Apr 25, 2010  •  In Finance, Personal

Is This Discrimination?

Earlier this week I was helping out at my mother’s dry cleaning store when a woman threw a hissy fit at me.

She had brought in some slacks and a women’s shirt. As I entered these items into the computer, she held up the shirt and said, “I would like this to be charged the same as a men’s shirt.”

“I’m sorry, but I can’t do that. This is clearly a women’s shirt…”

“I know, but you always charge more for ladies’ shirts and that’s not fair.”

“The reason we do this is due to the pressing methods. Men’s shirts can be fully pressed in a matter of minutes because most of them are cut the same way and so they fit on the same pressing machine. We don’t have pressing machines for women’s shirts because each are cut so differently — all women’s shirts need to be hand-ironed which takes a considerably longer time.”


A typical shirt pressing machine.

“Well why don’t you buy pressing machines for women’s shirts?”

“As far as I know, no such thing exists.” (This is true — I peruse the myriad of dry cleaning catalogs and magazines my parents receive whenever I’m bored at the store.) “Even if they did, it just wouldn’t make sense economically to buy shirt-pressing machines in various sizes because each one costs thousands of dollars…not to mention the space they would take up.”

By this point, the woman was visibly upset.

“You know, not all men’s shirts are cut the same way!”

“We are fully aware of that fact. That’s why we charge more for men’s shirts that are cut drastically different from other men’s shirts, or for extra small or extra large items that will not fit on the pressing machine.”

“That’s just discrimination! You are discriminating against women, not to mention men with smaller or bigger frames!”

“I’m sorry…that’s just the way we do business. If you are not satisfied…”

“I’m fully prepared to write to my Congressman and demand a law to end price discrimination of this sort!”

I was starting to get pretty annoyed at this woman. “Why don’t you go ahead and do that.”

“And I’ll take my business elsewhere!” She then hurried out in a huff.

* * *

The prices that my parents charge at the dry cleaner aren’t out of the ordinary. It is a well-known fact that many times, women’s clothes cost more to dry clean than men’s.

For a price reference, my parents charge $1.75 for a men’s shirt and $5.25 for a women’s shirt. Seeing as how a women’s shirt usually takes 5 times longer to press, I don’t think the price is unreasonable.

As I relayed the story to my parents, they informed me that this isn’t the first time this has happened. They have gotten more than a few complaints about the price discrepancy between women’s and men’s items over the years…however, they feel that it is only fair to charge more for items that take longer to clean and press, and this is how the majority of dry cleaners price their services.

What do you think? Is this discrimination?

I then began to wonder how we would be able to appease this woman, as well as the others who may feel that this is gender discrimination. The only possible solution I can think of is to charge the same for both men and women’s clothes, but raise prices across the board. However, I can’t imagine that all of our customers would be happy with the idea…

Can you think of another possible solution to the problem?

10 Responses to “Is This Discrimination?”

  1. Erin:

    No, it isn’t discrimination. As a woman, I expect to pay more for my haircut because it requires more time. Men’s haircuts are fairly standard and take about 15 minutes. Women’s haircuts might take an hour depending on the complexity. If I demanded to pay the same price, I could expect to receive the same level of service, and I’d have some sad hair. You want your shirt pressed the right way, you pay for it appropriately.

    I would not change your prices. Maybe a sign briefly explaining the difference in prices would help. Does the price for drycleaning automatically include the pressing? Would it make sense to offer a dryclean only option for people who wanted to save the money and press the shirt themselves at home? I don’t know anything about drycleaning so I don’t really know if that’d be reasonable.

  2. I knew women’s items cost more, but I never knew why. It’s actually nice to hear that there really is a reason, and it’s not that they charge more "just because they can." ;) More time pretty much always means more cost, makes sense to me.

  3. No, it’s not discrimination. I think the reasons behind the difference are perfectly understandable. And Erin’s haircut analogy is a great one.

  4. Em:

    I guess she could start wearing men’s dress shirts if it pisses her off that much. Sheesh. Or, ya know, NOT dry clean your clothes, if it REALLY bugs her. She could spend that time ironing her own stuff and thinking about how big of a pain it is to do

  5. I don’t LIKE paying five times more, but then again, the person pressing my shirt wouldn’t LIKE doing five times the amount of work for the same price as a men’s shirt so I understand.

    The only compromise that *might* (and I’m not saying it does, unequivocally) is averaging the prices so they’re "across" the board, but only if that brings in considerably more women to offset the number of men who would go elsewhere.

  6. Rhey:

    Most people have no idea what happens to their clothes at the dry cleaner. At first glance the price discrepancy does seem unfair, but with an explanation available, it seems reasonable. Signage would help, perhaps even a binder with pictures of the process for those who ask. An informed customer is a happy customer.

  7. That’s just plain silly. It makes sense to charge more for womens’ clothes if they take 5 times as long to service. I also like the haircut analogy. If the customer doesn’t like it, maybe suggest to her that she can start wearing mens’ shirts and you’ll gladly charge her the mens’ shirt prices. :P

  8. Logan:

    I worked at a drycleaners for a while when I was in high school. Men’s shirts are EASY.

    I would say "iron your own damn shirts" and send in shirts that actually need to be dry cleaned, not laundered.

  9. greenellephant:

    I don’t think that is discrimination at all. Even before she brought in her clothes to clean she should’ve noticed at the store that womens clothing cost more in general compared to mens clothes because of the cut. Obviously this woman had brought in her personal issues to her dry cleaners! I’m sorry you had to go through this and your parents had to constantly see such quibble!

  10. Honestly, once you gave that well-reasoned explanation, I’m not sure what this lady’s problem was. I was happy to learn there’s an actual reason for the different charges – and it makes plenty of sense. If she doesn’t like it she should iron her own clothes… if she takes it to your parents, she’s paying for a service.

    And, uh, dry-cleaning isn’t a right, the last time I checked. What a thing to get huffy about.

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