Taken To The Cleaners: The Dry Cleaning Glass Ceiling

One woman's on a quest to address the "gender inequalities" that plague our nation's dry cleaners.

Janet Floyd is a woman on a mission. Says the New York Times,

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.

The dry-cleaner says it's because her shirt had been dry-cleaned, while her husband's was merely laundered. The rub? They don't offer the cheaper option for women's shirts, and this is a common occurence, according to the findings on Floyd's web site www.floydadvisory.com. Despite laws against gender-based pricing, dry-cleaners say it's beyond their control:

Asked to explain the price discrepancy, several launderers cited the size and shape of their industrial pressing machines. They were built for men's shirts, they said, explaining that the smaller, tapered women's garments were often ill-fitted for the big, manly presses or were otherwise too delicate. That meant hand-pressing, which is more labor-intensive.

This is likely a leftover from a time when "work shirts" was synonymous with "men's shirts" - and in a sense, we could see it as a compliment to our clothes' greater value. But Ms. Floyd, who has researched a non-specific machine, isn't buying it.

While we appreciate Ms. Floyd's energy in this regard - we like dry-cleaning alternatives, since the process, unless green, is hard on the environment and in any case really hard on clothes - the timing seems curious. Dry-cleaning is, at the end of the day, a luxury. Perhaps a luxury many working people regard as necessary, but as any cash-strapped ironer knows, not exactly impossible to live without. The truth is, a lot of dry-cleaners (including my local) are suffering in this economy as people look for ways to cut spending, and getting an expensive new machine, however gender-neutral, is simply not an option for many of them. Then too, who of us can afford to regularly spend $7 a shirt, as Ms. Floyd and her husband do? It would be nice if the article had at least addressed these questions in a time when most people can't forget them; but in any case, it's always fascinating and somewhat disturbing to see anachronistic discrepancies like this pop up.

At The Cleaners, One Woman Seeks Gender Equality [New York Times]