Anthropologie sells a lot of mugs. There are llama mugs and bird mugs and abstract gold shape mugs. Some, like the Yesteryear Mug, seem likely to transport you to a children’s store that may or may not be run by Meg Ryan. Others, like the Perasima Mug, sound like a disease whose only symptom makes you really excited about hanging things on a clothes line. However, there is one Anthropologie mug that stands out as the star: the Monogram Mug. It has a 4.5 star rating on the store’s website and has been reviewed 286 times. It’s white, with a single black initial in open block print containing delicate lines or curlicues. And it is currently discounted from $8.00 to $6.40. Chances are, you own this mug, or know someone who does, or have purchased this mug as a gift. You are closer to this mug in degrees than every actor is to Kevin Bacon. In the words of one particularly astute tweet, “If you're in your 20's or 30's and don't have a monogram mug from @Anthropologie, do you even exist?”
“It’s everywhere. It is literally everywhere,” says Christopher Clark Moore, a blogger, brand strategist, and actor. Anthropologie is known for selling a lifestyle rather than things, and its seasonal catalogs have been panned for taking this a little too far. (“If you sleep in the ornate, bird-oriented $2498 Odelina bed—‘inspired by Celtic mythology and verse’—you are probably not sharing it with a man.”) The mug is an inexpensive bid for a slice of that lifestyle. As Moore admits, “I bought it because it felt like such an adult thing to have… [I imagined] I would go to Whole Foods every week and I would read a book and have a cup of coffee as I woke up,” he says. “I don’t do any of that.”
Anthropologie was founded in 1992 and is part of the URBN parent company, which also owns Urban Outfitters and Free People. In a lengthy 2002 Fast Company profile of the brand, then-CEO Glen Senk describes the Anthro customer like this: “She’s well-read and well-traveled. She is very aware—she gets our references, whether it’s to a town in Europe or to a book or a movie. She’s urban minded. She’s into cooking, gardening, and wine. She has a natural curiosity about the world. She’s relatively fit.” According to my friend Jordan Martindell, who worked for Anthro for nearly a decade, the Monogram Mug is popular in part because it’s accessible to people outside this demographic. “You have your college students, you have your teenage kids, you have men, you have older customers. And a letter mug is going to be something that is going to speak to everyone because it works for everyone,” says Martindell, who estimates she’s given between 20 and 35 of these mugs as gifts over the years.
Martindell says the mug was internally referred to as the Mr. Mug, which leads me to a surprising revelation: Was the Monogram originally a mug for men? Customer reviews and other circumstantial evidence say yes. Aside from the woman whose poor husband got his thumb stuck in the handle (per a June 2017 review), men seem to love the mug whose heft puts it somewhere in the same family as a shaving mug or beer stein. The Homegrown Monogram Mug (316 reviews) sprung up as a more feminine equivalent. “I gave family friends two mugs when they got married. And the guy loves his mug. It’s like his favorite mug. He drinks his coffee in it every single day, he loves it so much,” Martindell says. Moore bought his roommate the mug as a gift, but this gesture was dampened when he opened his cabinet door to reveal he already had one. According to conventional gender paradigms, “It’s one of the few things at Anthropologie to buy for a man,” Martindell says.
There’s something ironic about a personalized mug that’s so ubiquitous it’s no longer unique. “Distinguish your mug from everyone else's, or just whet your appetite for alphabet soup,” reads the product description. Around the holidays, when the brand sometimes rolls out a limited-edition gold version of the mug, Martindell estimates her store sold hundreds of those mugs a week. “It was like you couldn’t even keep the shelves stocked.” Popular letters were the first to fly off their highly-curated displays. “Gutted they never have my initial mug in anthropologie,” tweets one Rebecca.
This seems a good time to admit that I don’t own the mug, and I might never own one. Although the Monogram Mug is still available online, it’s being phased out in stores. When I looked for the mug at the Anthropologie in New York’s Rockefeller Square, a very nice store associate asked if I was buying it for a man. They didn’t have one in stock. Two other monogrammed designs have appeared on shelves, neither one entirely unisex. As my friend Tori Guen, who spent a summer interning at Anthropologie stores, points out: The company doesn’t have a brand calling card. There’s no Tory Burch medallion or Saint James stripe. “There isn’t an Anthropologie T-shirt, but people know what this mug looks like. It’s been able to stand the test of time more than culottes,” Guen says. Although, at a limited time offer of $6.40, our old friend may not be long for this lavender-scented world.