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Understanding Gender-bias Dry Cleaning

"We’ll talk about dry cleaners next, right," President Obama said at last year’s Pay Equity Event. "Because I know that -- I don’t know why it costs more for Michelle’s blouse than my shirt." The crowd, mostly comprised of women, responded with laughter and head-nods.

By now, most people are aware that many dry cleaners will charge more to clean women’s clothing than men’s. Breaking it down to understand why, however, is not so cut and dry. 

For decades, people have fought this issue, calling for gender equality and equal pricing. In 1989, a group of students from George Washington University Law School formed the Coalition Against Discriminatory Dry Cleaning and filed an action under the D.C. Human Rights Act. Their actions resulted in equal dry cleaning prices for men and women in the District of Columbia. Similarly, in 1998, New York City Public Advocate, Mark Green, fought for gender equality for several public services, which led to NYC issuing gender-based pricing display laws. California and Massachusetts have also since banned gender-based pricing at dry cleaners and hair salons.

But is this really an issue of gender-bias? As consumers have questioned the dry cleaning industry, many responses from within it have been the same: that women’s clothing is more time and labor intensive, thus requiring a higher price tag to service it. While this topic has become generalized to “dry cleaning”, the issue is really pressing. Dry cleaning and laundering are two different processes, and every dry cleaner will charge you less to launder a shirt, as it does not involve the added cost of equipment and cleaning solution. The problem arises when a consumer brings in clothes to be laundered and gets charged for more when picking up because the item had to be hand-pressed or dry cleaned. There are two main reasons for this:

  1. The machines used for pressing typically do not accommodate the form of a women’s shirt.
    A standard pressing machine can press roughly 100 shirts per hour. This machine is meant for cotton button-down shirts and uses a male form to hold the shape and create creases. Many dry cleaners state that women’s shirts will not fit on these machines. This is certainly true for some shirts, and as such, it can’t be used. But as we all know, everyone comes in different shapes and sizes, and most pressing machines will fit a women’s button-down shirt size larger than a 2. So for a dry cleaner to use this claim, they should be able to prove to you that your shirt won’t fit on their pressing machine. Of course, this isn’t the same if your shirt has more details than a plain button-down, as described in reason #2 below.

    * There are unisex pressing machines available for dry cleaners to purchase, but most don’t due to the slower hourly overturn they require.
  2. Women’s clothing is typically too detailed to allow for machine pressing.
    It’s obvious that women’s clothing is usually more detailed than men’s. Delicate fabrics, additional frills, hand-sewn embellishments, the list gets a little lengthy. Clothes like these can’t be machine pressed and require hand pressing. Of course, this is more time consuming and the dry-cleaner has to account for this in labor costs. While this is most likely the best explanation for the price difference, some places will insist on hand-pressing all women’s shirts, even the standard cotton button-down, and this is where it becomes an issue of gender-bias. 

Whether we want to admit it or not, as a consumer industry, we have accepted a lot of this. While the importance of the issue is clear and has been advocated by some, the majority of consumers have shown that they are willing to accept these price differences. There are dry cleaners that offer the same pricing on services despite gender, size, or shape, and they have to compete for the same customers. 

Some dry cleaners say it is because women are more particular about their clothing, and that they expect it to have more time and attention. And some just downright admit that they charge more because women will pay more.

That being said, does this mean every dry cleaner needs to charge more for hand-pressed items? No, it doesn’t. It is true that many men’s and women’s clothing isn’t the same. This leads to different treatment methods, which gives dry cleaners every right to charge differently and in relation to the amount of labor required. It really comes down to a personal business decision.  Many of the complaints arise not because of the charges, but because these price differences aren’t being displayed for the consumer to understand until they receive their bill. All prices should be available upfront to consumers because they have a right to know what the services being provided will cost before being performed and to choose whether or not to pay for them.

CD One Price Cleaners made the decision to charge the same for laundering and dry cleaning any item, be it men’s or women’s and it has suited us well. We continue to remain a leader in the dry cleaning industry, and the plain truth is, if offering the same price didn’t work for us, we’d have been out of business by now. 

Every garment, one price.CD One Price CleanersIn by 10am out by 5pm. Every day.