Decoder Ring

Decoder Ring: Pillow Talk

A soft, fluffy mystery.

Illustration of decorative pillows
Illustration by Benjamin Frisch

Decoder Ring is a podcast about cracking cultural mysteries. Every month, host Willa Paskin takes on a cultural question, object, idea, or habit and speaks with experts, historians, and obsessives to try and figure out where it comes from, what it means, and why it matters.

The decorative pillow has been around for a long time, but in the last decade or two it has come to colonize furniture across the country. The rise of the decorative pillow is due to a host of forces, including designers, manufacturers, retailers, and television, which has done more than anything to boost American’s desire for pillows. On home décor shows, the pillow is a symbol of luxury, comfort, decadence, coziness, and self-care—but to others it’s just another example of consumerist excess.

The decorative pillow may be a colorful bit of replaceable fluff that ends up on the floor a lot, but it’s also a rabbit hole into the enormous question of how we form our taste, of the way that intensive marketing, a cheap global supply chain, and personal preference influence the thousands upon thousands of small choices we make about the stuff that, literally, lives with us.

Links and further reading on some of the things we discussed on the show:

• Catherine Zeta-Jones selling decorative pillows on QVC.
• Cushion rant from the BBC’s Coupling
HGTV’s “How to Make a Bed Like a Hotel” video
• An early episode of the show Trading Spaces
The original home décor show: This Old House

Email: decoderring@slate.com
Twitter: @willapaskin

This episode was written by Willa Paskin and edited and produced by Benjamin Frisch.