The Disney Look Fifty Years Ago

by Jim Korkis, contributing writer
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Traditionally, the Walt Disney Company has tried to adhere to certain appearance codes for cast members who interact with the public in order to appear more welcoming for everyone. Written guidelines called the "Disney Look" are given to all cast members. As the decades have progressed it has become more and more of a challenge to strictly enforce these guidelines with cast members finding clever "work-arounds" like covering small tattoos with band-aids.


"We do not think of 'hiring for a job' but rather of 'casting for a role' in the Walt Disney World show.

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In early April, Walt Disney World announced that it is relaxing its restrictions on theme park employees' appearances to include some visible tattoos, "gender-inclusive" hairstyles and costumes and other changes in an effort to support inclusion and diversity. It was also probably done to increase its potential labor force that had been previously excluded as more and more businesses are struggling to hire people.

Disney Parks, Experiences and Products chairman Josh D'Amaro said in a blog post that the company will now offer "greater flexibility" when it comes to "gender-inclusive hairstyles, jewelry, nail styles, and costume choices" while employees are working, along with "appropriate visible tattoos" that are below the neck and limited in size.

WDW previously announced in October 2019, that it would allow beards and goatees up to one inch long and allowing cast members of either gender to wear a single bracelet or necklace.

Disney Legend Bill "Sully" Sullivan got his start at Disneyland in 1955 as one of the first Jungle Cruise skippers. When I interviewed him in 2007, he told me:

"One of the first skippers was Don Weir who was frail and had this big beard. He would come to work wearing live chameleons. He had tied monofilament around their necks, and he'd wear three or four of them on his shirt. Really took the guests by surprise and made them feel as if they were in the wild jungle.

"The skippers were kind of the cause of the grooming standard that was established, because I had a beard, a Van Gogh, and I let my hair grow for four months and it got down around my shoulders.

"Walt kept looking and says, 'I want wholesome, young, American guys and gals working out there at the park. So nothing of any extreme, so clean it up!'

"That's when the grooming standards started. We all got haircuts and we shaved. The girls, the bouffants went away and all that good stuff. Easy on the perfumes and the size of the earrings. The way you dressed was black shoes, no white socks, good stuff like that.

"Yeah, the guys on the Jungle Cruise pretty much caused the grooming standards. Nobody argued. It was what Walt wanted and so that's what he got. We all fell in line. He always knew what he was doing."

It was determined that mustaches and beards, except on certain entertainment cast members like Sheriff Lucky in Frontierland or Trinidad the White Wing on Main Street, could be intimidating to some guests, especially children. For some people, mustaches and beards suggested beatniks, hippies or other radicals who were potentially dangerous.

For years, the joke was that Walt himself with his mustache would not have been hired at Disneyland.

According to one Disney executive of the time, too much makeup on women made them look "cheap" and not friendly like a mother or a big sister. The written guidelines were put in place in 1958 and someone was assigned to check cast members after they left costuming and before they went on stage in the park.

Disney executive Dick Nunis recalled:

"We actually had our first written appearance policy in 1958. Many of the women at that particular time were wearing high-fashion beehive and pompadour hairdos in equally high-fashion colors of pink, blue, green, purple and the like.

"Some of the men were a bit extreme too, sporting French crew cuts that were flat on top, long on the sides and had a ducktail in the back. Neither of these styles complemented the themed attractions and locations.

"Both Disneyland and Walt Disney World are special shows. Extremes in hairstyles, lipstick, fingernail polish, jewelry and the like can draw the guest's attention away from the total experience we are trying to create. The appearance of our Cast is integral to our success."

The goal was for a fresh, clean and approachable look, ensuring that every guest of whatever age, gender or culture felt comfortable with the entire cast. The focus was meant to be on the overall show, not the individual. Cast members like Imagineers and animators who were "creative" were given some flexibility when it came to the guidelines.


Boys must be short-haired, and girls are required to keep makeup at a minimum.

As we are celebrating the 50th anniversary of Walt Disney World this year, I thought it might be fun to look back half a century to see what you had to look like in order to work at WDW in 1971.

The October 18, 1971 issue of TIME magazine stated:

"The 6,200 Disney World staffers, in general, are young: 5,500 are between 17 and 22, and every one of them is wholesome. Their uniforms are designed with all the come-hither appeal of cassocks; one monorail pilot was grounded briefly on opening day because her black bikini panties showed through her lime-green jumpsuit.

"Boys must be short-haired, and girls are required to keep makeup at a minimum. Good looks obviously counted when it came to hiring: largely because of that criterion, Disney rejected nine applicants for every one hired. Once on the payroll, the kids were 'Disneyized' at Disney World University where rose-colored glasses are part of the curriculum."

Jim Passilla was the director of Employee Relations for Disney's Florida operation. Passilla stated that Disney interviewers thought of themselves as casting directors for a mammoth entertainment production where there would be no bus boys or waitresses but Dining Hosts and Dining Hostesses.

