It used to be that when you visited a Disney theme park, the typical dress code was jeans and a Mickey Mouse T-shirt.
Increasingly, however, the parks have become a backdrop for fans to express their creativity and individuality through fashion inspired by their favorite Disney characters and attractions.
Today at the Magic Kingdom, hundreds of fans dressed up in their semi-formal and vintage best for Dapper Day, which continues tomorrow at Epcot.
Dapper Day has become a seasonal event, unofficially sanctioned by Disney. Meanwhile Disney-themed Facebook groups have taken to organizing their own informal park meet-ups with members dressed in coordinating fashions in varying levels of elaborateness.
Of course, Disney doesn’t permit adult guests to wear full costumes into the parks – except during annual Halloween celebrations – but fans have embraced a new trend that allows them to express their inner Disney fashionistas, despite the costume restrictions.
That trend is known as DisneyBounding. It refers to fans who wear outfits modeled after their favorite Disney characters, attractions, and other theme park elements, but in a subtle, everyday way that might go unnoticed by anyone but especially savvy Disney enthusiasts.
“DisneyBounding” was coined, created, and popularized by Leslie Kay, who put together her first character-inspired outfit for a trip to Disney World.
Eventually, she founded a website featuring inspiration for Bounders in the form of themed outfits for everything from “101 Dalmations,” to “Cinderella,” to “Star Wars,” to “Winnie the Pooh.”
According to Kay, her website is “meant to be inspiration for you to pull together your own outfits which work for your body and wallet whether from your closet or local mall.”
Columbus, Ohio, resident Kirsten Kerr started following Kay on Tumblr several years ago, but only recently made her first leap into DisneyBounding.
“I immediately fell in love with the creativity of her outfits and started to follow other DisneyBounders’ pages as well,” Kirsten said.
“I’m not very comfortable with fashion, but I really enjoy what others do with it.”
Kirsten visited Disneyland frequently when she lived in California and now makes occasional trips to Disney World.
“Now there are sometimes a few years between visits,” she said. “Looking at Disney fan pages helps to tide me over until I get there. I like the idea of clothing having a deeper meaning than just what looks good.”
For a recent trip to Disney World with her husband, Kirsten put together several DisneyBounding outfits, despite feeling “intimidated by clothing and fashion in general and that includes bounding.”
The outfits included a Merida-inspired blue-green dress with a belt, Etsy-commissioned pendant, and arrow earrings; a “painting the roses red” ensemble inspired by “Alice in Wonderland” that included a red dress, white rose necklace, and paint-speckled earrings; and a smoky purple dress and skeleton cameo earrings that evoked Disney’s Haunted Mansion.
“It was so much fun,” Kirsten said of her first DisneyBound.
“I got lots of compliments. … I really enjoyed putting the bounds together and I hope to do some family themed bounds for our next trip in a year or so.”
Kirsten isn’t the only DisneyBound newbie to get hooked on the trend.
According to veteran bounder Sara Parrott, the trend’s reputation has grown rapidly and that’s largely due to social media.
Something of an expert on the subject, Sara said Kay has 163,000 Instagram followers, while the hashtag #disneybound yields 536,975 posts. Social media influencers who regularly post about DisneyBounding include @damfino, @lonicatherinec, @sarahgsterling, and @mrleozombie.
Sara said she got serious about bounding in 2013, during her freshman year of college. After a lifetime of private schools and uniforms, she found herself “suddenly struck with having to dress myself every day.”
She discovered the bounding trend on fashion website Polyvore, then graduated to Instagram.
“I love being able to show my love for various Disney characters through my clothes, and it also helped me wear more than just jeans and a graphic T-shirt to class,” she said.
Sara has participated in two month-long DisneyBound challenges and also took the opportunity to rock bounding fashions frequently during an eight-month stint of employment at Disneyland in 2015.
Most of her inspiration comes from Disney animated features, she said.
“I’ve occasionally drawn inspiration from the live action films — especially the Marvel Cinematic Universe — and even made a dress inspired by one of the floats in a Disneyland parade, but I’ve found most of my inspiration in animated features like “Toy Story,” “The Little Mermaid,” and “Lady and the Tramp.”
Potential bounders may be surprised to discover you don’t necessarily have to visit a Disney theme park in order to participate.
Krista Reince has woven DisneyBounding into the threads of her everyday life.
A travel planner for Disney Destinations who enjoys Disney World and the Disney Cruise Line, Krista discovered a much-needed outlet for self-expression in bounding.
