How Common Are Women's Shirts?


One of the standard examples of?price discrimination is the typical price difference between the cost of cleaning men’s shirts and women’s shirts/blouses (higher prices on the latter).? This picture from a cleaners in suburban Philadelphia suggests one reason why the price difference might be?cost-based-the cleaners has no machines to do the typically smaller women’s shirts and must have them hand-finished, which is much more costly.? Surely, though, women’s smaller shirts are not so uncommon that it wouldn’t pay for a local cleaning outlet to have the necessary machinery.? Even if the scale in one outlet were insufficient to make purchasing such a machine profitable, wouldn’t larger cleaners or groups of local outlets be able to clean women’s shirts centrally?? While superficially appealing, the cleaners’ apology for the price difference does not seem satisfactory once one thinks about the market just a shade more deeply.

The Economist

It's a demand thing. Women own twice as much shirts as men do.

Ian Kemmish

Maybe more women launder their own blouses than men launder their own shirts? That would make investing in the extra equipment less profitable.


I am a large woman (as in height, not breadth), and in men's sizes, I'd wear a small/medium. I wear brooks brothers shirts (same material, very similar cut).

My shirts should require treatment no different than that of my husband, but while he pays $1/shirt, I pay $2-3. I could understand this disparity for silk shirts, or blouses which in some significant way differ from the standard "dress" shirt, but not for my only slightly differently tailored shirts.

Additionally, small men who wear custom (and tailored) shirts, get the same price as standard men's shirts.


"While superficially appealing, the cleaners' apology for the price difference does not seem satisfactory once one thinks about the market just a shade more deeply."

Let's be fair here. . .
The shop owner's most economically efficient price structure doesn't imply that the broader market prices are justified for the same reason. This could be perfectly legitimate reason for THIS cleaner.

Anyway, unless there are very high levels of competition from large cleaners in the area, wouldn't a large cleaner only need to slightly undercut the small cleaner's prices? I imagine that it's not efficient to have more than a few large cleaners in a particular area, so we get low levels of price competition.

Given that many people will pay a little more for the convenience of the small corner cleaner rather than drive to a larger and slightly cheaper one, it makes some sense that the market price remains high.

This does raise a question though. Are prices in a place like Manhattan much different than a men's cleaner? It seems to me that they would be similar.
Anyone know the answer?



Hah. A poster from the National Cleaners Associations trying to explain why cleaners price gouge.

Talk about incentives to lie.

I wonder what the poster from the National Foxes Association says about the discrepancies with chicken counts.


If women's shirts were the standardized uniforms that men's business shirts are (even though "smaller"), and brought the same mass volume of cleaning business, they certainly should get the same deal. But how can they do our shirts for 99 cents anyway? It seems like a loss leader.

D. Johnson

I'm sick and tired of this collusion between government and big dry cleaning. Time for a revolution!

Sarcasm alert...


This sort of price difference is not allowed in California. So both men's and women's shirts cost more to clean.


Why assume that cleaners are price gouging women? I think male consumers are ripping off dry cleaners by demanding unfair lower prices.

I pay about $2 a shirt. That's outrageously low ... it would take me at least 20 minutes to do a worse job by hand. There's fair trade coffee ... where's fair trade men's shirt laundry?


It seems straighforward that if there was no good reason to charge more, the market would take care of it. Nearby cleaners who knew the actual margins would see they could make more profit by charging less for women's shirts than this one. They would advertise lower prices, and they would get more volume. This is not Freakonomics. It's just economics.

Rahel Bailie

It's a case of what the market will bear. First-hand experience from the trenches. Situation: Same-sex relationship. Details: One woman wears men's shirts and the other woman wears women's shirts. More or less the same size, too.

The cleaner looks at the shirts, separates them by collar type (the one distinguishing styling factor) and applies two charges. No amount of arguing or reasoning helps. And switching dry cleaners doesn't help.

Now, a savvy dry cleaner could promote a unique proposition and really gain some customer loyalty.


Explain why the exact same haircut costs $15 for a man and $120 or more for a woman, even though the salaried barber earns significantly more than the hairstylist.


How about just washing and ironing your own shirts and blouses?


Woman pay more because they put up with it. If they organized a boycott a price differential then things might change.


"Hah. A poster from the National Cleaners Associations trying to explain why cleaners price gouge."

Actually, I'm an econ student with a genuine interest in the reason for a price difference. My comment was an attempt to give a reasonable explanation for the price, rather than simply give a possible reason and then debunk it.

I don't understand where the author is going with this post. Is he alleging that cleaners tend to discriminate on women based on their sex? To me that makes little sense, given that the two cleaners I have used locally are both run (and mostly operated by) women.
I can see where there could be cultural instances of price (or other) discrimination, e.g. Jim Crow, but I can't see that being the case here.

So why is there a price difference?


same reason women's clothes cost more although they're not made as well.


I read years ago that two reasons for the price difference are:

1. Women are pickier than men about getting things spotlessly clean and will take back an item that isn't perfect, and
2. A woman's shirt is more likely to have makeup or perfume that needs to be removed.


Perhaps since women's shirts tend to be more ornate, and therefore are more likely to be damaged, the cleaners charge an implicit insurance fee.


I notice that the local supermarket charges less for a product labeled in Spanish than it does for one labeled in English. Same product: Nestle's Classico Instant coffee, for example. It often charges less per ounce for smaller boxes than for the larger size: Golean Crunchy cereal, for example.

I guess it's a rule of life that language- and math-challenged folks pay more.


Prices for cleaners in Manhattan.

Woman's shirt or blouse $4
Man's shirt $1.75