We don’t regularly “report” on merchandise here…because we don’t really buy any of the new releases. However, with the new YesterEars label, and specifically the new Figment and Dreamfinder design that’s being released (and Alien Encounter!), it seems like a topic worth discussing. With this post, I thought I’d give you a heads up on these new shirts, and also share my thoughts about these vintage/retro shirts that have exploded in popularity in the last several years.
In what I’d describe as a Walt Disney World merchandising renaissance that began a little over 5 years ago, we’ve started to see more attraction-specific designs (both current and extinct), greater variety, and an overall better sense of design. (Although the abhorrent ‘year’ designs are still the most prominent merchandise–baby steps.) The classic “D” Walt Disney World logo has returned, and a lot of creative, ‘test’ pieces have been released. Some (many) have flopped, but at least they are pushing the envelope.
All of this has led to Walt Disney World being the best worldwide resort for merchandise, in my opinion. (For those keeping score at home: 1) WDW; 2) Disneyland; 3) Shanghai Disneyland; 4) Hong Kong Disneyland; 5) Disneyland Paris; 6) Tokyo Disney Resort.) Let’s take a look at how we got to this point, and some of the problems that remain with this retro merchandise…
Actually, first let’s discuss the specific shirts that are the first round to be made available under the YesterEars line, which are available today through August 25:
First, we have the Figment and Dreamfinder – Dreamcatcher T-Shirt, where they appear riding the Dreamcatcher. This is actually a near replica of a shirt released in the 1980s, which itself was based on an awesome postcard/placemat (how I’d love to see the full color version released someday as a shirt). For reasons both obvious and less obvious (I’ll touch upon those below), I’ll be buying this one.
Then there is the X-S Tech Alien Encounter Shirt. As a huge Alien Encounter fan, I love the X-S Tech shirt, too. When I first experienced Alien Encounter, I was just about the right age to grasp the satire of X-S Tech, while still being a bit spooked by the encounter with the alien. I think it was a clever move to create an X-S Tech shirt here rather than going for the low-hanging fruit of the Alien Encounter logo. This shirt borders on being in-joke for those who get it. (No deep thoughts on the Walt Disney World Preview Center Raglan…it just looks cool!)
Retro shirts have exploded in popularity in society at large, with stores like Urban Outfitters and Huckberry (my personal favorite with their awesome National Parks line–here’s an invite for a $10 credit). If I recall correctly, the Disney craze started with a handful of EPCOT Center shirts around that park’s 25th Anniversary. It then spread to designs featuring the old logo (which is pretty much the only logo now) in advance of Magic Kingdom’s 40th Anniversary, and has since spread to Marketplace Co-Op, a testing space for new concepts, at Disney Springs and the Twenty Eight & Main line, among other things.
I also really like the materials used. I know this is a controversial claim, as these shirts have been derided as thin and cheap. While the former is true, the latter is not. These are usually slub, ring-spun, and/or tri-blend materials that are considerably higher quality and more expensive to make than your average (ugh) Hanes Beefy T. I get that people may not like the distressed look, but that shouldn’t be confused for them being cheap or low quality.
The biggest downside to Twenty Eight & Main is the pricing. I’m willing to pay for high-quality, but some of this stuff is a bit ridiculous. Then there are the Twenty Eight & Main “logo” designs, which seek to showcase 28&M as its own aspirational brand. Something tells me the target audience for these clothes is not brand-obsessed. Even if they were, this isn’t LV or Ed Hardy (thankfully).
My biggest fear is that these half-baked efforts at making 28&M an aspirational brand will flop hard, and with it take down the vintage Disney designs (the core product) about which guests actually care. (I also don’t get why 28&M doesn’t have cuts for women–it seems like a massive oversight to target “the distinguished gentleman” given actual fan demographics that skew towards women.)
I’ve long been conflicted on the retro shirts Disney releases. On the one hand, buying a shirt that celebrates a past that–in some cases–Disney has haphazardly eliminated doesn’t sit well with me. It’s one thing when it’s something like Mickey Mouse Revue, which (I think) could be described as a natural demise after having a good run.
It’s another thing entirely with attractions such as Journey into Imagination, which (again, I think) were replaced prematurely by inferior attractions. In the latter instance, it feels like merchandise has become a way to cash-in on the popularity of something that’s extinct (Dreamfinder) without making an overdue, substantive change to the attraction. Obviously, the line between a “natural” and “premature” demise is a subjective, so I suppose this is a gut-level reaction that will differ from fan to fan.
On the other hand, Disney is a huge company, and one arm often doesn’t know what the other is doing. If their social media presences are any indication, the Disney Design Group team is filled with fans who are pushing for retro merchandise like this because they have fond memories of bygone attractions, and want to honor them. It’s not as if this is some vast conspiracy set in motion by Bob Iger to tug on the heartstrings of nostalgics. He’s not taking a noon meeting about shuttering Maelstrom for Frozen and then designing a shirt to honor Norway’s trolls on his lunch break while laughing maniacally. He probably has no clue these shirts even exist.
Moreover, if you’re worried about implicitly supporting Disney’s “destruction” of its past by purchasing these shirts…well, you’re doing exactly that with every purchase you make, from park tickets to hotels to meals. Taking that line of reasoning to its natural conclusion, any money spent at the Disney Parks is a ‘vote with your wallet’ for those business decisions.
In fact, the argument could easily be made that support of extinct attractions is ‘voting with your wallet’ that you prefer them to their replacements. I’ve often wondered if we are seeing such a resurgence in Dreamfinder via merchandise because Disney is testing the water to see how he still resonates with fans. Probably wishful thinking on my part, but I want to remain optimistic.
I have a tough time believing voting with your wallet makes any difference, good or bad, when it comes to the parks (my belief is that management will find the rationale to support the decisions it wants to make, and little can be done to alter that). I think it’s a symbolic gesture that can make people feel better about their purchases and what they support. In other words, I “get” why people are hesitant to refrain from buying this merchandise, even if I think it ultimately doesn’t make a difference. Likewise, I get why people want to buy it.
What makes me more uneasy than anything is the prices. There have been several online-exclusive shirts that I’ve wanted…until I see the pricing on DisneyStore.com. I’ve passed on several shirts I’ve really wanted, including shirts for SpectroMagic, IllumiNations, Horizons, Country Bear Jamboree, and more. Totally a personal thing, but I have a difficult time justifying that amount of money for a t-shirt.
This time is a different story. Not because the prices are cheaper (they aren’t), but because I’ve been watching eBay for years for the Figment and Dreamfinder shirt. On the rare instances I’ve seen it listed, it has never been in my size, and has sold for way more than what DisneyStore.com is charging. So, that I can justify…especially as I’ve paid significantly more in the past for retro shirts on eBay (the Future World shirt above is a prime example).
In fact, I’m even talking myself into doing the 3 for $69 deal because each shirt will “only” be $23 that way. Maybe I’ll even add this Haunted Mansion MagicBand to qualify for free shipping. What is wrong with me?!
What do you think of the retro merchandise craze? Have you purchased any of the retro items, or are they not for you? Are you considering buying these shirts? Any other thoughts? Hearing from you is half the fun, so please share in the comments!