Inside the cult of water bottles.

Last week, a 23-year-old Californian woman was arrested for grand theft.

She didn't steal a car. She didn't sell illicit drugs, steal designer bags or embezzle hundreds of thousands of dollars.

It was... water bottles. This woman shoplifted 65 Stanley cups.

The haul was valued at nearly $2,500 US dollars. The Roseville Police Department shared images of the woman's car, stuffed with drink bottles in absolutely every crevice, along with the caption: "While Stanley Quenchers are all the rage, we strongly advise against turning to crime to fulfill your hydration habits."

It was a bizarre scene. 

Stanley seize. Credit: Roseville Police Department/Facebook.


While you'd be forgiven for not being aware of this Californian drink bottle crim, it's almost impossible to miss the Stanely craze. It's all over the Internet. And it's baffling as hell.

Scroll through TikTok and you'll see suburban shoppers scuffling - nay, FIGHTING - over limited-edition Stanley cups. 

Grown adults were LITERALLY GETTING TRAMPLED trying to get their hands on a pink 'Galantine's Day' Starbucks x Stanley drink bottle. 

People were recorded camping out front of a store at 4am to snap up one of the exclusive cups. There was finger-pointing, a fight broke out, there were multiple thefts, and the police arrived. You simply can't make this stuff up. 

@whoslulugirl_2 Decided to vlog the whole morning! The cup is so cute!!✨🩷🫶🏻 #stanleyxstarbucks #stanleycup #starbucks #winterpink #stanley #target #vlog ♬ original sound - Bella💞

In one video, shoppers were shown scrambling over shelves, racing to pick up one of the exclusive cups - which retail for $79 in Australia - which were limited to two per customer. 

@victoria_robino_26 #fyp #fypシ゚viral #target #targetfinds #stanleycup #stanley #stanleytarget #valentinesday #stanleyvalentinesday ♬ original sound - Victoria Robino

In another video, a man jumps over a Starbucks counter, steals a cup and is pinned down and wrestled to the ground by other customers, before taking off.  


Yes, really. 

While Australia has not (yet) been blessed with the release of the limited edition Stanley cup, the craze is very much alive and thriving here. 

Along with Stanley, big brands like Frank Green, Yeti, Hydroflask and a Camelback are dominating the Australian market. 

And last year, you might remember when Bunnings started selling out of $11 tapered PVC piping because people started using them in their car to... fit their oversized Frank Green water bottles in the cup holders. 

@maddyryan44 Work smarter not harder #frankgreen ♬ original sound - Maddy Ryan

But when did this... happen to us?

As Mamamia's Stacey Hicks wrote in an article titled 'What your emotional water bottles says about you', the fixation with water bottles and our obsession with staying hydrated is a new phenomenon. 

"I can’t remember ever owning a water bottle as a child. In fact, I can’t remember ever really…drinking water. Sure, there were water-adjacent drinks like cordial and milk. And there was juice. So much bloody juice," she wrote. 

"But somewhere along the line — perhaps because we’d surreptitiously denied ourselves of H20 for the first half of our lives — millennials became obsessed with being hydrated."

This post from satire news site Betoota Advocate pretty much sums it up:


Somewhere between the bubblers at school and celebrities endorsing Evian and Fiji Water, our generation is single-handedly leading a cultural infatuation with fancy metal water vessels.

Because while trends come and go, the undeniable and very loud chaos surrounding the cult Stanley Quencher Tumbler, and the water bottle industry at large, feels... different. 

It's enough for us to pause and think, where did this come from? And what are we really searching for?

How the Stanley cup became a cultural icon

It's almost impossible to talk about our fascination with water bottles without honing in on the king of insulated water bottles, Stanley. 

Everyone knows someone who owns a Stanley water bottle. Or one of the many variations or knock-offs (like this Kmart dupe for $15). And chances are, they carry it everywhere.

According to The Atlantic, the 111-year-old company who previously provided insulated beverage containers to the likes of WWII pilots, saw an annual revenue increase from $73 million in 2019 to a projected $750 million in 2023.


It's literal hydration domination. 

But how did it become so popular so quickly?  

While the Stanley obsession has been something that's been bubbling under the (insulated) surface for a while now, part of what set the popularity of these cups to explode on a whole new level was this viral TikTok of a woman showing her burnt-out car. 

After the car went up in flames, the owner found her fully intact Stanley, with unmelted ice, in the cup holder.

It's wild — and pretty damn impressive. You can't deny it. But solid engineering and durability aside, there's way more to it. Because people aren't buying these cups for their functional capabilities and the fact that it can keep their beverage cold (or hot) for up to nine hours. 

The cup is now a fashion statement. A lifestyle. A symbol of health, wellness and... relevance.