“I found DisneyBounding at a time when I really needed to start giving myself time each day,” she said.
“I’m a mom of young twins and I wasn’t giving myself the care or attention I needed. By starting to bound daily, I created at least a little time for myself each day. Add to that the welcoming acceptance of the DisneyBounding community and connection with people who have similar interests and I felt like I had found a new groove (without being turned into a llama).
Krista is a hardcore follower of DisneyBounding challenges. “It’s how I get inspired,” she said.
Her first such endeavor was one of Kay’s challenges in March. “I had so much fun with the themes, I wanted to continue.”
And she has each month ever since. She posts her daily bounds and other Disney-related images on her Instagram, @disneyfromhome.
“I’ve used photography prompts, doodle/drawing prompts, and this month I’m using inspirational phrases to guide me to a character,” she said.
Krista has hosted challenges, including one modeled after the alphabet and one dedicated to Disney villains. She once issued herself a personal challenge to put together outfits based on different elements found in Disney’s Main Street USA.
She said her bounds can be somewhat “obscure,” or difficult to identify, because she takes her inspiration from a broad array of less obvious sources.
“I don’t limit it to just characters. If it’s tied to Disney, it’s fair game to me. I’ve bounded as storefronts, park decorations, park foods, attraction cars/buggies, parade floats, figurines, and art. I’ll pull from animated films, live action movies, stage productions, TV shows. I use current and classic, beloved favorites and barely knowns. All of it.”
And for those worried about the potential expense of building Disney-themed ensembles, Krista is living proof that shopping for new clothes isn’t always necessary.
After finding inspiration and ideas on Google, “I think about what I have in my closet that might work,” she said.
“I pull it out at night to wear the next day. For me, the challenge can be having the right pieces to complete a look. I do this daily from my existing closet. I haven’t really bought specific pieces.”
Combing through your own closet for bounding resources can be tricky, however.
“The biggest challenge for me was the cost of the bounds,” Kirsten said. “Even ‘cheap’ jewelry adds up when you’re buying for multiple outfits.”
Another challenge of bounding is figuring out where to start when designing an outfit.
Sara said crafting an appropriate ensemble can be “a very tricky line to walk.”
“The purpose of DisneyBounding is not to appear as the character, which is the purpose of cosplaying; the purpose of DisneyBounding is to use clothes to suggest characters from Disney.
“For example, you don’t need to wear a blue ballgown with a blonde bun and glass slippers to be Cinderella. You can wear any variety of blue dresses and a black choker and people are going to recognize the influence of Cinderella.”
According to Kirsten, the Internet is an indispensable tool for overcoming creative blocks or dealing with the intimidation factor that can be overwhelming for rookie bounders.
“Just google the characters of the idea you’re hoping to bound. Chances are you aren’t the first to put together an outfit.”
Perhaps the most important quality for a potential bounder is a willingness to jump in and give it a try.
Lancaster, California, resident Christy Rooney attempted her first bound earlier this month and it became a family affair.
“I had heard about DisneyBounding from my Disney-loving cousin, Wendy, but hadn’t really looked into it,” Christy said.
“At the same time, my mom had been starting to see the trend popping up on Pinterest and in Disney YouTube vlogs.”
With members of the family planning a California visit for a cousin’s wedding, they hatched a scheme for a group bound.
Christy’s mother, Susan Mitchell, coordinated the group effort via text and phone calls. Fifteen family members participated, including aunts, uncles, cousins, and Christy’s two children. Flexibility proved key to the success of the outing.
At first, Christy planned to bound as Princess Aurora of “Sleeping Beauty.” “But my wardrobe consists mainly of black, and nothing seemed to work.”
A polka-dot dress purchased for a 1950s-themed party became the basis for a costume modeled after Perdita of “101 Dalmations.”
Christy’s daughter, Gwenyth, dressed as Marie of “The Aristocats” and her son, Gavin, wore a “Peter Pan”-inspired outfit.
“To make us more easily identifiable, my awesome mom made several custom ears for our group,” Christy said.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: We’ll further explore the custom Mickey ear craze in a blog post scheduled for next weekend.)
The family enjoyed the attention they received during their DisneyBound day, especially from enthusiastic Disney cast members.
The clan is tentatively making plans for a “Tangled”-themed outing in January.
“I highly recommend it,” Christy said.
Photos courtesy of DisneyBound, Kirsten Kerr, Krista Reince, Christy Rooney, Sara Parrott.
Can’t get enough DisneyBounding? Below are more photos of the bounders featured in this story.