How women who stay in became a prize demographic.
Hillary Benton is hatching a plan to stay in bed.
“Starting a new lifestyle blog called Diet Coke and Klonopin where I will share secrets on how to minimize your time spent out of bed,” the 26-year-old Brooklyn-based marketing professional tweeted in August.
Some tips she shared in advance of the proposed blog launch included stowing all morning and evening skincare products in a nightstand basket, setting up a coffee making station within reach, and avoiding the shower. “Showering requires being upright, as well as being SPRAYED with WATER!” she points out. “You can lay down in the bath, throw some bubbles in, almost as good as bed.”
Later, over the phone, Benton says she was joking about starting the blog, but serious about everything else. “Staying in bed is something I feel very strongly about.”
Benton is not alone — she’s part of a big and profitable demographic of young women who sleep. Or, more broadly, stay home, in bed, acting as the center of what we can call the homebody economy. The hit novel of the summer was Ottessa Moshfegh’s My Year of Rest and Relaxation, a story about a beautiful 26-year-old New Yorker who comes up with a plan to spend only 40 hours awake in a four-month period. The plan is mostly drugs, but her goal is to emerge refreshed and renewed, “bolstered by the bliss and serenity [she had] accumulated.”
“The narrator — relatably enough — is passionate only about sleeping,” Jia Tolentino wrote in her review for The New Yorker. “There is something in this liberatory solipsism that feels akin to what is commonly peddled today as wellness.”
A January analysis using 10 years worth of the American Time Use Surveys conducted annually by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics showed that millennials spent 70 percent more time at home than the general population. As with everything millennials do or don’t do, this is annoying to some people, and the New York Post ran a headline in June 2016 announcing “Millennials don’t deserve NYC.”
But it’s an opportunity for others. Younger Americans who are ensconced in their homes and uncharmed by nightlife, with all its associated “effort,” are also spending more money on food delivery than they are in restaurants and talking about self-care in terms of the products that it involves.
They’re the reason that nascent alcohol courier apps in limited markets can partner with Netflix, and the reason that the fiercest and dirtiest brand rivalries are now between mattress-in-a-box companies. They’re responsible for the boom of Korean skincare in the United States, which is why K-beauty e-commerce site Peach and Lily now has a line of its own face masks available at its Target mini-shop, which sold out their first day.
The economy built around it is made up of clothes and homegoods and streaming services and courier apps and millennial-friendly zero percent APR financing on a set of luxury sheets.
Obviously anyone who makes a living via the delivering of things benefits from the homebody. It would be inefficient to run through them all, but just know that Postmates makes $1 billion worth of sales annually, GrubHub (which owns Seamless) was valued at $2 billion when it went public in 2014, and there is a ridiculous number of alcohol delivery startups that essentially all have a cutesy name that sounds like a euphemism for peeing or sexual harassment. (Thirstie, Drizly, Tipsy, and so on.)
Saucey (gross), an LA-based alcohol courier app that will also bring you cigarettes, ice cream, and Doritos — all in 30 minutes or less — launched in 2014 and has since raised $10.2 million in funding and expanded throughout California and into Chicago. “The new going out is staying in,” marketing director Danielle Silveira tells me. “Why go out and wait in a line? Sit back and chill on your couch with Netflix … or Hulu or Amazon or any streaming service.”
Nobody wants to drive to a grocery store in LA, she argues. Especially during a heatwave. And now that Saucey is in Chicago, it’s relevant to point out that nobody wants to go outside when it’s cold. Basically, nobody wants to go outside.
The bulk of Saucey’s weeknight customers are ordering small quantities of wine and beer, around 7 PM, a trend that competitor Minibar has also noticed. Co-founder Lindsey Andrews tells me that more than 50 percent of Minibar’s sales are wine, and most orders are for one or two bottles. She says it’s also been “the year of spiked seltzers,” and other lower-alcohol drinks — cider, rose, Ketel One’s new line of vodka that comes in flavors like Grapefruit Rose and Cucumber Mint — that people can drink slowly, and are more popular with women.
Minibar often partners with Netflix to create tie-in promotions — tweeting an emoji of a wine bottle while you’re binge-watching a popular show can lead to a free bottle of pinot noir at your door. The New York-based startup raised $5 million in funding last summer.
Netflix loves the stay-at-home, drink, watch Netflix crowd — see these wine-themed socks that will turn off your TV when you fall asleep — even though it has reportedly explicitly asked people to stop saying “binge-watch,” because it sounds tacky and has connotations related to alcoholism and junk food.
You know who else loves a stay-at-home millennial? Everyone who makes things that are comfortable to sit or lie on. A handful of warring but wildly successful mattress-in-a-box companies have sprung up in the last few years, all chasing the “urban professional” millennial market.
There’s Casper, with its subway ads and its rent-by-the-hour nap pods. There’s Brooklinen, which offers financing plans for $129 sheet sets and has 75,000 followers on its tangentially related lifestyle Instagram. There’s Burrow, a couch-in-a-box company that has recently taken over vacant New York storefronts and filled them with elaborate dioramas of laziness, captioned with the tagline “Good for nothing.”
