A Brief History of Shag Carpet: The Rise, Fall, and Recent Resurgence

published Jun 2, 2023
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graphic collage of two modern rooms with shag rugs, and a vintage photo of shag carpeting in a living room
Credit: Photo: Erin Derby (left), ClassicStock/Alamy Stock Photo (oval), Viv Yap (top right)

Homes of the 1960s and ‘70s conjure flashbacks of avocado-colored appliances, retro furnishings, and — arguably the most divisive — shag carpeting. This cozy, high-pile rug style dominated design in the latter half of the 20th century despite being notoriously difficult to clean. But how did this fuzzy floor covering gain widespread interior acclaim in the first place, and what caused the style’s eventual decline? Plus, why has it recently made somewhat of a comeback? Read on to get the full history of shag carpeting and its continued legacy, according to design experts. 

Why Shag Carpeting Became a Hit

During the 1960s, mid-century style started taking a backseat to softer designs, which largely reflected “a shift in the ethos of the period,” notes Sarah Lichtman, associate professor of design history at Parsons School of Design. “It’s a tumultuous time: You have the Vietnam War, there’s lots of social and political unrest,” she explains. “There’s also a lot of drug experimentation — not everybody, but that was part of what’s happening.”

Lichtman believes this social tumult created a heightened desire for comfortable, safe-feeling interiors, which helped lay the initial groundwork for shag carpeting’s prolonged popularity throughout the 20th century. “There’s a sort of turning inward in the home, almost these womb-like spaces that you can see in some of the furnishings and objects that are starting to happen,” she says of this design period. “I think shag carpeting is part of that softness that was coming into the interior.”

That tactility also fed into the sensuality of the era, fostering intimate spaces “where you can meditate, commune, [and] have sex,” Lichtman says, adding that, naturally, “rolling around in shag carpet is fun” because it is so soft to the touch. The synthetic construction handled artificial dyes and coloration particularly well, too. For that reason, Lichtman says shag became the ideal canvas for the signature ‘70s vibrant earth tones.

What Caused Shag’s Downfall

By the 1980s, shag had officially passed its prime, marked by a universal ripping-up of the carpeting that took place in many homes and residential spaces throughout the country. Lichtman — whose own childhood bedroom transitioned from lime green shag to hardwood floors — attributes this to the fact that home design “had gotten so over the top” that a pared-back aesthetic became the natural next trend. “The reaction against this then starts to be the minimalist interiors in the 1980s,” she explains. “I think the demise of [shag carpeting] really had to do with the style changing.” Plus, given the material’s tendency to hold onto dust and odors, Lichtman speculates that at-home health and cleanliness ultimately had a hand in its demise, too. 

Shag Carpeting Today

You likely won’t find many groovy, all-over shag carpeted spaces nowadays (unless it’s a time capsule home), but this material is arguably back, albeit on a smaller, more technologically advanced scale. Emily Simmons, creative director at Ruggable — which launched its own editor-approved washable shag rug line last year — links the 21st century reemergence to a cross between two current trends: texture and nostalgia. “Shag rugs are undeniably the perfect balance of coziness and chic, adding a variety of handfeel throughout the home,” she says. Meanwhile, as more homes embrace retro references for inspiration, shag rugs feel “reminiscent of decades gone by and, with a modern twist, are a fun statement piece to add into any room,” Simmons adds.

More modern home brands have recently gotten the memo, too: You’ll find high-end-looking shag area rugs from stores like AllModern, Overstock, The Home Depot, Urban Outfitters, Costco, and even Pottery Barn. Rather than the burnt orange and brown designs of yesteryear, though, today’s iterations tend to skew more neutral on the whole for longevity’s sake or pay homage to in-demand patterns like checkerboard (read: more beautiful, less Brady Bunch). Count on easier-to-maintain quality, too, thanks to an uptick in machine-washable and stain-resistant materials. And no need to outfit your entire living room or bedroom in this plush floor covering trend as wall-to-wall carpeting either (unless you want to, of course!), considering you can now choose from more scaled-down area rug dimensions to fit your space and budget.