Shag Carpets

Raking a shag carpet

Ah, the late 60’s and 70’s. A time of experimentation, whether with recreational drugs, or with extreme decorating ideas. Such a bold stab at style (its creators might have tried some of those drugs, too) was the shag carpet.

Shag carpets came in a variety of colors, some of which were as extreme as the two-inch-long polyester monstrosity itself. Bright reds, blues, greens, and jet blacks were not unheard of. But earth tones were also big, to match those avocado green and harvest gold kitchen appliances.

My parents never went for shag carpet. They were in their forties and fifties when it came out, and it was more of a hit with the younger demographic. But I knew plenty of friends whose more youthful parents installed vast yards of the dirt-absorbing carpet.

Shag carpets came in different depths. You could go for a modest half-inch, or go all the way to the three inch thick Austin Powers variety. However, if you bought the deeper shags, you also had to purchase (and regularly use) the device to the left: a carpet rake.

Plastic shag rug rake from the 70’s

Then, there was the embedded dirt. Had shag carpets maintained the 1970’s popularity for a few more years, who knows what new life forms might have been discovered among those nylon depths where no vacuum cleaner could reach? The combination of organic and inorganic material buried at floor level among the polyester tendrils was sufficient that it was its own enclosed environment within your living room walls.

An episode I recall with particular cringing on my part was when my parents and I were invited over to a couple’s home who also had a child my age. They had vast expanses of bright white shag carpet, much like the illustration to the right. They also served a salad for dinner that required VERY red Russian dressing to taste perfect. As I served myself some salad, I reached for the dressing bottle, which required shaking to mix. It also had a very loose cap.

I run into that couple once in a while, and they regularly assure me that they STILL remember the amazing amount of square footage that one bottle of Russian dressing could cover thirty-five years ago.

But let’s face it, if you’re crazy enough to buy a white carpet, you must also resign yourself to the fact that it’s never again going to look as clean as it does that first day, Russian dressing notwithstanding.

Shags have made a bit of a comeback in our day. It’s not unusual to see a new home with a shorter shag carpet installed. The pile is composed of a much more durable material these days than the 1970’s era polyester. Remember how horrible a worn shag carpet looked?

But we who can recall even the vaguest glimmer of JFK can remember when every newer subdivision home had two features: a shag carpet, and a carpet rake.

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