt that practically yells Squirrel!
I've also seen shirts with characters from Monsters, Inc. (love Roz), Cars, A Bug's Life (Disney Outfitters at Animal Kingdom has these) and Wall-E recently,
The point of all this is whatever your Disney interest, you're likely to find a T that has what you love, and that wasn't the case a few years ago.
I wrote an article a couple of months ago about Twenty Eight & Main, and how Disney was using the product line to bring back vintage artwork from the resorts. This continues to be true in the area of T and long-sleeve shirts. From the Matterhorn to the Haunted Mansion to old favorites gone from WDW such as Mr. Toad, to the Adventurer's Club, and the Rose and Crown Dining room at Epcot, you can get themed clothing. While there have been some rumors about the line's demise, the shop at Disney Springs' Co-Op Marketplace is still kicking. Some great items are also available at the Disney Store online.
Even basic Ts start out at around $24.95 if you shop at the resorts, and only go up from there, so you if you want to save a few dollars and still get some great products, there are other options.
Readers of this space know I think the Disney Store is a bit lacking in merchandise for the over-10 set, but they always have a great display of adult T-shirts available, always at a lower price point than the resorts and often on sale. On a recent visit to my local Disney Store (in Bridgewater, New Jersey, if anyone is curious), there was a wide assortment available. They had Mickey and Minnie and other members of the Fab Five, of course (Images of Mickey and Minnie smooching have become extremely popular).
What's interesting is they also had Ts featuring a wide variety of other Disney characters, such as Stitch and a stylized Meg from Hercules. They also had shirts featuring Star Wars characters, Marvel heroes and Disney sayings (my favorite: "I hope we never lose sight of one thing, that it was all started by a mouse"). There were 25 different shirts of all different designs on this one display. Repeated visits also reveal that the shirts available keep changing and that there are often sales. Frequently available are promotions like get 20 percent off, and buy one get one half price. The Disney Store has become a great place to visit for these, and they're right in your backyard.
Disneystore.com is a great place to visit as well to see the constantly changing inventory.
Another great shopping experience I've mentioned before is Uniqlo, the Japanese clothing chain that has taken up residence at Disney Springs. Across from the Lime parking garage, you walk right into the Disney T-shirt section, and they have plenty. I think their 100 Mickeys effort is coming to a close (and there were literally a hundred different Mickey images you could buy), but there are tons of great Ts featuring your favorite characters. Mickey is usually the star, but on a visit a few month's ago, there were a wide array of character images available, most of them unique. One fun set had Donald and Goofy engaged in sports.
The best part about these great shirts is that most of them are under $15, and this is at Walt Disney World. You're not going to find any that inexpensive at the Emporium or Mousegear.
From more recent beginnings than one would expect to a more sleepy period to the wide selection you see today, the Disney T-shirt has become a true way to show your Disney side. I have many friends who have written the shops at the resorts off as all having the same thing, but in terms of T's at least, they have earned a second (and third and fourth) look.
Shopping tip of the month
This month's shopping tip will bring your attention to a not quite hidden gem. Again at the risk of repeating myself, I'm going to tell you that you must visit Keystone Clothiers on Hollywood Boulevard at Disney's Hollywood Studios. I had never really paid it much attention in the past, saving my time and money for its bigger cousins, World of Disney, Mousegear and the Emporium, but it's come a long way in recent years.
As you enter the store when walking into the park, on the left is a massive display wall of T-shirts. Like with all WDW shops, they have the standard Mickey and WDW logo Ts, but there's so much more. On a recent visit, I found Ts with characters from Toy Story, Aladdin, Hercules, and a personal favorite, Dug from Up (yes, I'm bring him up again). I haven't seen that T before or since, but they had it there. They also had "vintage" WDW Ts of both the long- and short-sleeve variety.
They also have their own Twenty Eight & Main display.
For these and other great items, I'd recommend a pitstop at Keystone Clothiers on your way in or out of the park.