People Love to Hate Navy Blue Sheets — It’s Time to Change That

published Feb 23, 2023
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Messy unmade bed with blue sheets

If you’re tuned into a certain side of Twitter or TikTok, you’ve seen a recurring joke about boys’ beds. The punchline goes like this: They all have navy blue sheets. Users, often those who date men, have taken to social media to bemoan a peculiar pattern in the bed linens of their potential mates. If you go to a guy’s house, the lore goes, and you see a mattress wrapped in navy and topped with a single, misshapen pillow, you’d better get out of there. The implication is they’re the black socks of sheets (as in, “sometimes, I think I should launder them, but something inside me says ‘no no not yet’”) — likely the same ones he’s had for years, unwashed, and dark enough to hide any unidentifiable stains.   

Though blue is an exceedingly popular color, and navy a dignified hue, somehow this specific shade of sheet has become the embodiment of everything wrong with Gen Z and millennial dating. I love an internet joke as much as the next gal on Twitter, but after seeing a barrage of videos of guys soberly stripping their beds of their beloved sheets, I started to wonder — how did navy sheets get such a bad rap? Do they really deserve it? And if they do, what’s a person with navy sheets to do? 

The demographic data around men disproportionately buying navy sheets is purely anecdotal. But still, when I first saw my now-boyfriend’s sheets and clocked their deep blue hue, I did file it away in the section of my brain labeled “why.” Designer David Quarles IV has a theory: “They’re the most basic color that’s offered,” he says. “You get gray, white, pastel yellow, and navy blue, and you can find them at Sam’s, Costco, BJ’s. They will always have navy — it’s just common and easy.” He suspects the selection has less to do with style and more to do with being a basic sheet that fits on a bed. “It makes the cut for the run-of-the-mill guy not really paying attention to the aesthetic,” he says. 

When it comes to choosing a color from that basic range of shades offered at any big box store, Bette Steflik posits there’s a subconscious process coming into play. Steflik consults on feng shui, the traditional Chinese practice of creating harmony between people and their environment, which involves tuning into colors and the energy they bring into a space. “Navy blue has long been associated with masculinity,” she says, referring to the color’s early use in the British Royal Navy’s uniforms. When shopping for their first college essentials, “I suspect these young men who have just left home aren’t feeling confident about themselves and they may feel the pressure to prove their intellect in higher education realms, their skill set in the workplace, and they may need to bolster their ego after a new relationship rejection,” she says. Even after graduating from a twin-size dorm bed, picking up those first navy sheets “as a symbol of strength and success,” as Steflik suggests, may very well be an inclination that follows them into adulthood. 

Having such an emotionally loaded, if subconscious, meaning behind your sheets makes sense, according to color consultant Amy Wax. “What’s interesting with bedroom design is that every single color matters, because we’re so much more aware of how we feel in the space. We’re more vulnerable at the end of the day, we’re tired, and we want something that’s really going to be nurturing to us and embrace us,” she says.

The thing is, navy blue is well-suited to embrace. Navy is a mix of blue and black, which Steflik says conjures images of deep water, a symbol in feng shui that represents “tapping into your wisdom.” She points out its associations with security, reliability, and trust, and when I think about it, who wouldn’t want to fall asleep wrapped in a color that feels safe and stable? It’s also — as the enduring popularity of blue in everything from brand logos to fashion to home design proves — a classic color that stands the test of time. When I told my stylish friend, Melisa, that I was working on this story, she says she, in fact, has navy sheets. “I feel like navy sheets are classy and sophisticated. I got them because they make me feel cozy and put-together,” she says. I agree with her. The problem with navy blue sheets, I’ve come to realize, has nothing to do with their color. 

The issue is when they’re an afterthought. “I like to think of a bed as a suit,” says Quarles. “So think about your duvet cover or your comforter as the jacket, and then in your socks or tie you can give a little splash of your personality. I like to think of sheets as the socks of the bed.” When building the outfit of your bed, your sheets are a crucial element. That’s why he puts them on the mood board of any room he designs, and makes sure they’re in conversation with the rest of the room, meaning they correspond with the curtains, the rug, and most importantly, the overall vibe.

In any room, “the vibe dictates the design,” says Quarles. So, if you want to feel energized and like you’re sleeping on “a cup of coffee in sheet form,” then a mustard yellow that catches the sunlight might be the move. If you’re after a soothing mood that “makes it feel like there’s eucalyptus in the room,” he suggests a mint or light blue. And if the vibe calls for navy, that’s great, “just make sure they’re a part of a conversation rather than holding a speech on their own.” And, he adds laughing, “Make sure they’re good thread count so they don’t go along with the stereotype.”

If you’re suddenly feeling the pull of navy sheets, or looking for ways to integrate your existing threads into your room, Quarles has some ideas. “You could pair it with olive green and have a black-and-white throw at the foot of the bed, and then maybe it’s hitting off walnut wood. That can create a very moody feel.” Looking for a lighter aesthetic? Try pairing them with an all-white duvet to tie into a “crisp look that feels more like a hotel that’s been freshly cleaned,” he suggests. The beauty of blue is it can lend itself to so many looks. For those lost on which hues to pair with their old faithful navy, Wax recommends taking a peek at the Color911 app, where she curates ready-made palettes — including ones centered around navy

In my quest to answer what some are calling the most important question in the world, I have to admit I changed my own mind about navy sheets. They’ve been done dirty (and that’s not even a slight at their possibly unwashed nature!) and they deserve better. Sheets, one of the closest things to you in the place where you spend about one-third of your life, deserve to be celebrated, not cast aside. Still, if you are someone who is holding onto stained, threadbare sheets that may have a bluish tinge to them, remember that it’s okay to let some things go.

When I gifted my boyfriend, Ben, a set of heathered linen sheets from Brooklinen, I opted for ink blue — a hue bright enough to feel invigorating, bold enough to feel like a personality piece, and blue enough to feel secure. “How did it feel to take off the navy blue sheets?” I texted him. “It felt like shedding years of inadequacy,” he replied, half-joking. “As I got into bed I felt held by them which is a magical thing to feel when the thing that’s holding you is flat.” He says he hasn’t slept so well in years.

February is Bedroom Month on Apartment Therapy! We’re sharing stories all month about bedrooms — from how to sleep in them, decorate them, make the most of small ones, and so much more. Head over here to see them all!