Thursday, February 05, 2009

Women Get Taken to the Cleaners

Remember this post? Price Discrimination at Dry Cleaners

So I hand the girl my two shirts and she says "are these man shirts or lady?" I look at her blankly and she says, "oh, these are ladies blouse, so dryclean." I say no, that I don't want them drycleaned, just laundered, no starch. She says they only do that for men's shirts, and that women's shirts have to be drycleaned, at a cost of $2.50 vs. $1.50 each. I argue that that is ridiculous, as all collared cotton shirts are the same and they should charge based on the service rendered, not what gender wears the shirts. She doesn't budge, so I told her I would be taking all my laundry and drycleaning business elsewhere.
Well, I'm not the only one. Check out this article from today's New York Times.

For women across New York City and beyond, it basically amounts to being taken to the cleaners. Women’s shirts often cost much more to launder than men’s, even if they are smaller and made of the same cloth.

Many women grudgingly accept the higher prices, much as they accept the perennial lack of pockets in their pants and the lengthier lines outside their restrooms. But not Janet Floyd, a 44-year-old mother, community volunteer and newly minted missionary for gender equality in the wash place.

Ms. Floyd’s crusade began in November, when, she said, she and her husband brought their nearly identical blue Brooks Brothers oxfords to be laundered at Best Cleaners in Chelsea. The shirts came back clean, but Ms. Floyd discovered that hers cost $8.75, his $7.
And yes, that is where I totally choked. $8.75 vs. $7? For one shirt? My current price for drycleaning a shirt may be a bit higher than the $2.50 price I paid in April 2007, but I think it's still $3 or less. Janet Floyd pays extra to have both her and her husband's shirts hand-ironed, which make the price discrepancy even more outrageous-- the standard justification for charging more for women's shirts is that they do not fit on the pressing machines used for larger men's shirts. Anyway, I feel Ms. Floyd's pain but I can't imagine paying $7 and up to have a shirt cleaned by any method!

Is this a problem particular to New York? How much do places in other areas charge to launder shirts?

21 comments:

adrora said...

It is the same problem with a lot of other cities. In Toronto, it is illegal to charge different prices by gender. (Salon can price by length of hair, but not gender.) But they can asset the price by the materials, stains and so on. The cleaners do have bias towards female customers. In one undercover consumer show, they find that they do charge more to the ladies. Just with more bullshit when you drop off!

In Hong Kong, they often charge by the brands! If you bring in a Donna Karen suit, they will charge you like $50 to clean. If you cut the label, they would charge you only $20! Also, they charge white people and foreign born English speaking Chinese more!

Don't even get me started with medical care! In numerous studies in Britian and Canada, they find that 50% of women with heart problems are neglected by doctors of both gender. Because they just assume women are more dramatic and emotional!

Adrienne said...

I don't know about the discrepancies, but I think the whole laundering thing is a byproduct of living in a large city where space is a premium. My sister was in Georgetown and had no washer/dryer in her building, nor were there any laundromats nearby. Thus everything went to the cleaners.

My first apartment in Houston had both a washer and dryer in the unit (yes, unit, not building), and it was only $800/mo which is high for Houston. I now own a home with a washer and dryer in the house and my total piti is still less than $1000. And no washing discrepancy!

I see one way to avoid the discrepancy....but I doubt anyone who lives in NYC would move. :)

WorkHomePlay said...

I stopped paying $1.25/shirt last year to reduce expenses. If it cost $8, I would stop wearing shirts all together.

On My Way said...

I usually take my shirts in to get them laundered. I like the freshly ironed look, but just don't have the time to do it myself. This last time I went, i took 8 shirts in. The bill should have been under $20, because they are usually about $2 per shirt to launder. This time is was way more. They had laundered 2 of the shirts and dry cleaned the other 6. It was over $7 a shirt for the dry cleaning. I just about choked and began looking for a new place to get them cleaned. No one could even explain why they had dry cleaned them when I had specifically said I wanted them laundered with very light starch!

Anonymous said...

Ugh, the price discrepancy at the cleaners really makes me grind my teeth.

My husband's shirts are $2.50 to clean and press; mine are $5.

Fortunately, I don't need to wear a collared shirt to work every day any more.

Meadow

A Man said...

$1.75 extra for cleaning is miniscule compared to the average additional cost men pay to purchase clothes versus women. You have to admit that men's clothes are more expensive, I think because men don't buy as many. Maybe the dry cleaners are trying to minimize the large amount of women's clothing by charging a higher price. I don't see any problem with that. If you can afford to purchase clothes that need to be taken to the cleaners, you should have factored in the additional cost of cleaning. I sound unsympathetic, and I guess I am. I'm bitter that women get such great deals on clothes. I think Madame X should have considered that inequality.

Billy Flynn said...

