It was 1979, a stifling hot day on a Texas construction site. A worker was consuming a cold one when he noticed that the nearby tubing installation material fit perfectly around his can. The makeshift sleeve helped to keep his drink crisp and his fingers dry. He named it “Koozie,” a jazzed-up version of his grandmother’s teapot-warming “cozy.”
Each summer (and into fall, winter, and spring), Texans across the state pull koozies from their pockets, their purses, and their glove compartments and slip them onto cans to keep the liquids contained therein from becoming as warm as the rest of us. With summer temperatures now reaching and maintaining solid triple digits throughout the summer, a koozie feels like a necessary, functional accessory—one that allows its user to memorialize that one girls’ trip from a few years back or the family beach trip that devolved into drunken drama. But even before the current heat wave, the iconic foam glove held a firm grasp on our collective hearts.
Typically made out of neoprene or foam, koozies come in a rainbow of colors and an assortment of prints. In Texas, they can be found at gas stations, grocery stores, boutiques, and most gift shops. You custom-order a package of 24 for a bachelorette or birthday party, printed with “Let me drink about it,” “Wish you were beer,” or simply “Y’all.” Just as frequently, they’re gifted as promotional items at orientations, events, or brand activations. Everyone who’s anyone in Texas has a koozie, with sleeves referencing Willie Nelson and Beyoncé, the Dallas Cowboys and the Houston Astros, Dan Crenshaw and Beto O’Rourke. Everyone who’s not-quite-anyone in Texas has a koozie: a former American Idol contestant, the San Antonio Flying Chanclas, a podcast.
After that construction worker’s initial discovery, the koozie took a short journey to prominence. In 1980, Radio Cap Company, a hat manufacturer owned by San Antonio entrepreneur Frank Krasovec, bought the rights to the product patent and the name. In 1982, the koozie entered the market as a plain black sleeve. Its launch coincided with a general expansion of the promotional product industry, when distributors began to market to companies via catalog. Recognizing the value of brand identity, companies began offering logo-printed T-shirts, mugs, and glassware, as well as newly introduced products like logo-printed Post-its and stress balls. RCC eventually began offering the koozie in a range of colors and with the opportunity for specialty logos.
Imitators followed, sparking trademark wars and a rash of ridiculous riffs on the company name. You might find the sleeve referred to as a coolie, a koolzie, a coozie, a cozy, or, in Australia, a stubby holder. As Kleenex is to tissue, KOOZIE, the brand name, has become synonymous with koozie, the product, in a process that’s known in the biz as genericide. But unlike Kleenex, “koozie” doesn’t actually have a generic name, like tissue, to refer to. Wherever a neoprene can holder exists—and that’s not everywhere—it’s usually called a koozie.
“I barely knew the word. I wasn’t really sure how to say it,” says poet and Austin resident Sarah Matthes of her understanding of the product when she was growing up in New Jersey. After moving to Texas seven years ago, she’s amassed a collection of koozies, which she mounted on a pegboard on the wall of her kitchen. (Her display was the first but not the last time I heard of koozies-as-decor while reporting this story.) She also nearly always has a cooling sleeve on her person, even when she’s out of state. “Sometimes, I’ll pull one out and put it on a can and people will be shocked that I’m doing it at a bar or in public,” she says. “In other places that I’ve been, it seems like a thing that you maybe have at home, right? That you wouldn’t take around with you.”
The always-on-hand koozie does seem to be a uniquely southern phenomenon. Sam Speiller, a new California-to-Texas transplant who shares the quirks of her new home state on TikTok, came to the realization that “koozies are not optional for cold beverages here.” A flood of Texans filled her comments explaining the concept of a koozie drawer or bucket—a space, usually in your kitchen, for housing a small collection of the drink coolers.
But how to explain the adoration outside of the koozie’s functionality? I also need sunscreen in the dog days of summer, but you don’t see me carrying five different tubes in my back pocket and purse, like I do the camo koozie, printed with a pink unicorn, custom-made for a friend’s fortieth birthday camping trip. Yeti and Igloo are both heat-battling Texas creations that, while well-liked, don’t inspire the same kind of ubiquity.
Certainly it’s a beer thing. Texans do love their ales and, as the Washington Post recently found out, we do a lot of drinking in outdoor settings, which in the absence of beverage-stocked coolers could get uncomfortable.
But the true fondness, I intuit, is more amorphous, a learned Pavlovian response to all the good times we’ve had while using them. You see an Austin City Limits koozie and you remember the festival you went to that one time with loved ones. You ask for a koozie while you’re floating down the Guadalupe and a new friend offers you one emblazoned with a random car dealership logo. Many people I spoke to mentioned a wedding or a family reunion as a typical koozie-generating event. Aware of this affiliation, BIC Graphic NA, the holder of the current Koozie trademark, changed its name to Koozie Group in 2021 after research concluded that ‘koozie’ reminded consumers of a good time.
“It’s a story,” as well as a conversation starter, says Kaitlann Harmon of Kemp, a Texas native who has an estimated six hundred varying koozies, and, as the daughter of a bartender, doesn’t remember a time in her life when she wasn’t aware of the product. Her most commented-on koozies include those signed by favorite musical artists.
And because the koozie travels outside of the home so often, the story and the good times spread too.
“One of the reasons I love to have so many of them is sometimes they go home with people, right?” says Matthes.”There’s a casual intimacy, a friendship that happens in that kind of exchange . . . it kind of creates a continuity of these happy times.”
And unlike a photograph or a favorite T-shirt that might inspire the same fuzzy feelings, the koozie is outward-facing and infinitely reusable, a perennial product that travels wherever you do. It keeps your beer cold and your best memories top of mind.