"In most cases, we are looking for types of people rather than skills," stated Passilla. "We do not think of 'hiring for a job' but rather of 'casting for a role' in the Walt Disney World show. "We often hear people refer to clean-cut, attractive, helpful, personable, well-groomed, enthusiastic men and women as 'Disney types'."

A press release announced that "In looking for cast members to fill the 5,000 Vacation Kingdom roles, the employment staff will be looking primarily for full-time employees since 'the show must go on' year round with limited opportunities for part-time employment".

Preference was given to applicants already living in Florida since it entailed no additional relocation expenses. People were excited to work at the newest Disney theme park and many spent their own money relocating to Central Florida in hopes of finding a job working there.

In 1971, for roughly every 30 people who applied for a job, only one was hired. However, cast members used to joke that if you could find the Employment Office, which was hidden away behind the construction of the Magic Kingdom, that you would get hired.

Costumes were made in roughly three "average" sizes so applicants who were too tall, too short or too large were out of luck.

Nunis told the new cast members:

"Walt Disney World is more than the greatest venture in the story of the Disney organization. It is the biggest and boldest development of its kind in the world today and you're right in the middle of the action.

"Your work will not be all 'fun'…as the word is generally used. There will be hard work and tense moments and confusion. But your role will contain all the elements of a full and adventuresome work life. You'll be doing new things…meeting new people…seeing your efforts blend with those of others to create something entirely new in the world's history.

"I'm confident we can preserve the informal friendliness which is a basic tradition of the Disney organization. It takes a happy crew to produce a happy show. Always remember that wherever you work…whatever you do…your role is important in the Walt Disney World show."

The friendly Magic Kingdom cast members each wore a name tag that was 2 ½ inches wide by 1 inch high. It had their first name in red block letters and up above was a black lined globe with mouse ears, the symbol of Walt Disney World, the Vacation Kingdom of the World, a phrase we see printed on signs with that same distinctive logo.

By the beginning of 1972, there were 10,400 cast members working at Walt Disney World. As part of the training at Disney University, new cast members were given a two page document detailing the "Disney Look". Over the years that document expanded to several pages.

The official "Disney Look" rules for 1971 emphasized a "natural" look with natural hair color and makeup. Cast members were to adhere to these rules and to maintain them. Failure to do so could result in suspension or termination.

For Disney Male Hosts

Hair. A neat natural haircut and a clean shave are essential. The hair is to be neatly groomed so that it does not extend beyond or cover any part of your ears. Hair must not stick out over your shirt collar. Hairstyles termed "natural" or "afro" are acceptable provided they are neatly packed and shaped. Any extreme hair styling… such as that of shaving the head or eyebrows… is not permitted any more than is hair which extends beyond your ears or sticks out over your collar.

Haircoloring. The "Disney Look" for Hosts does not permit extremes in dying, bleaching or tinting.

Sideburns. Sideburns should be neatly trimmed and may be permitted to extend to the bottom of the earlobe, following their natural contour. Flares or muttonchops are not permitted.

Moustaches and Beards. Moustaches and beards are not permitted.

Wigs. Wigs and hairpieces for men are not permitted unless for medical cosmetic purposes.

Fingernails. Clean presentable fingernails are a must. Fingernail tips should not extend beyond the tip of the finger.

Jewelry. Small rings, class rings, wedding bands, approved tie clips, watches and Company service pins are permitted. Only one ring per hand.

Shoes. Hosts in costume, unless otherwise advised, are requested to wear plain black leather lace oxford shoes with defined heels and black socks. Earth shoe styles and wedge styles are not a prescribed shoe. Shoes should be polished and kept in good repair. Prescribed shoes are required the first day you are in costume.

Costumes. Costumes should be clean and neat at all times. If it should happen that a costume change is necessary during your shift, check immediately with your supervisor. Any exceptions to these standards must be approved by the Appearance Coordinator. Any questions pertaining to your costume, check with Wardrobe Supervision to make sure your appearance conforms with requirements for the "Disney Look."

Name Tags. We are a first-name organization. You have been issued a name tag. Please wear it on the left side with pride. (Author's Note: The left side was considered to be where the heart was located, as when people say the Pledge of Allegiance.)

For Disney Female Hostesses

Hair. Styling: Hostesses should keep their hair neatly combed and arranged in attractive, easy-to-maintain styles. Any extreme hair styling is not permitted. Hair styles termed "natural" or "afro" are acceptable provided they are neatly packed and shaped. Coloring: The "Disney Look" does not permit extremes in dyeing, bleaching or tinting. Frosting or streaking are not permitted. Teasing: If the hair is teased, it should be kept to a minimum and should be for body and shape only. Length: Those who prefer long hair should take special care that it is neat and well groomed. Hair below shoulder length should be worn in such a manner that it is combed away from the face so that it will not fall forward or over the face while performing normal job duties. Side tendrils, if worn, should not extend below the bottom of the earlobe.

