One man's shirt, and 5 women's? That'll be $50, please.
July 31, 2006 11:05 AM   Subscribe

Why does getting articles of women's clothing laundered, dry cleaned and/or pressed at the cleaners cost more than it does for comparable articles of men's clothing?

On average, dry cleaners charge from $1.00 to $2.50 more on up for shirts, slacks, suits, etc. Is there a reason for this other than "because they can"? Do women's clothes require special machinery to be cleaned, pressed and folded?
posted by psmealey to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (18 answers total)
Same reason they charge us more for haircuts.

See interesting article on price discrimination.
posted by CunningLinguist at 11:08 AM on July 31, 2006

Women's shirts often have pleats and folds that men's shirts rarely do. They take more care and time to press correctly.
posted by coffeespoons at 11:16 AM on July 31, 2006

CL, your link actually disproves your point:

prices are higher for women not because of discrimination, but because the cost to provide these services is in fact different. For dry cleaners, women's shirts tend to be less consistent and more fragile, and therefore have to be pressed by hand, whereas men's shirts can be pressed by a machine, accounting for the higher cost.

This is the reason I've heard, as well.
posted by bjrubble at 11:17 AM on July 31, 2006

I've also been told it's because women's clothing more often has baubles and extra buttons which (depending on your cynicism) means they have to be more careful/have to pay to get it fixed when they rip them off, impacting the bottom line.
posted by phearlez at 11:54 AM on July 31, 2006

If they didn't, how would they justify the persecution complex?

That's a joke, in case you are humour-deficient.

I've also heard that it's because generally the frills, pleats, lighter fabrics, and other special requirements need more care and attention. However, if the question was "Are the extra costs charged to women for their drycleaning in a fair scale to the amount of extra effort needed to accomplish the task?", I'd have to say that it's doubtful. People will scam everywhere they can.
posted by Kickstart70 at 11:55 AM on July 31, 2006

Best answer: The discrimination argument is a ploy for lazy politicians or journalists on a slow news day. There's very little truth to it.

Drycleaning put me through highschool, college and university so I think I can answer this one for you with some accuracy. Coffeespoons and bjrubble have it right.

Men's shirts are generally laundered, not drycleaned. Even blouses that are laundered have to be pressed by hand. Shirts are generally done on a shirt buck - a big steam-filled inflatable man-shaped contraption that does a shirt in a fraction of the time it takes to do one by hand.

A reputable shop should charge the same for pants regardless of the wearer's gender. Extras like lining or delicate fabrics incur additional charges. Men's suits tend to be cut as though they're dressing a brick and as a result they are less time-consuming to press than a fitted woman's jacket though most shops charge the same rate for either.

One shop I worked at did clothes for the drycleaner chain located inside a grocery store chain's locations, as well as the town's swank hotels and its premiere drycleaning shop that routinely charged five to ten times what the grocery store shop charged for the same garment. Everything was spotted and cleaned together but the expensive shop and hotels had everything hand-pressed with steam irons. The grocery store clothes (identified by different tags) were pressed on standard steam presses and the shirts done on the shirt buck.

If you find a small mom & pop shop in your neighbourhood that does its cleaning on the premises there's a good chance they're doing everything by hand and you can avoid the characteristic rippling in certain areas that the shirt buck leaves behind.
posted by ChuckLeChuck at 12:04 PM on July 31, 2006 [1 favorite]

Maybe the extra frills are the reason, but I generally don't wear frilly extra buttony shirts and I still get charged more. If that were actually the reason, they would charge by the style of the garment and not the gender of the person who is wearing it. And a pair of dress black pants are a pair of dress black pants. I call bullshit.
posted by Kimberly at 12:04 PM on July 31, 2006

Phearlez reminded me of something else. The mother of pearl buttons that used to be popular on women's clothing were the worst: the heat or chemicals from the washer would cause them to flake apart and disintegrate. We'd have to wrap them individually in foil or remove them before cleaning the garment and sew them back on when it was done. I've never worked in a shop that actually charged extra for that, though most shops did have a charge for it in their various systems.
posted by ChuckLeChuck at 12:07 PM on July 31, 2006 [1 favorite]

In 1996 or so, there was a bill to end gender-based price discrimination in Washington State, sponsored by Pat Thibeaudeau. It failed.

