When I saw the headlines this week that people were being “trampled” as they lined up outside of Target stores across the country to score limited edition Stanley x Starbucks tumblers, I was not surprised. The cup has been trending on social media, especially TikTok, since 2022, when it became the preferred water vessel for “aesthetic” girlies who loved its hulking size and array of eye-pleasing colors. It was at the top of many Christmas lists this year, proof that Stanley fervor — and our collective obsession with cups — shows no signs of dying down.
Stanley is, of course, not the first status symbol cup, as absurd as that may seem. Before it came Yeti mania, and the Hydroflask era. But Stanley has been able to inspire a unique kind of devotion, especially among young people who view it as both a status symbol and a necessary way to round out the “clean girl” aesthetic, in which a person’s Lululemon leggings — and Airpod Maxes and Jordans — must match the colorful cup that they carry around in an effort to stay properly hydrated.
As Eater reported back in 2022, Stanley’s ascent was explosive. The TikTok algorithm was a huge part of its success, shoving the pastel-colored cups in the faces of millions of viewers who’d never heard of Stanley or only associated the brand with its rugged, old-school thermoses. In the early phases of the trend in 2022, you could only order the cups online, which added a feeling of exclusivity to buying a Stanley. Then, the brand launched in Target and other retailers, officially going mainstream.
By then, just any old Stanley cup wasn’t enough. You had to score a coveted color, like the Winter Pink cup folks are currently waiting in line at Target to buy. People started filling their cabinets with a dazzling array of varying colors, often neatly arranged on shelves just waiting to go viral on TikTok. When December 2023 rolled around, things had reached a full-on fervor, with people paying exorbitant prices — sometimes more than 200 percent of the cup’s retail price — to sellers on eBay and Facebook Marketplace to get that wildly popular Watermelon Moonshine cup, made in collaboration with country singer Lainey Wilson. I even saw Stanley dupes, complete with branding, on the site DHGate, known for selling “replica” (aka knock-off) luxury goods.
For anyone who’s paid any attention to Stanley mania, the mayhem at Target stores this week shouldn’t be surprising. It doesn’t even start with Stanley. In 2021, I interviewed several people involved in the world of high-stakes Starbucks cup collecting, in which enthusiasts wake up as early as 5 a.m. to drive to the coffee chain’s locations to score limited-edition cups, also available in a wide array of colors and designs. At the time, the most coveted cups were selling for nearly $2,000 each on eBay.
Why do we lose our goddamn minds over cups? It seems absurd, and yet I am, regrettably, a cup girlie myself. My cabinet is full of HydroFlasks and Yeti cups and, yes, a Stanley tumbler or two. As I type these words, I am sipping filtered water from a pastel purple Stanley emblazoned with a sparkly sticker in which cartoon icon Bobby Hill kicks Texas Gov. Greg Abbott in the junk. I deeply understand the obsession with finding the perfect cup, one that looks nice on your desk, feels good in the hand, and keeps your beverage cold for hours. It sounds silly, but our drinking choices have always been a site of self expression — maybe you’re a wine guy, or a self-described coffee nerd, for example — and that enthusiasm extends to the vessels in which we place the beverages we love.
What I struggle to wrap my head around, though, is the idea that any one person needs two dozen Stanley cups. Or maybe even a dozen cups at all. The current trend has me reevaluating my own consumption, and feeling guilty about the spurned assortment of bottles and cups that linger, unused, in my cabinet because I didn’t like a specific straw mechanism or thought a certain cup is too hard to clean for everyday use. I am not deliberately going out and buying a ton of Stanleys, but it’s clear that my interest in cups — just like the swarming hordes of Target shoppers — has resulted in some obvious overconsumption. Maybe this is the year I finally clean out those cabinets and make my millions selling “vintage” (read: released two years ago) Stanley tumblers.