On April 2, Reese Witherspoon’s clothing line Draper James—a kind of grown-up Laura Ashley that seems designed exclusively for Southern country club members—announced that it would be giving away free dresses to teachers. The decision was reportedly a thank you gesture, inspired by staffers’ newfound realization that teachers’ jobs are difficult after a couple of weeks spent wrangling their own children amid covid-19 school closures. But what the company, comprised of just 30 employees, didn’t seem to realize is that there are three million teachers in America who didn’t immediately understand that they were entering a raffle, not a giveaway.
After Draper James announced in a crayon-illustrated Instagram video that the company would be offering free dresses to teachers and Good Morning America picked up the story, over one million teachers filled out the online entry form, according to the New York Times. Meanwhile, Draper James had 250 dresses to give away. What could go wrong?
“The application form crashed almost immediately. Just days after the original Instagram post appeared, it had been viewed more than 400,000 times. Teachers were emailing one another and sharing it online. By the close of the application period, Draper James had almost one million applications — which was approximately seven times the total number of dresses they had sold in 2019.”
And while the Times calls the mistake “well-intentioned,” teachers who admire Witherspoon and aren’t in the habit of spending upwards of $100 on a casual dress say they felt taken advantage of after giving up their emails and photos of their school IDs and receiving 20-30% discount offers in return, in lieu of a free dress.
No matter how good the intentions of the giveaway, the company failed to realize that teachers making 2.5% of what Witherspoon makes for a single episode of The Morning Show would feel rightfully insulted and embarrassed by becoming so excited over a temporary inclusion on Draper James’s marketing email list. It’s yet another example of the fact that “we are not all in this together.” A highly paid celebrity dangling a couple of hundred dresses in front of underpaid teachers as some sort pat on the back would be condescending in the best of times. But as educators (and the rest of the country) face not just covid-19 concerns but overwork and economic uncertainty, 250 free dresses is a small but significant indicator of the chasm surrounding the wealthy—which leaves the affluent so far removed from the rest of us it’s impossible for them to see those below are hurting.