The Sociology of That Coffee Stain

How the Olsen twins, celebrity media and America's breakfast junk-food wars ruined your outfit

Coffee, ready-to-wear (Flickr)

Coffee, ready-to-wear (Flickr)

At the best of times, riding the subway during rush hour can feel like being a germophobe at an orgy.

But lately, one particular threat has increased to epidemic proportions.

I speak of urban coffee culture—and people who insist on trying to cram themselves into a crowded subway car carrying a paper cup of hot, milky liquid.

Threat levels are especially high right now, with McDonald’s giving away free coffee for two weeks to combat increased competition for its breakfast menu.

Clearly, folks who would drink McDonald’s coffee at any price are already not critical thinkers. Juice them up on Ronald McDonald’s version of Joker venom, and the physics of entering an already full subway care appear to elude them.

In such a confined space, the hot drink becomes a sloppy grenade, just waiting to explode over any unlucky commuters in its blast zone.

But I do not blame these misguided individuals themselves. Like so many contemporary problems, this one can be squarely traced to the Olsen twins.

It was about five years ago that a particular kind of paparazzi snap started to become ubiquitous: the young female starlet, tottering under the weight of fame, fashion and hair extensions, spending a few precious moments of public exposure on the sidewalk between Starbucks and her waiting SUV.

Part of what made the aesthetic so distinctive was that the subject was often physically small, but in a context of oversized things: she would be wearing extra-large sunglasses, being escorted to a mammoth black Escalade by a hulking bodyguard and carrying, yes, that Venti beverage.

To add a contemporary touch, it was often iced.

“If there is one accessory that no one in fashion can live without it has to be a morning cup of coffee,” wrote Italian Vogue in a celebrity photospread devoted to the phenomenon. “Carrying that oversized paper cup has become … a powerful daily accessory.”

You could definitely see it on the streets of New York, especially as it resonated with young women. Just as the “Sex and the City” aesthetic started (finally) to fade, the Rachel Zoe/Olsen twin look took hold: charging forward in a fake-fur collar and saucer-sized shades, that thrusting cup of coffee told the world that you were a career-focused gal-on-the-go.

Now, as predicted by the cerulean speech in “The Devil Wears Prada,” we find that the trend has dripped inexorably down from celebrity to fashionista and finally to the average office worker on the A train.

Specifically, to the one this morning who got in at 125th St with an over-full, over-milked cup of McDonald’s disgusting free coffee which, even as she peeled back its plastic lid, no hand free to stabilize her for the predictable jolt of the departing train, revealed like some Terrence Malick student film the inevitability that it would end up on my brand new Reiss car coat which, okay, was bought on sale from the old season’s fall collection, but still, being worn out of the house for the first time today.

Its sopping, milky stain is the result of our invasive celebrity media culture, America’s infamously poor nutritional choices, leaning in, the decline of the traditional family and the resulting lack of having anybody at home who knows how to make breakfast.

And the Olsen twins.