Madame X,

Being a man I've never put much thought into the price of drycleaning other than the occasional epiphanie to maybe shop around a bit and look for a better deal. I can't believe that we're still dealing with stuff like this. I live on the west coast so I like to think we're a little more evolved (not necessarily true mind you): outta style but in touch. Anyways, great blog, I had a lot of fun reading your posts. Keep up the great work.

Billy

jim said...

Ironed by hand? Why would you ever want that? :)

I get my shirts cleaned at the cleaners because they aren't ironed by hand.... $7 a shirt, wowzers.

A Man said...

This comes down to what you believe about price discrimination. First of all, let me just say that I am definitely not for any kind of race, gender, or just-because-I-don't-like-you discrimination. But in a free market society, it is justifiable to charge different people different prices for a service, not a product. I say not a product because there are no variables to consider based on who is buying a product. But a service is different. Since we're not a communal society, I don't want to pay the average price for my car insurance. That means that I would be paying extra to account for the unsafe drivers out there since I am a safe driver. Unsafe drivers would be getting a discount even though they cost more in total claims. I actually really like price discrimination, as long as it is the right kind. It allows me to get lower prices for doing right things (most of the time I'd say). I did some additional reading on the cleaners and it turns out that it really does cost extra to clean women's shirts since they need to be hand-ironed. Pants apparently should be charged the same though.

Is that a fairer comment?

Peachy said...

When we were in a smaller cluster of cities, it cost $7-$8 to dry clean because they sent them out of house. there wasn't one every block. In chicago, every plaza has one and some have deals $1.09 for any piece (not exactly carefull with every piece). I found one I like for $2/shirt. Trick is to have my husband drop off the clothes (mine included) and he gets the cheap rate.

Anonymous said...

Wouldn't know .. I have never been to a dry cleaner. I wash everything at home, including my 5 suits every week.

Mike said...

That's ridiculous. In case you wanted to know, I pay $2 per men's shirt for launder/iron, $7 for pants, and $15 for suits in the Boston area.

Billy Flynn said...

Can you actually wash a suit in a machine? How do they turn out?

Deanna said...

My workplace is business casual, so I rarely buy anything that requires dry cleaning. My hubby buys non-iron shirts that do not have to be laundered. They can be washed in the machine and even put in the dryer. Brooks Brothers makes a good one for about $75 - you'll save at least that much in dry cleaning costs. When they wear out, they are inexpensive enough to replace.

Tally Girl said...

I agree, that is ridiculously expensive, (AND ridiculous they charge different prices depending on gender for the same service). Here in the south I see prices for a couple of bucks per shirt.

My husband wears Stafford's Wrinkle Free dress shirts, which get tossed in the dryer to get any wrinkles out. I never iron.

As for the comments regarding differing prices for women's and men's clothing, it is because the quality for women is much, much lower (in general, not always). I am willing to pay higher prices for my husband's clothes because they literally last years longer.

Anonymous said...

Billy - I have a steam shower (I did not put it in, it was there when I moved in) and got my job later (thus the suits later). So I just put them in the shower for 15 minutes and spot clean any spots by hand. Due to the fact they are on hangers, they do not require ironing, and they dry over time.

Laura said...

I too am a HUGE fan of the Brooks Brothers non-iron dress shirts. They're one of the only non-iron brands for women that I've found, and they're fantastic - I put them right in the washer and dryer.

However, living in NYC, I can say that $8 a shirt is pretty standard around here. That's exactly why I rarely use the dry cleaners!

escape said...

In the north part of the UK (england) you are looking at £5.50 for dry cleaning a shirt! So your NY prices seem cheap - by the way the wages are a LOT less than NY before anywone says anything - the statutory minimum wage is circa £5.70 per hour - what is the minimum wage in NY?

MEG said...

I live in Dallas where overall prices are cheaper, but drycleaners still charge more to do men's shirts.

But the justification that it's OK because the shirts are smaller is complete bullshit - they don't charge more for smaller men's shirts, and they still charge more for large women's shirts. Give me a BREAK.

One of my friends took a negotiations class for her MBA and her female professor assigned all the women to negotiate with their drycleaners for equal prices. Most of them I think ended up successful by threatening to move their business.

Wren Caulfield said...

I've lived in several difference cities in the U.S., and that's pretty much always the case--women's clothes cost more --both to clean and to buy. It's just another instance of our society's patriarchal history carrying on. Pretty disgusting.

Anonymous said...

The difference is not a gender bias but a issue of the amount of work required to press the garment, as a dry cleaning employee, i have the experience to let you guys know that pressing a blouse is twice the work as pressing a men shirt, we press man shirts with a robotic presser, and blouse we HAVE to hand press it, plese appreciate what the presser in the dry cleaning industries do for you guys, if you guys dont like the price find a personal presser..