Sing along if you know the lyrics: “red Solo cup, I fill you up, let’s have a party!” Chances are, if you’ve ever been to a party in the last 35 years, you’ve been served an alcoholic beverage in a red cup. If you haven’t been to a party in the last 35 years, you may have at some point watched a movie or TV show where a raucous house party take place involving young people enjoying a variety of beverages out of red cups. When did red cups become the trademark for a party?
For starters, let’s look to the people making the red cups: Solo Cup Company, America’s leading disposable cup manufacturer. Founded by an ex-Dixie employee in 1936, Solo started off making water cooler cups, which are shaped like cones and made of paper. They moved on to wax-lined cups in the 1950’s and became the go-to cup for soda fountains; in the 1960’s they branched out to include disposable coffee cups in their product line. The red Solo cup was first introduced to the world in the 1970’s and has been the staple party cup ever since.
Now, there are actually different colors of Solo party cups, including blue. However, red is far and away the bestseller, constituting 60% of Solo’s sales for the party cup. Why is this? There are many theories out there; some of the most popular include the idea that red is gender-neutral and doesn’t exclude anyone from the party. Others believe that the exciting, energetic shade of red lends itself to a party environment. This is somewhat supported by the fact that Solo’s red cups did in fact become brighter and more vibrant over time, going from a dark maroon color to today’s fire-engine red.
Even Europeans can tell that the red cup is the staple of American party-goers, and can purchase the famous cups online for hosting an American-themed party. Europeans seem to believe that the benefit of red cups is that, with clear cups, it’s very evident that you’re drinking something alcoholic, while red cups can hide a variety of mystery beverages. But if this were the case, any old color would do.
The influence of the media can’t be understated when it comes to the proliferation of the red party cup, either. Since it’s been such a staple in American media – starting with 1999’s teen comedy classic American Pie – it’s possible that we all gravitate towards the red Solo cup because we expect that it holds the key to hosting a party as good as the ones we see on the big screen. Considering that red Solo cups often do hold various libations, this may not be too far off from the truth.