What is Dapper Day and why do 20,000 people hit Disneyland in vintage couture to celebrate it?

Dapper Day Expo in Anaheim (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)


Disneyland was extra whimsical last weekend when Dapper Day celebration rolled in with scads of tulle, waistcoats, coiffed hairstyles and chiffon. The unofficial fashion extravaganza for the fans of Mickey, Minnie and polka dots converged for the biannual event, culminating in a park takeover that filled the Anaheim attraction with retro looks inspired by the house of mouse. 

“It’s the biggest cocktail party in the world without cocktails,” Dapper Day founder Justin Jorgensen said on the phone before the event took place.

And what a party it was. This year, Jorgensen estimates that 20,000 to 30,000 visitors  participated in the Dapper Day festivities. An impressive jump from the modest 100 who showed up the first time he threw the meet-up in February 2011.

The unofficial gathering is an assemblage of Disney fans who want nothing more than a chance to parade around the theme park in their Sunday best. There’s no age limit or required “look” to participate -- visitors simply show up dressed to impress. And the bigger it gets, the more creative the costumes become. The 2016 Fall Dapper Day event saw little girls dressed as fancy Hat Box ghosts, Pocahontas with a Priscilla Presley hairdo, Millennium Falcon pillbox hats and so much more.

Although Jorgensen was hesitant to clarify just how close of a relationship the unofficial holiday has with the park, it’s worth noting that Mickey Mouse is known to appear in his best Dapper Dans ensemble (taken from the official Main Street U.S.A. barbershop quartet) on Dapper Days. 

Truly, pairing mouse ears with parasols and cat-eyed lashes is so hot right now. 

“I could just tell that people wanted a reason to dress up,” Jorgensen said. “There was a need to celebrate with fashion and celebrate one’s personal style… People want a place where they can dress up and not feel strange or out of place.” The need spilled over to a full-fledged Fan Expo at the nearby Grand Californian hotel, which was  filled with vendors selling vintage clothing, shaving stations offering barber services, and even live bands such as the Gin Mill Grifters. 

What is it about the magical theme park that conjures up a need for a vintage fashion revival?  “It’s a couture environment,” Jorgensen said. “There’s such a high level of detail and it’s so rich that it lends itself to dressing with much more attention to detail. After you’ve experienced a Dapper Day event at one of these parks, when you then see people roaming the parks in cargo shorts and T-shirts, it really seems visually disjointed and out of place. They’re walking around castles and turn-of-the-century Victorian architecture, but they themselves don’t appear to be a part of the space at all.” 

Dapper Day has already expanded to Florida’s Disney World and Disneyland Paris.

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Twitter: @MdellW 


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