Prices differ by gender at salons, dry cleaners Study says women pay more than men

November 19, 1998|By Marcia Myers | Marcia Myers,SUN STAFF

Hair salons might bill themselves as "unisex," and men's and women's clothing might be moving increasingly close in style. But the cost of getting a haircut or a shirt laundered often depends on nothing so much as gender, according to a study by a statewide consumer group.

If you're a woman, you're probably getting clipped.

The survey by the Maryland Public Interest Research Group, which targeted 100 randomly selected businesses statewide, revealed that 62 percent of hair salons and 48 percent of dry cleaners charge women higher prices than they do men for the same service, a practice prohibited by state law.

In some cases, the difference was significant. One dry cleaner in Frederick, for instance, charges 99 cents to launder a man's shirt, and $3.75 for a woman's shirt.

"Sometimes it does cost more for a certain service, but the work needs to be priced by the service, not by the gender of the customer walking in the door," said Katie Nohe, who directed the survey for the research group known as MaryPIRG.

"If this is acceptable, how many other ways can they discriminate in pricing?" she said.

The bottom line is that to launder five cotton shirts a week and get a haircut every eight weeks costs $236.44 a year more for women than for men, according to the report.

Several hairdressers contacted yesterday by The Sun were neither shy nor apologetic about the pricing discrepancies.

At Sima's in Highlandtown, women pay $40 for a shampoo, cut and dry, but men are charged $25.

"A man's haircut takes less time than a woman's, and women's hair takes more time to dry," explained Samirah Farhat, manager the shop.

And if a woman has a short cut, or a man a longer style?

"That's the way it is," she said.

But hairdressers at Supercuts at Eastpoint Mall, who charge $16 for men and women equally, dispute that reasoning.

"We charge the same, because it does not involve more or different cutting," said Rose Baris, the shop's assistant manager. "Actually, I think women's cuts are usually easier. You don't have to trim around the hairline, and some blunt cuts take only about five minutes."

Several dry cleaners explained the difference in their prices saying that women's shirts must be hand-pressed because they don't fit the standard presses used for men's shirts.

"We have no choice, it takes a lot of time," said Chond Lee, manager of Betty Brite Cleaner in Severna Park.

A similar claim by dry cleaners in Massachusetts several years ago was debunked by a state attorney general's investigation, said Nohe, of MaryPIRG. Investigators took women's shirts to ordinary commercial launderers, who pressed them on the same equipment with no problem.

The MidAtlantic Cleaners and Launderers Association strongly discourages gender-based pricing. Its literature advises cleaners JTC that it's best to use a single price for any shirt laundered or dry cleaned or to label shirts as "standard," which would cover nearly all shirts, or "non-standard."

"Some shirts will take some extra care, but to generally say women's shirts require hand care is not true," said Nohe.

Beyond making the public more aware of the pricing discrepancies, MaryPIRG is pushing the Maryland Attorney General's office and state Human Relations Commission for better enforcement of state laws prohibiting discriminatory pricing. The group is urging legislation to require posting of prices in both industries. Meanwhile, customers should request price lists before purchasing a service, and stop supporting businesses that discriminate, the group says.

Pub Date: 11/19/98

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