It has nothing to do with fashion, and everything to do with early animation techniques.

By Meghan Overdeep
April 12, 2019
Facebook/Mickey Mouse

Mickey, Minnie, Donald Duck, Goofy, and Pinocchio have a lot more in common than the man who dreamed them up.

In addition to a knack for getting into trouble, you may have noticed that Walt Disney’s earliest cartoon characters all share an affection for gloves. What’s up with that? What are animals doing wearing gloves?

As animation historian and professor at NYU John Canemaker explained to Vox, the reason some of our favorite cartoon characters wear gloves has nothing to do with fashion, and everything to do with early animation techniques.

A laborious process, even by today’s standards, Canemaker said that animators came up with hacks to make their jobs easier and faster.  “At the dawn of animation” he explained, “certain techniques to make the animation process easier were used.”

This also meant simplifying features, such as hands, feet, and even Felix the Cat’s snout, to speed up the animation process. These techniques also included using round edges instead of angles because they were more efficient to draw repeatedly.

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Unfortunately, rounded hands were difficult for audiences to see against their bodies in black-and-white film—especially when the characters were using them. That’s where white gloves came in. It’s believed that Walt Disney became the first animator to put white gloves on a character (Mickey Mouse) when he made The Opry House in 1929. Prior to that, Mickey’s hands were just big black circles.

“At one point, he walks up to a piano, sits down, and begins to play” Vox writer Estelle Caswell said of Mickey’s performance in The Opry House. “Those white gloves really make his grand gestures stand out—and they make him seem human. He’s a mouse, after all.”