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How Bath Mats Got So Dirty

The humble bath mat is suddenly trendy decor — commodified for the always-online crowd with horny slogans and a ‘Live, Laugh, Love’ aesthetic

In a 2017 Mother’s Day sketch on Saturday Night Live, Melissa Villaseñor plays a young suburban mom celebrating her son’s first birthday and their new family home. Her fellow moms surprise her with one last gift to welcome Melissa into town: her animal. 

As Cecily Strong (whose animal is a pig) explains, suburban women aren’t perceived to have a personality when they become parents. Their assumed interests are 1) children and 2) a token animal. When moms embrace their animal, it’s like taking the red pill: They buy replicas of ceramic vases, acrylic paintings and wooden hanging boards to adorn their cookie-cutter homes. Suddenly, a dubious Villaseñor’s outfit transforms from a floral button-down into a bright yellow shirt (from TJ Maxx) with a large white rooster on the front. Her animal is a chicken.

It’s all poking fun at big-budget stores like HomeGoods where cheap, generic decor rules. The bathroom becomes a cooling, stress-free beach with soap carved into shells and hand towels embroidered to look like waves. The kitchen is a farmhouse, with rooster clocks and “thankful” signs (never capitalized) hanging above the window sink.

Recently, though, a version of this chintzy decor trend has popped up for younger shoppers, dismantling the notion that middle-aged moms are the only group falling prey to mass-market decor solutions. If suburban women have “Live Laugh Love” signs from Marshalls, then their Zoomer kids have “Get Naked” bath mats from Urban Outfitters.

Urban Outfitters sells brightly colored bat mats ordering you to “Get Naked.” I’m scared. Screenshot of Urban Outfitters’ Instagram

Bath mats used to be utilitarian, serving the sole purpose of keeping your floor dry. They get gross quickly, so it’s no use getting something cute. Buy an industrial, cool-toned antibacterial bath mat — or one you can throw in the wash, if you have in-unit washer-dryer privilege — and be done with it. Now, thanks to Urban Outfitters, bath mats are the latest random object in your apartment to be aestheticized and commodified.

So when — and why — did the humble bath mat get so horny?

We’re in a new era of digital life — one in which every piece of furniture in the background of your company Zoom call or TikTok video is scrutinized. Young buyers often feel pressured to aestheticize their entire living space or risk being exposed as boring. Urban Outfitters, home to styles you’ll regret buying in nine months, is poised to profit: It’s always appealed to the upper-middle-class teens and twentysomethings desperate to shed their mundane suburban identity via mass-market products.

That impulse has now entered the john. UO answers the call with an array of cotton bath mats in a variety of cutesy, girlbossified shapes: avocados, lemons, mushrooms and smiley faces. Others feature demonstrative statements with in frilly colors and cute tassels to soften the sexuality.

In the new Urban Outfitters collection, you can find $200 rattan daybeds and $50 bedroom tapestries as well. These kitschy items evoke the ’70s swag our grandparents donated to Goodwill. The goal is to look (and lounge) like a young Stevie Nicks — except without a lick of dirt, dust or anything made before 2011. 

Text bath mats are the latest way to aestheticize your life for Instagram, but they don’t hold up in the wash. Screenshot of Urban Outfitters’ Instagram

Are trendy UO bath mats worth the investment? I read through reviews, and many buyers don’t think so. There’s a consensus that they’re cute, but colors bleed in the wash. As a reviewer named Jenna_ says of the “Get Naked” mat, “I bought it in May 2020 and thought it was super cute but it is now super dirty and it’s very noticeable. I wouldn’t recommend buying it.”

The horny bath mats are everywhere now: Walmart and Society6 have both hopped on the fad. My advice? Skip this trend! Your bath mat might say “Self Care,” but that’s gonna be hard to do when it grows mold and turns your undershirts pink.