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They’re big, they’re goofy, and they’re unmistakable. You see them from a mile away, sometimes literally, and they instantly grab your attention. Disney costumes develop the character of theme parks in a way that amusement parks never could. They’re an integral part of the difference between the two styles of entertaining tourists.

You’ve likely realized over the years just how many different costumes Walt Disney World offers. You just didn’t appreciate it at the time. Every time you turn a corner to a new part of the park, whether it’s a restaurant, shop, or attraction, the cast members wear outfits that reinforce the theme of that particular spot. It’s subtle and effective, and Disney has mastered the art over the years. Here are five things you might not know about Disney costumes.

1. They come from a streamlined laundry service

Image: Disney

That header is a bit of an exaggeration. In reality, the costume pick-up location is a unique combination of library, clothing store, and laundry service. The process is basic, but the underlying infrastructure is amazing.

Cast members who wear costumes, which is a large percentage of them, head to a nondescript building. It’s here that all the “magic” happens. This facility stores more than 15,000 costumes, which is more than an entire year’s worth of major movie productions. While many Disney employees wear the same costume each day, they’re not necessarily wearing the one they had on the previous day. That’s because the system requires a cleaning of these garments after every shift, an understandable and worthy goal.

Here’s how the costume exchange works. A cast member heads to the building to pick up their outfit for the day. Countless aisles of various outfits exist, and the size of this warehouse dwarfs most of the outlet stores and malls you’ve visited. Still, everybody knows where their section is, which makes pick-up quick and easy. The employee heads to the checkout counter, which is where an odd step takes place.

The cast member handling checkout scans in the bar code for the costume, thereby attaching the wearer’s name and thereby responsibility to it. That way, Disney can keep up with their merchandise, reducing the risk of runaway Elsa dresses. So, if you ever see one of these pop up on eBay, it’s safe to say that somebody’s in trouble.

After the dutiful Disney worker handles the outfit all day, the costume requires cleaning, something we’ll explore in more detail below. Disney as a company obviously takes care of this. All the cast member needs to do is drop off their costume at the appropriate place, which is a merchandise return area in the same building. The employees there will scan it in, removing the cast member’s link to it in the process. After that, they launder the costume and possibly even repair it if some enthusiastic park guest harms it in any way.

2. Wearing a costume is a nightmare

Image: Disney

First of all, let’s distinguish the types of costumes I mean. Someone who works at Be Our Guest only has to wear the server’s garb, which is thematic to the concept. That means they’re dressed as either loyal servants or guards. By looking at the shoulder pads, you can see the distinction in theme. Lots of Disney costumes are subtle but effective like that.

Now, we all know that the Disney characters at the park are real. But just imagine, say, that the Beast wasn't real - that he was a cast member in a costume (as if!). The costume would be massive, heavy, and furry. That would mean the cast member inside being hot, no matter how cool they kept  the restaurant. It would also cause issues in that the head of the outfit might not fit well. Another person might have to help the cast member jam it on each day before the shift begins. How would you feel if you were trapped in a costume so tight that you couldn't wear it unless somebody helps you put it on?  It’s a claustrophobic sensation magnified by heat inside the suit.

Believe it or not, the situation can get worse. The Beast at Be Our Guest works inside. Other furry characters (all real, of course), work outside. Disney theme parks are in hotter climates such as Orlando and Anaheim. Few days are cool while a lot of days are humid. Disney actually changes shift times during particularly hot periods, shortening the length of time a person has to stay in their costume. It’s a small measure, though. Even ten minutes in heavy costumes is more than the average person should stand.

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Comments

Now I'm wondering if a character has ever actually fainted or collapsed from heat while greeting guests.

I have to wonder if the colorful costumes have to be dry cleaned to preserve the color and fabric. If so, what does Disney do about the fumes, especially since it has to be worse than wearing a business suit that is just dry cleaned. I cannot believe all of that could be washable, but I do know about the "Happiest Laundry on Earth" facility Disney has.

I am not sure how true these two stories are, but years ago when I worked as a tour escort for trips to Disney World I had many chances to talk to employees who would regale me with stories about the park. Two come to mind after reading this article. The first was that Mary Poppins once was struck multiple times in the stomach by a an angry mother who wanted extra time for her child with Ms. P.. The other was about Mickey being thrown over the into the moat around Cinderella Castle by teenagers during an all night party at the WDW. The poor person in the Mickey costume almost drowned! I have noticed that most, if not all characters have some sort of security with them when they make appearances. I hope these aren't true but I have a feeling they are.

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