As I recall, one of the reasons given by a dry cleaner for his gender fee was that women complain more when he does a sloppy job. I was amazed to hear somebody actually say that. (Sorry, I can give no citation except that it was almost certainly a program on KUOW ten years ago.)

In addition, standard shirt presses are less likely to fit women's shirts, or so I've read.
posted by sculpin at 12:15 PM on July 31, 2006

Kimberly: It's not just frills and buttons. The majority of women's dress shirts have darts for the bustline. Those usually need to be hand-pressed as well. While dry cleaners should be charging by style instead of gender, it's often easier to do the latter and overcharge a few customers who have simpler clothes. Shirts are a low-profit area, especially for small shops: even though it's costing the consumer 3 or 4 dollars, the drycleaner only makes fifty cents or so per shirt after costs of operation. This fifty cents needs to pay for labor costs. A drycleaner may choose to charge by gender because it takes less time to sort and price and it actually lets them clean the shirts at a profit.
posted by coffeespoons at 12:21 PM on July 31, 2006

Hope this doesn't seem too dumb but I know just from doing my own laundry at home that mens and womens cloths are very different to deal with . My wifes stuff is more complicated in numerous ways and requires more careful handling. There are non-flat buttons that can catch on things, little sparkely accents and whatnot that require a special gentle cycle, thin straps that can't be pulled on too hard, stretchy bits that get wound around things, colors that can't be done together, and whites that definitely can't be done with anything else. In comparison my stuff could be done by an ape and come out fine. So blame culture or the fashion industry not dry cleaners.
posted by scheptech at 12:46 PM on July 31, 2006

Don't discount the "because they can" reason. It's a fair market system. To me, they nub of the question is; why don't some dry cleaners charge less. Maybe it's a time-honored industry standard based on the "extra do-dads, more complications" issue that has not been challenged by an industrious dry cleaner yet.
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 1:05 PM on July 31, 2006

Some dry cleaners do charge less. "Cleaners Depot offers a dry cleaning concept where all garments are dry cleaned for one price." (Actually, shirts are cheaper $0.99 compared to $1.99 for everything else. See these reviews.)
posted by Xalf at 1:58 PM on July 31, 2006

In The Complete Tightwad Gazette, Amy Dacyczyn asks the director of the IFI this question, and she basically confirms most of what's said above. The average cost for women's shirts is higher, but the higher price gets (unfairly) applied to all women:
Oehlke says dry cleaners press a large volume of shirts on a shirt-pressing machine. This machine will accomodate only a certain size range. Any smaller (or much larger) shirt, regardless of gender, must be hand-ironed, which costs the cleaner more omney. Along with being smaller, women's shirts tend to have more pleats, darts, ruffles, and delicate fabrics than do men's. In short, he says it's the extra labor that causes the price difference, not a gender-based price gouge.

On the other hand, several readers told me that a Chigago telivision station did an intensive investigation and found that many Chicago-area cleaners charge far more for shirts labeled "women's" than for those labeled "men's," though the shirts were exactly the same... The bottom line: If you find a cleaner who seems to be overcharging you for no reason other than gender, ask the manager hwy you can't have the man's rate.
posted by mbrubeck at 4:12 PM on July 31, 2006

I was told by a Dry Cleaning friend that another part of the reason is that women complain and return things that they still see (nearly invisible) stains on. Guys (for the most part) don't. Women tend to be nitpicky about stuff that the average man just can't be bothered to notice. The same way the vast majority of stuff returned to resturant kitchens is by women.
posted by Megafly at 5:48 PM on July 31, 2006

Men's dress shirts are most often laundered then ironed rather than dry cleaned when they're dropped at the dry cleaners.
posted by leapingsheep at 7:21 PM on July 31, 2006

posted by leapingsheep at 7:26 PM on July 31, 2006

I think part of the reason that women complain more is because that women's shirts are harder to replace. For example, the frilly little tank I'm wearing right now isn't going to be at Anthropologie a month after I bought it. Whereas if someone ruins a men's dress shirt, it's more likely that they can find it or something similar where they bought it.
posted by anjamu at 9:48 PM on July 31, 2006

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