WHAT DOES “DRESS APPROPRIATELY FOR YOUR AGE” EVEN MEAN?
Let me ask you this question: Why is it still okay to tell a woman she has to “dress appropriately” for her age or that her outfit is “age-appropriate” or “not age-appropriate” as the case may be? Why is it not okay, likewise, to tell someone that an outfit is “race-appropriate” or “religious appropriate” or “national origin appropriate”?
Let me go one step further. Do you think that women are being routinely discriminated against after they hit a certain “age” as far as what they are allowed to wear? (Pressure to dress a certain way according to their date of birth). Is there bias in the fashion industry against women after they hit a certain “age” do you think – Anna Wintour notwithstanding? Are women under the mercy of their date of birth as far as their fashion choices go?
The question is even broader than just women’s fashion choices, though. Is the fashion industry (with permission from society) itself biased against women after they reach certain age “limits”? Is society sending a message to women that after a certain age they no longer have the right (or society’s permission) to make their own fashion choices for fear of suffering judgment, ridicule or even outrage? What about in the workplace where fashion is the main draw? Other than Anna Wintour, are women on equal footing as men in the fashion industry? Or are they being forced out after a certain age with the argument being that since they are past the age where they even have permission to make their own fashion choices how could they have permission to influence the fashion choices of other women?
The reason I ask these question is because I was just reading this Fashion Law blog by a New York lawyer named Julie Zerbo. And learned about this age/gender discrimination case that has been brought against a company called the RealReal. Of course, I was intrigued because first of all, what is the Realreal and where have I been that I have never heard of this website (now brick and mortar store)?
Let’s start with that and then get to the age discrimination against women in the fashion industry that needs to stop.
The RealReal touts itself as ‘sustainable’ but is the luxury consignment brand a toxic place to work? Yes, Says Current Employee Leah Goldblatt in Age Discrimination Case Filed in the Southern District of New York.
As it turns out, the RealReal is a luxury consignment shop with offices in New York City (SoHo, UES at 870 Madison Avenue) and Los Angeles. The company like many of its ilk including Vestiaire Collective, Depop and Thred up, is in the business of reselling used clothes. What distinguishes the RealReal from most of the others out there, is that it specializes in reselling sustainable luxury designer brands almost exclusively. The company joined the sustainability brigade fairly early on and uses the buzzword in their marketing to great effect.
The Realreal was founded by a woman named Julie Wainwright former CEO of Pet.com. MS Wainwright seems very keen on the responsibility of the fashion industry to be “sustainable” and protect the environment. Her company has formed partnerships with brands like Stella McCartney and Burberry to encourage customers to protect the environment by consigning and buying consigned clothing instead of tossing their used and unwanted cast offs in landfills (which is bad for the environment). Ms Wainwright’s company also introduced a “sustainability calculator” in 2012 to calculate the environmental impact of used clothes. Apparently used clothes is very good for the environment, and Wainwright is quoted as saying as much. She really champions the philosophy that “the future of fashion is circular.” According to a recent Forbes article, her collaboration with Stella McCartney is all about shedding light on “make well, buy well, resell model” because for her the fashion “circular economy” is critical to protecting the planet’s resources and keeping the air as clean as possible.
So far this all sounds very benign, very good.
The RealReal has really grown over the last three years or so, to the point that they, under Wainwright’s leadership, were able to raise hundreds of millions of dollars in funding and as of June 2019, are being publicly traded on NASDAQ. In an article in Quartz.com, I read the following: “The RealReal went public, raising $300 million in its debut and earning a market capitalization of well over $1 billion.“
It seems that the company’s main target is women. In particular Millenials (18-38) and Gen Z mainly, and the younger tranche of Gen X to a lesser extent. The reason I say this is based on a quote I read in a Forbes article, where one of the chief merchants at the RealReal identified millennials as being “especially” concerned, as a target, with the second hand luxury goods market. From Forbes:
“American shoppers are inundated with too much of the same-old, same-old fashion that results in them looking like everyone else. Millennials, most especially, want a look that is all their own, and The RealReal helps them get that. ‘Layering, mixing patterns and pairing luxury with contemporary, formal w ith casual are what’s happening now,’ says Rati Levesque, chief merchant at The RealReal. ‘It’s very individualistic, customizable and authentic.’”
