The Broad Appeal of the Elsa Dress

An Elsa dress in Brooklyn on June 25, 2024. Some parents have equated Elsa’s caped, icy-blue dress to a superhero suit because their children associate it with her power to shoot ice from her hands. (Justin J Wee/The New York Times)
An Elsa dress in Brooklyn on June 25, 2024. Some parents have equated Elsa’s caped, icy-blue dress to a superhero suit because their children associate it with her power to shoot ice from her hands. (Justin J Wee/The New York Times)

Dressing up as Elsa, the blond queen with magical powers from Disney’s animated film “Frozen,” wasn’t necessarily Jeff Hemmig’s idea of a good time.

​​“It was well outside of my comfort zone,” Hemmig, 43, said.

But he knew it would make his son, Jace, happy. So Hemmig, who lives in Killingly, Connecticut, squeezed his shoulders into a dress his mom made for him, which matched an Elsa costume she had made for her grandson. Hemmig then performed a rendition of “Let It Go,” choreography and all, as Jace watched.

Sign up for The Morning newsletter from the New York Times

“He loved it,” Hemmig said. “He was filled with joy.”

Hemmig wasn’t thrilled about wearing the dress: He said it was tight in the armpits and it made him feel vulnerable. But he loved how it delighted his son, then 3. “Seeing Dad do it, too, felt like a big moment,” Hemmig said.

Like the Hemmigs, countless parents have gone to great lengths to satisfy their Elsa-obsessed children since “Frozen” was released in 2013 and became the cornerstone for one of Disney’s most successful franchises. And Hemmig is far from the only father to dress as Elsa with his son.

Such instances have happened enough that actor Jonathan Groff, the voice of the character Kristoff in “Frozen” and “Frozen 2,” thanked the films’ directors at a 2022 event for “creating space for young boys to dress up as Anna and Elsa,” the franchise’s sister protagonists.

Jacqueline Ayala had been a preschool teacher for five years when “Frozen” came out, and it quickly infiltrated her classroom. For a time, Ayala recalled, there was only one Elsa dress in its dress-up chest. “That’s why the kids started wearing their own costumes to school,” she said. “So they wouldn’t have to share it.”

“Everybody was Elsa,” said Ayala, 38, who lives in Culver City, California. “Boys and girls.”

Her preschoolers didn’t just wear the Elsa dress: They wore Elsa shoes, Elsa socks, Elsa nightgowns and braided wigs styled like Elsa’s hair. Elsa-branded pajamas sold by H&M were a particularly popular item in her class.

“They made Olaf things for the boys,” Ayala said, referring to the snowman character in “Frozen.” “But they weren’t interested in them.”

Sarah Goodier, a mother of four in Pomfret, Connecticut, said her son was drawn to Elsa as a toddler by certain traits of the character. “She can shoot ice, she’s beautiful and she has the voice of an angel,” Goodier said. (That voice belongs to actress Idina Menzel.)

Some parents noted that the dress their children have worn to emulate Elsa was worn by the character when she sings “Let It Go,” the award-winning song from “Frozen.” As Elsa is singing, her outfit changes from a restrictive, dark gown into the airy, icy-blue dress that has become her signature look.

The “Let It Go” scene is also when Elsa embraces her power to shoot ice from her hands, much like Spider-Man shoots webs. Many parents said that this power was what primarily drew their children to the character.

May Ling Halim, a psychology professor at California State University, Long Beach, said the dress’ association with “Let It Go” may be a reason young Elsa fans want to wear it. “Music is very persuasive,” she said. “The music, the looks and then the story — it all culminated in that one scene and was really powerful over kids.”

Halim, 42, whose research focuses on gender identity development in children, said she has not let her Asian American daughters, ages 4 and 6, watch “Frozen” because she does not want them to equate beauty with Elsa’s blond hair and white skin during a critical stage of their development.

Gimel Hooper, 49, who is Black, didn’t want to show “Frozen” to his daughter for similar reasons. But after she received an Elsa doll for her 4th birthday from a friend’s mother, it became his daughter’s favorite toy. “We couldn’t turn left or right without seeing ‘Frozen’ something,” said Hooper, whose daughter is now 10. “That song was constantly playing,” he added of “Let It Go.” “Every kid knew it.”

While Elsa sings in the dress, she appears to gain a sense of invincibility, and some parents described Elsa costumes as having a similar effect on their children.

Jeff Hemmig said that, at the peak of Jace’s “Frozen” obsession, he wore his Elsa dress to Target several times. Jace’s mother, Jean Hemmig, 45, said they let him wear the dress in public because “knowing we were confident in him” would help Jace feel even more confident.

Britta Shine bought a dress for her then-4-year-old foster daughter, who had experienced abuse and neglect, as a way for her to process the intense emotions she sometimes felt. It quickly became her favorite thing to wear. Shine, who lives in Detroit and has a doctorate in developmental psychology and infant mental health, said her foster daughter, now 6, stands up straighter when she’s wearing the dress. “She feels empowered by it,” Shine, 42, added.

Meghan and Kevin Dexter, 42 and 43, said that their son liked to put on an Elsa costume as a toddler and play with friends and family in their backyard in Richmond, Virginia. He never wanted to wear it elsewhere, but his parents would have let him. “If we had to modify every behavior that might get made fun of,” Meghan Dexter said, “we would be dictating way too much about our kids.”

Tammy Hart’s 5-year-old, Rocco, also started dressing up as Elsa as a toddler. Hart, 43, didn’t mind at all — until Rocco asked about wearing the dress to school in Brooklyn.

Hart didn’t want to put Rocco in a situation that might result in bullying. So she suggested a compromise: Rocco could take the dress to school in a backpack, but it had to stay there. The day Rocco brought it to school, when Hart arrived that afternoon for pickup, she recognized a child wearing a certain costume on the playground.

“Rocco was just free as a bird in the Elsa outfit,” Hart said. “I was like, ‘OK. This is what we’re doing.’”

She and many other parents said that, as their children have grown up, their fascination with Elsa has cooled.

Goodier said her son, now 11, moved on to Pokémon and is now into music. The Hemmigs said that Jace, now 9, is into art and “Demon Slayer,” a Japanese manga series. And these days Rocco is more interested in fashion.

Ayala, who now owns and operates her own preschool, said the children in her classroom have begun to emulate a newer Disney character: Mirabel, from the film “Encanto.” “She sings a lot and has beautiful glasses and hair,” Ayala said.

A lot of boys come to her school wearing glasses like Mirabel’s, she added. She thinks that would not be happening were it not for Elsa.

“She had such an impact,” Ayala said. “Absolutely anything that had Elsa on it, it was out there. And the boys were wearing it, too.”

c.2024 The New York Times Company