The Psychology of Plastic Couch Covers

sofa_single_coverHaving grown up in the waning years of the plastic couch cover (or the plastic slip, if you prefer), I’ve always been intrigued by the psychology behind this peculiar practice.  Here’s the scenario: you go to a furniture store, you spend the requisite time to find just the right size, shape and style of furniture to grace your living room, and you lay out considerable cash to purchase and have the furniture delivered to your house.  When it gets there, you spend more time positioning it just right to ensure that it entirely fulfills your vision of the complete, well-appointed living room.  Then, as you look over your creation, flush with pride — you proceed to cover everything with plastic.

‘You’ don’t do this, I realize, but so many people have that this practice is a defining mark of a generation.  A pure utilitarian would have no trouble understanding it.  Clear plastic allows you to see the fabric beneath and also protect it, thus lengthening the life of the furniture and maximizing its utility.  As to the aesthetic concern of not being able to feel the fabric, but instead hearing a crunch every time you sit down and then sliding about for a while until becoming as comfortable as someone can be cushioned in plastic, the utilitarian says “too bad – that’s the trade-off for maximizing the utility of your investment.” 

chairThis is a good example of something that in a certain light makes perfect practical sense, and yet is still a sure sign of neuroticism.  I think that’s what intrigues me about it most: it’s an example of the illusion of normalcy.  For a generation that was prone to drape its rooms in plastic, this practice was as normal as drinking coffee in the morning.  Now, to us (with perspective of a much differently adjusted normal state) covering perfectly good furniture in plastic seems insane.  The utility argument seems equally insane, if only because it’s so ridiculously myopic (which is one of the reasons that pure utilitarianism is about as influential these days as the flat earth movement).

More recent generations, though, are prone to their own flavor of “covering” neuroticism — the car bra.  You buy the car of your dreams, so it’s only reasonable to want to protect its paint, right?  And what better way than to put on a car bra–the leather (or vinyl) slip that’s fitted to cover the front end of the car–and thus keep bugs, tar and anything carbraelse from corroding the paint.  Practically speaking, the logic of this practice seems unassailable, and car bra practioners would argue that aesthetically it also makes the grade–so stylish and classy. 

But there’s one problem with all of this, though it only becomes evident when, a couple years later, the bra comes off and you realize that the paint beneath the bra is now a different shade than the rest of the car, which has been exposed to all of the elements that roughly one eighth of the car was protected from by the bra.

Back to couch covers… I’ve found nothing on the web as illustrative of the practice than this clip from “Everybody Loves Raymond”.  I especially like the “freedom” initially experienced when the cover comes off — like a collective sense of relief felt from overcoming a severe anxiety disorder–until things take a turn for the (very funny) worst. Freedom is indeed a fragile thing. 



Filed under About Perception

22 responses to “The Psychology of Plastic Couch Covers

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  3. A mate encoraged me to check out this site, nice post, fanstatic read… keep up the good work!


    where can i buy te old stlye plastic cover for cough?

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  6. tardo

    youre tards. learn how to spell.

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  8. This is absolutely a male/female schism. Women want couch covers, men don’t. The idea is that women must PRESERVE their beauty as long as possible, by artificial means, if necessary. My grandmother, my mother, and my wife engaged in this slipcover practice, which I think is completely silly — even stupid. Still, I am very grateful they used blankets and bedspreads, not clear plastic!!!

    Well, the idea of the car bra blows up that male/ female schism theory, right?..

    Since framed pictures and paintings discolor with age, why not cover them up with (opaque) slip covers as well?

    The point is, why not keep the old couch in the first place? That would for sure preserve your “new couch” indefinitely into the future, where it will never, never deteriorate.

  9. Jen

    I love this.

    When I lived in Asia, I noticed that people would often have clear plastic bags over stuffed animal keepsakes that they displayed in their homes. This seemed very strange for all the same reasons.

    About pure utilitarianism, I have noticed this reasoning in … Dilbert creator Scott Adams. For example, trans fats kill more people than muggers do, so it is more “logical” to throw all a city’s resources at fatty restaurants than at crime. Forget the other human factors.

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  11. I am looking for a plastic couch cover because I have a cat that insists upon peeing on the couch. Pretty upfront psychological need there. 😉

  12. eight

    They started covering their furniture in plastic, and that kept the bed bugs out, because they have a hard time climbing shiny plastic, and they couldn’t hide in the cracks, or bite through the plastic. Bed bugs were just about wiped out during the 1950’s, and I doubt it was all because of DDT.

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  14. The covers would come off when people of high social rank came to visit. And remember at the time that everyone smoked. EVERYONE. The covers would keep the inevitable pinhole burns from occurring.

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  18. Motztante

    As an American growing up in Germany I only noticed this in US movies, not personal experience. There I always noticed it as a trait of usually ‘low income folks’, and wondered if this was because the couch was purchased in rate payment, and the couch should be preserved until fully paid.
    I don’t believe the pinhole burns theory, though, as it would burn through plastic easily. Plastic possibly could keep nicotine discoloring out of the fabric considerably well. This might be more convincing and efficient than simply using a blanket to cover the couch for protection to preserve its beauty. Otherwise the furniture vendors could have come up with selling extra fabric covers of the same pattern so people could protect their couches AND enjoy placing their tush in something more pleasant than see-through plastic. Obviously plastic was preferred despite being unpleasant. And cheaper. There we have it again: low income related?

  19. Mike
    Meet the fake leather sofa. They are still made and were made in the 70s. If one is scared by stains and spillovers, there’s a factory fitted sofa cover made in plastic. By the way IKEA sells replacement covers for current models, so I suppose that the same is for more upscale sofa makers.
    What I noticed sometime is the “shrine dining room”, where a room is transformed in a shrine with all the niche china and so on and kept closed. I could understand that in the day to day dine people will eat in the kitchen table, but when there is the shrine dining room an the normal dining room to be used with the guest, something is strange, especially because furniture left unused will decay anyway.

  20. Niall

    I live in UK I have been trying for years to get theese slip covers if anyone in the us of A. Can get me some k can pay u by PayPal or if your coming across the water lunch is on me

    Many thanks


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  22. Mr Jaco

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