To put it into perspective, you can now buy accessories for your Stanley cup - from crossover body straps to lids, personalised stickers and straw covers. Which, ironically, completely contradicts the purpose of Stanleys and other designer water bottles, which have been marketed as a sustainable solution to single-use plastics. But, we'll get into that.

So, what is it about this exact cup that has such a chokehold over consumers?


Mamamia spoke to psychologist, Carly Dober, from Enriching Lives Psychology.

"Cultural trends come and go, and humans enjoy feeling like part of a movement, or 'in group'. There can be safety in uniformity for some people, and it can also be a topic of conversation and a way for people to connect with others," she explained. 

"Water bottles can show people that you drink water, which can convey subtle messages about health and how you engage with healthy lifestyle behaviours, and it can also put you in the 'cool group'. It’s not necessarily about it being a water bottle, but the marketing machine does very well in building hype around the product."

And it's true. Thanks to the marketing giants, drinking enough water from a giant container suddenly became the ultimate symbol of self-care. Sustainability. Doing your bit for the environment while keeping your health in check. 

And before we knew it, owning a fancy water bottle became a pillar of our identity. 

It's a fashion statement. An accessory. A comfort.

Enter: the 'emotional support bottle'. Which, as we've now learnt, is a very real thing.

"I think for some people that might be a joke, but for some - they very well may feel like their water bottle is a safety tool or a way to engage in a safety behaviour when overwhelmed or anxious," Dober told Mamamia.


"Sometimes these items that we feel are special or lucky can be a good thing, as long as we aren’t reliant on them completely." 

Water bottles are now status symbols.

Emotional comforts aside, these water bottles have somehow transformed into luxury 'must have' item. And for a whole new generation of kids, they're the next best thing. 

At Christmas, thousands of tweens and teens unwrapped $59 personalised Frank Green tumblers or pastel $79 Stanleys. 

Just like all the cool fashion brands (Roxy! Ugg! Von Dutch! Juicy Couture!) when we were growing up, for this new generation of kids, these bottles have become a status symbol — a way 'in' to an exclusive community. 

Just watch the reaction of this nine-year old receiving one for her birthday and this young girl literally crying tears of happiness after unwrapping one from her dad.

While buying into something as kids to become part of a community isn't necessarily new, something feels very different here. It feels bigger. 

When we asked the Mamamia Out Loud Facebook community for their thoughts on the water bottle trend, one woman said, "This is just another example of companies marketing to impressionable young girls. The teen and tween market is most vulnerable here. It is the same with tweens buying serums in Sephora."

She added: "I work in the sustainability space and the biggest issue with this is the rampant consumerism of it all. The best reusable water bottle is the one that you already have and use. Again, and again, and again. We don’t want to allow companies to hijack the sustainability conversation about avoiding single use water bottles, by creating a market for expensive bottles that become part of the buy-use-discard cycle, anyway. Let’s use what we have and avoid buying something shiny and new because some marketing executive told us we need to in order to be cool."


This train of thought couldn't be more correct. When you look at the fact that eco-conscious practices sit at the crux of these brands, it's confusing — because the current trend is anything from sustainable. 

In fact, many people have become collectors and own multiple colours of the exact same bottle to suit their mood or outfit. 

So, where does this leave us?

Drinking water has become a public act — a show. A signifier of good health. Truly, that's why the aesthetics matter so much — and we've bought into it. But is it such a bad thing if it's something that brings you joy?

One Mamamia Outlouder said: "I absolutely adore my Yeti and wish I could collect them haha. Too expensive though and not necessary. I love it because it actually keeps my water at a consistent temperature. [I] can leave it in the car and not worry about it heating up. But more importantly, the pretty colours! I wear a uniform to work so there are very limited ways to express yourself or enjoy colour, so a drink bottle is one of them. Seems silly, but it brings me joy."


Mamamia's Senior Entertainment Writer Chelsea McLaughlin wrote a whole article about the millennial obsession with water bottles, describing them as an extension of ourselves. 

"I'm no psychologist, but I am a millennial with existential dread and a longing to live in a boring, non-historically significant timeline. Everything outside of my window (and honestly, a lot inside my window) is a goddamn mess right now, and there's not much I can do to fix it," she wrote. 

"A fancy water bottle is a tiny, joyful remedy to this. It's a small thing I can use every day to keep myself feeling good. Our water bottles allow us to take control of a tiny part of our lives; a part that's good for us. Maybe that's why they project the image that we have our lives together." 

In this turning wheel of hyper-consumerism, are we all ultimately using drink bottles to try to fill some kind of emptiness in ourselves? Are we all chasing something we're trying to fill with really expensive water bottles? Or is it just not that deep? 

A colourful, temperature-regulated drink bottle may not the answer to all our problems. But at least make them spill-proof, Stanley.

What do you think of the Stanley water bottle craze? Share your thoughts with us in the comment section below.

Feature image: David Jones; Camelback; Frank Green; Yeti; Canva.