There’s Walmart sub-brand Allswell, which carries only two mattresses and explicitly markets the “Firmer” option as ideal for sitting, working, and watching TV in an “Instagram-worthy dream bed.” President Arlyn Davich tells me it is much more popular than the classic design.
She also says, when I ask if she loves the napping millennials, “It’s fun to stay home. And it’s scary out there, with the political environment. Wellness trends and self-care trends — going out doesn’t align with people’s goals in that regard. The drinking. The eating out. Everything in the world makes us want to stay home.” That’s nice for Allswell because people who stay in all the time will spend more on things for inside, like a new mattress or a $70 decorative pillow.
“People are spending more time in bed, so they’re asking not just how good are these for sleeping, but how good are they for doing all the things I do in bed,” she says. “You’re seeing people spend more time, and wanting to make sure it’s a beautiful environment.”
Moshfegh’s anti-heroine in My Year of Rest and Relaxation sleeps in part as a response to a wealth-obsessed culture she finds noxious. And Malcolm Harris, author of last year’s Kids These Days: Human Capital and the Making of Millennials, says the broader homebody culture is a response to something too: “I think it’s basically just a happy face on declining living standards,” he tells me. “Like how we all supposedly love tiny houses. We don’t love staying home; we’re tired and anxious and alienated and have a historically low stock of free time and public, common spaces.”
Gen X may have been known as the Slacker Generation, but brands didn’t see them as people who loved to stay in bed. Coming into their 20s at the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st, they were young during the height of American wealth culture — the (first) Trump years, the Hilton years. This is when Kim Kardashian was hosting vodka launches, not narrating her at-home remedies for psoriasis on Instagram behind a four-foot thick brick wall in Calabasas.
And before them? Baby boomers helped T.G.I. Fridays open 100 locations in the United States in 10 years — becoming the first bar to come up with the idea of “ladies night” (and potato skins!), and the first restaurant chain to codify the notion of happy hour, kicking off an entire era of reasonably-priced frozen cocktails and an expectation of making out in public places. It launched in tandem with birth control; it went public via Goldman Sachs in 1983.
What young people buy isn’t the best way to understand them, Harris argues, since they don’t control what’s for sale. What’s more pertinent is their relationship to labor, which is “a bad one.”
Millennials are ordering from Postmates and they’re the ones doing delivery for Postmates, Harris points out. Service work constitutes a higher percentage of American labor than it has in the past, which means more “affective labor, the work of feelings,” is required of today’s workers. “That can be a strain on your ability to perform socially.”
“Wages are down, exploitation is up,” he says. “A heavy divergence between productivity and the wage rate is what characterizes the millennial experience more than anything. Being exploited, that’s going to make you want to stay home.”
If you haven’t heard, this generation is into self-care. This is not just face masks, but it is partly face masks.
“The Korean beauty routine has so many different layers,” Peach and Lily co-founder Alicia Yoon tells me. “That plays into this moment of self-care.” She’s noticed customers gravitating toward sheet masks because they have a longer application period — “You’re empowered to focus on yourself and connect with yourself.”
Along with a sheet mask, you can also pick up T-shirts at Target that read “Naps and snacks,” “Namast’ay in bed,” and “I want it all and I want it delivered,” designed by a brand run out of the Chico, California, airport that boasts licensing rights for Marvel, Coca-Cola, and MTV, among other big names. Fifth Sun, started by former civil engineer Dan Gonzalez in the early ’90s, is one of the largest graphic T-shirt manufacturers in the United States and sells its mass appeal products via every other major retailer you can think of — Walmart, K-Mart, Macy’s, Kohl’s, etc. (Asked to comment for this story Gonzalez replied, “no thx.” Why should he! The proof is in the pudding.)
You can find the same “Namast’ay in Bed” untrademark-able nonsense phrase on over 1,300 items on Etsy (yoga sweaters, doormats, pillowcases, coffee mugs, wall decals, mason jars, hand-stamped mimosa spoons), and you can find people who live off of that.
Courtney Lovenberg, a 27-year-old nurse from Lake Hopatcong, New Jersey, says she makes about 20 percent of her income from the Etsy store where she sells slogan-based T-shirts — a side gig that takes about 10 hours of her time per week. She started the shop when she got engaged two years ago, focusing on designs that pertained to being a fiancée or a bride. But since she’s settled into married life in the last year, she’s noticed that she’s hanging out at home more, and making shirts that reflect that.
“Sometimes I feel like ‘I don’t know if people are going to relate to this,’ but then you realize how many other introverted, ‘I just want to be lazy on a Friday night’ women are out there,” she says. “I’ve had tons of repeat customers.”
The “Homebody” shirts that Courtney sells are negligibly different than the ones that 27-year-old Wooster, Ohio. mother Emily Weckesser sells in the Etsy shop she runs with her husband Brad — a project they started seven years ago and which now provides their primary household income. Their shop is mostly sets of graphic tees designed to be worn by babies, or parents and their babies, or parents who are not coordinating outfits with their babies at present but do still want you to know that they have a baby, and that they and the baby are both homebodies.