That millennials are the target market for the RealReal is not a problem necessarily though this kind of age segmentation and targeting of people based on their age does seem a little bit passé because age is becoming such a blur when you consider how “young” fifty is these days. Look at people like Jennifer Lopez and Halle Berry if you want to know what I mean – that age is at best a meaningless concept nowadays. But that is another issue. The issue at hand is that when people have something like “age” and “age appropriateness” on their minds, this could predispose them to certain ideas that could lead to policies being implemented and decisions being made that are nothing short of biased, discriminatory and non-inclusive. With that said, I am not saying that the RealReal did any of those things.
Leah Goldblatt, the employee who sued the company for age discrimination is reportedly in her 50s which would put her either at the higher tranche of Gen X or even Baby Boomer generation depending on when her birthday actually is. So out of the starting block, she is a wee bit older than the RealReal’s target market, and it could be that they thought she was no longer “in touch” because of her age. Because they clearly had age on the cerebral cortex even in terms of their target markets.
Should her age have anything to do with her taste in clothing or her ability to get promoted to a leadership role in this fashion company? Does the number that she happens to be mean she is “in touch” or “out of touch”? Does her age have to do with anything at all? On the other hand, was it her age that was the problem really (which is a huge deal, if it was) or was it something else that kept Ms Goldblatt from being further promoted in the company? To be fair, it does appear that she had been promoted a couple of times in the company but had subsequently lost out on a new position to a less experienced male colleague. Check this out. According to the Fashion Law Blog:
“For instance, Goldblatt, who is in her early 50s, says that her issues with the burgeoning resale company first started when her commission percentage was abruptly cut, making “her rate of pay clearly lower than her male comparators. Since there was ‘no legitimate business reason for the pay cut and no male employees suffered the same commission reduction,’ and given her allegedly ‘stellar performance,’ Goldblatt claims that the ‘motivation’ behind this pay cut could only be the result of her ‘age and gender.’ But the pay cut was not a isolated incident, Goldblatt argues. In November 2018, she says she was passed over for a promotion to Director of Vender Business Development Team, a role that was given to fellow TRR employee Joseph Tenenbaum, who joined the company in April 2018 and ‘did not possess any relevant experience to justify such a promotion.’”
So the lawsuit is alleging a lot of things and it is not clear yet whether the employee will be able to prove an age discrimination case against her employer. For one thing, Wainwright, the CEO and founder of the RealReal is a woman who is over forty herself. In 2017 she was included in the Forbes 40 over 40 list of women disrupters and entrepreneurs who were basically making things happen in the world. So right there, it would be difficult to argue that this woman was age discriminating against Goldblatt. (Notice I said difficult but not impossible)
Another thing is, the statement that the RealReal provided to the Fashion Law Blog which was subsequently included in a blog post:
“In a statement provided to The Fashion Law on Thursday, a spokesman for TRR said, ‘We are an equal opportunity employer. The RealReal is proud to have a long-standing commitment to diversity: 68 percent of our employees are female and 67 percent are minorities. One-third of our executives are minorities, 67 percent of our management roles are held by women, and 84 percent of our sales leadership are women.’” h
Those are tough stats to overcome if you are Leah Goldblatt. Still. After all of that, I do wonder if Ms Goldblatt is on to something because I do notice that there is a bias, probably an unconscious one, about women when it comes to fashion. Anything past the age of 30 and a woman is already put on notice that she is getting old and she should step aside to make way for younger people. It happens to models, it happens to commuters during rush hour, it happens to actors and it could even be happening to women employed in the fashion industry.
And it’s got to stop. This is another form of bigotry that has to stop. Just like you can’t tell people they are too black or too white, or too jewish or too christian or too male or too immigrant to do something (or to tell them that something is more appropriate than something else based on this criteria) women should not be told to dress “age appropriate” or treated as “too old” to work in fashion either. Again, Goldblatt’s case is in mediation at the moment and since I am not privy to the facts, I am not saying the RealReal is guilty of discrimination against her. I guess what I am saying is that when it comes to fashion, age, and women, I do think society needs to take a look at how much uncoscious bias is being directed at women after a certain age in this regard. And disturbingly and way too often, the main culprits who do this to women are OTHER WOMEN.