Hair Confinement and Accessories. Hair below shoulder length may need some confinement so as not to fall forward over the face while working. In keeping with the "Disney Look" there are three acceptable hair accessories: a plain barrette in gold, silver or tortoise shell with no ornamentation, yarn, and hair ribbons. If yarn or a hair ribbon is worn, it should compliment the costume and be no wider than one-half inch or longer than four inches when tied. Hair ribbons are for the express purpose of holding the hair away from the face, not as a decorative addition to the costume. Stick-pin barrettes (both leather and plastic) and knitted chignon (bun) holders are not acceptable. It is required by law that food employees confine their hair.

Wigs and Hairpieces. Wigs and hairpieces are not permitted unless for medical cosmetic purposes.

Cosmetics. Face Makeup: For Hostesses only a natural makeup is permitted. Foundation bases, powders, and blushes should correspond with each individual's skin coloring. Eye Makeup: If mascara is worn, it should be applied lightly in shades of black or brown. The "Disney Look" does not include eye shadow, eye liner or false eyelashes. Lipstick: Lipstick, if worn, should be applied lightly and should complement your appearance. Wear a true or natural color of lipstick.

Perfume. Perfume or scented powders should not be used excessively.

Fingernails. Fingernails should be kept clean and, if polish is used, it should be clear or flesh tones. Dark red, gold and silver tones are not considered part of the "Disney Look." Fingernail tips should not exceed one-fourth inch.

Jewelry. Small rings, class rings, wedding bands, engagement rings, watches, and Company service pins are permitted. Only one ring per hand with the exception of a wedding set. A petite post stud earring is acceptable. A stud constitutes a simple, inconspicuous gold, silver or colored earpost, not to exceed one-fourth inch in diameter, approximately the size of a quarter.

Shoes. Hostesses in costume, unless otherwise advised are required to provide their own shoes with a plain toe and defined heel. Shoes should be polished and kept in good repair. Earth shoe styles and wedge styles are not a prescribed shoe. Stockings are required to be worn at all times with shoes or sandals. Prescribed shoes are required the first day you are in your costume.

Costumes. Costumes should be clean and neat at all times. If it should happen that a costume change is necessary during your shift, check immediately with your supervisor. Any exceptions to these standards must be approved by the Appearance Coordinator. Any questions pertaining to your costume, check with Wardrobe Supervision to make sure your appearance conforms with requirements for the "Disney Look."

Name Tags. We are a first-name organization. You have been issued a name tag. Please wear it on the left side with pride.

While the "Disney Look" is supposedly always under constant review, very few if any changes were made for decades. The official "on-stage" appearance code came under attack with claims of discrimination — despite the fact that Disney never hid these requirements before offering someone a job.

In 1992, The Walt Disney Company found it difficult to enforce these grooming rules when hiring cast members for EuroDisney (now Disneyland Paris). In addition, Disney insisted that women working at EuroDisney must wear "appropriate undergarments" (since it was common to the culture to not always wear underwear) and only transparent pantyhose (no black hose or any fancy designs).

Such a restrictive code is forbidden by French labor law and considered to be a violation of individual rights. Disney was taken to court, so adjustments had to be made for the cast members working at that park only and then later adapted and expanded to the other Disney theme parks.

In 2000, faced with staffing challenges in all its parks, the Walt Disney Company finally allowed well-groomed mustaches. Of course, mustaches couldn't be grown while at work because it would look unkempt, but if the mustache sprouted during a vacation or before someone applied, then that was fine.

"Well-groomed" meant that the mustache had to be maintained so that it did not extend over the upper lip and extended to the corners of the mouth, but no farther. On February 3, 2012, a new code went into effect allowing male cast members to also grow trimmed beards.

In some cultures it is important for young men to have full beards to define their masculinity. In others, men cover their heads with a turban, which is integral to their religious identity.

Many who worked at Epcot's World Showcase were unhappy with the restrictions that were in place, but endured them for the opportunity to work in the United States at Walt Disney World. In 2015, however, legal action was filed and Walt Disney World finally allowed turbans on-stage. An earlier similar suit in 2008 was settled out of court.

In spite of these recent changes, the "Disney Look" is still as important, as it was back in the company's early days. As cast members were reminded during one of their lectures in their several days of Traditions class in 1972:

"The 'Disney Look' is a tremendously important part of the overall show at both Disneyland and Walt Disney World. Almost invariably our guests mention three things they like best about Disneyland and Walt Disney World…"the outstanding show"… "the remarkable cleanliness" … "the friendly employees." The last two go hand in hand. For when our guests talk about how clean the parks are, they are not just saying that there is no paper on the streets or that the paint is fresh. They are talking about our people… their costuming and their overall appearance.

"The design and creation of the costumes for every location are based on the story and theme which is being portrayed. And it is equally important that each of our people give the same attention to their personal appearance, for the 'Disney Look' is an important combination of clothing and grooming. Each individual's personal appearance should add to the show and not detract from it. Anything that could be considered offensive, distracting or not in the best interest of the Disney show will not be permitted. And since our people are moved from land to land and from costume to costume, appearance must remain consistent."

At one time, the Walt Disney Company demanded that all cast members who interacted with the public shower every day and use deodorant so they would not offend.

Would you have been able to be hired at Walt Disney World in 1971 or would your appearance have denied you an opportunity for a Disney career?