“We’re introverts and work from home,” Emily says. “Our designs reflect that and we treasure that. I think introverts are reclaiming their spot in the world and not being ashamed to own up to it. We love our home and we love our kids. At this stage, we’re curled up on the couch.”
In the era of Instagram, curling up on the couch makes for — by some measures — as productive a night as going out in a stellar outfit.
Just ask an influencer: Hélène Heath is a fashion and beauty writer and consultant based in New York, with a moderate Instagram following and a popular lifestyle blog. Last summer, the Chill Times (the editorial arm of SoHo cafe and spa Chillhouse) paid her to pose with the Public Hotel’s digital manager Shelby Eastman and Instagram influencer Tesa Pesic, wearing Morgan and Lane silk pajamas, feeding each other cheeseburgers ordered via Postmates, braiding each other’s hair, sipping out of gold champagne flutes and pink mugs that read “Literally Can’t Even,” then cuddling up in the same bed, under a loose-knit blanket.
“Smart brands today understand that it’s about creating moments of social shareability,” she told Vox in an email. “Think of last year’s hygge trend, or how a lot of candle brands are popping up and gaining momentum thanks to Instagram, or how masking has become a huge trend.”
Don’t just stay home — stay home beautifully. The hundreds of available and nearly identical homebody-themed graphic t-shirts exist because they’re perfect for Instagram, she points out, making being alone still-shareable. “We are undoubtedly not done with derivative products in my opinion … especially as we head into winter cocooning season!”
The original concept of a girls’ night is a pop culture trope as old as women being permitted to appear in groups in cinema, and at least partially explains why the homebody economy is directed more explicitly at women, who were already having sleepovers and spending their discretionary income on each other and on their homes.
What is somewhat new is the affiliation of “girls night in” and true luxury products. Suddenly, it’s everywhere. Lenny Letter — the email-based media company founded by Lena Dunham and her producing partner Jenni Konner in 2015 — is currently offering readers a chance to win a three-day “BFF” trip to Mexico. A lucky pair of buds will go to Mexico and then … stay inside: In addition to the resort comps, the winners receive a “girls’ night in pack” that includes designer candles, expensive moisture-wicking underwear, and two “vibes” from Dame (“the Glossier of female vibrators”). So, everything they need for a chill night in a hotel room in Juluchuca, ignoring the landscapes and masturbating together, which I’ll admit would bring two pals a lot closer.
Girls Night In is also the name of Alisha Ramos’s successful lifestyle brand and recommendation newsletter. (Ramos was previously a design director at Vox Media, Vox’s parent company.) Girls Night In is explicitly about self-care, illustrated by Instagram posts in which women in charcoal masks read fake newspapers. The philosophy it espouses is big on going to bed early, saying no to plans, taking a bath, and reading Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking to get into a “magical thinking” mood on a Monday morning. (For the record, that book is literally about mourning the surprise deaths of your husband and only child.)
The idea is that you shouldn’t have to go anywhere if you don’t want to — and you shouldn’t! — but if you’re going to stay home there is some stuff you should probably buy.
Girls Night In partners with Penguin Random House, Outdoor Voices, Girlboss, Sweetgreen, and Madewell, to name a few listed on its website, and sells merchandise that says, can you guess? “Homebody.”
Moshfegh’s narrator does leave the house periodically. For example, she buys a new VCR at Best Buy so she can tape the news coverage of the attacks on the World Trade Center, which she watches “over and over” to “soothe” herself.
The novel is satirical, viciously pulling apart New York City’s vapid culture of wealth and image-obsession at the turn of the millennium, but there are a few thoughts that flit through the sociopathic narrator’s head that feel true enough: “It was too much to consider in all, stretching out, a circular planet covered in creatures and things growing, all of it spinning slowly on an axis created by what — some freak accident?”
Probably all of the homebodies have one good reason or another for doing what they’re doing — lying around. And one of those reasons is that it sucks to be outside in the terrible world.
It’s not a ridiculous question: If you can do everything at home — including date and drink and eat and live-stream Coachella — why wouldn’t you? Millennials get shamed nonstop no matter what, but having pizza and wine delivered via some apps instead of going out to a fancy restaurant or any bar can have explanations beyond laziness and misanthropy.
As the generation that will never pay off its student loans or own homes or retire, we are also just working more and for less — it’s at least partly as simple as being physically tired and not making very much money.
“Going out into the world and enjoying it and spending money to be in public and have fun is a pretty standard way to measure well-being and your ability to enjoy things,” Harris says. “Or it has been in the United States. We have less of that, which means life is worse. Implicit in the introvert, stay-at-home discourse is the idea that life is increasingly bad.”
So if you would prefer to celebrate namast’aying in bed rather than admit that it’s basically your only option … okay, sure, why not? Urban Outfitters launched its own beauty line this week and all of the creams are called “Have a moment.” They’re a mere $10; I will buy them.
It pays to never leave the house. I mean, it doesn’t pay you but it pays someone.