Posted by: gracieladaisy | February 20, 2020

Who’s Really Wearing the Pants?: Gender disparity in the fashion industry

“The fashion industry is propped up by women – they spend three times more on clothing than men” (Bain, 2018), with then why is this industry that is not only supported by women spending but also culturally geared towards women dominated by men.

With a quick glance at the fashion industry, one may assume the opposite based on the high number of women who work in the industry, at a closer glance this high majority of women are in entry-level jobs in the industry. Think about some of the top longed for brands in the industry? Who are some of the first names that pop in mind? A study conducted by Business of Fashion in 2015, of the 50 major fashion companies examined, only 7 were run by women. Of the top 10 Fashion Brands from around the World as of 2019, all ten of them have male CEO’s and founders. This phenomenon in the fashion industry has been termed as, “The Glass Runway”.

A study conducted by McKinsey & Company (a global management consulting company), Glamour Magazine, and the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA), interviewed and surveyed US-based professionals throughout the fashion industry at all different levels to look at the sources and solutions to overcoming the gender inequality. One of the sources explored was the idea of an ambition gap. When interviewing women at entry-level positions of the industry around 70% have high aspirations for reaching top executive positions compared to only 60% of men. However, at the VP level, only 73% of women have higher aspirations for themselves. In an interview with a senior leader of a retailer, she stated, “I see women in the 35-to-50-year range who feel grateful for having reached the VP level, and they feel that it would be greedy to want anything more” (Brown, 2018). Meaning that even when women aspire for the higher positions once they are given some sort of position they feel as though they should not ask for more than was given to them.

The other main sources of inequality are, Lacking awareness and commitment. Meaning that this lack of awareness attributes to a lack of action being done about it. Ambiguous success criteria. For men, there seems to be a clear path to success but for women not only is the path unclear but may feel less inclined to ask for promotions that they deserve. This is mostly related to the ideas of “The Glass Ceiling” and “The Labyrinth” that we discussed in class. In the sense that while there are women that are in executive positions in the fashion industry, it is very little as well as the path is unclear and every change for each woman that enters. This less clear path is also attributed to another source of the disparity in sponsorship and mentorship. This meaning that there is less career advice given to women to be able to help guide them to the success that they are trying to achieve. But even so, women are less inclined to be proactive in asking for this advice and therefore they go unnoticed even more.

What are some observations where you can see this disparity apparent within the industry in your everyday life? When discussing this topic with some of my peers a question posed was could this gender disparity also be the root of where much of the discomfort women find with shopping comes from (i.e. Incorrect sizing, unflattering fits, etc.)?





  1. I think that pointing out this disparity in the fashion industry is so important. In my Intro to Women’s and Gender Studies class, we talked about how the modern bra was one of the first pieces of clothing that was commercialized and made outside of the home. With this, came standardizing of sizes, and women for the first time not wearing custom pieces made to fit them. I wonder what would happen if we removed these conventional sizes and made shopping more comfortable for women.

    In your point about CEO’s and VP’s, I have definitely seen this to be true across the board. I think that in order for more women to go for these executive level positions, there needs to be more emphasis and exposure for the women who are already there. In one of our readings, the authors were talking about how through media we are able to see representations of what women can do. Why are there not more TV shows and movies about female executives? Instead of being a rarity, this needs to be shown more to the public. If young women are able to see more examples of top-notch executives, they might be more inspired to strive for that themselves.

    When thinking about this as well, I think its important that companies also make changes to make it more possible for women to get to the top as well. Many workplaces do not have spaces for women to pump breast milk for their children, which is necessary for working mothers. A working mom should not have to have her own private office or sit in a bathroom in order to do something that is necessary to provide for her family. Many women worry about being able to balance work and family, and in order for women to have access to these positions, the workplace needs to adapt to women and their needs.

  2. There is a history behind the male-dominance in women’s fashion. Up until the early 20th century, all women’s fashion was designed by men. This meant tight corsets, heavy material, long flowing gowns that were highly impractical and not comfortable to wear. It wasn’t until 1910 that a couture collection for women was made by a woman. The top 15 list for haute couture in France is male dominated – the CEO if Chanel now is a man. What is made in haute couture collections trickles down into everyday fashion. My favorite example of this is from The Devil Wears Prada when Miranda calls out Andy’s (an intern’s) outfit: “You go to your closet and you select , I don’t know that lumpy blue sweater… But what you don’t know is that that sweater is not just blue, it’s not turquoise. It’s not lapis. ‘ actually cerulean. And you’re also blithely unaware of the fact that in 2002, Oscar de la Renta did a collection of cerulean gowns….And then cerulean quickly showed up in the collections of eight different designers. And then it, uh, filtered down through the department stores and then trickled on down into some tragic Casual Corner where you, no doubt, fished it out of some clearance bin. However, that blue represents millions of dollars and countless jobs and it’s sort of comical how you think that you’ve made a choice that exempts you from the fashion industry when, in fact you’re wearing a sweater that was selected for you by the people in this room from a pile of stuff.” So to answer one of your last questions (even though this seems a contradiction): I don’t actually think that incorrect sizing and unflattering fits stem solely from males dominating higher positions in the fashion industry. I do think advertising is the culprit. Like we saw in Miss Representation, there are a variety of reasons why we see women over-sexualized, in uncomfortable clothes and ultra-thin can be traced back to the male-dominated world of advertising.

    Something I found interesting was the idea of a mentorship gap contributing to the overall gender disparity we see. Many of the articles you posted said men get more feedback than women and therefore women don’t have as clear a path to moving up in the industry. One article I found (linked below) interviewed men and women concerning The Glass Runway. It seems the #MeToo movement has made men hesitant to take women ‘under their wing’. Men also said they considered women to be more sensitive, so they gave less feedback for fear of being offensive. I think I can better understand the first reason that men gave in these interviews. But the second is based on such an antiquated stereotype: women are more sensitive – we don’t want to hurt their feelings. How much more is it hurting women when they don’t receive any constructive criticism or feedback? It just adds to the Labyrinth’s already murky atmosphere, making it even more arduous to see or set a clear path in their careers.

  3. On February 3, 2019, Forbes published an article titled “Would More Women In Fashion Power Positions Mean More Female Costumers?” I didn’t even need to read the article to tell you the answer to this question – I mean it seems obvious doesn’t it? But if the answer is so obvious, why does there need to be a whole Forbes article proving why women in higher positions is important in the fashion industry? And why, given that it will ultimately bring in more female customers, is it not happening? The article gave these statistics stating that: “only 40% of womenswear fashion brands are designed by women and only 14% of the 50 major fashion brands are run by women”.

    In regards to the point brought up about how this could contribute to the discomfort women find in shopping, I think it is definitely a factor. The Forbes article included a quote from a retail strategist and retail analysis, Katie Smith, that pointed out that “For the most part, the fashion industry is not representing what it’s audience looks like. That results in the marginalizing of women who fall outside of its archaic definitions around shape, race and age.” So not only is the media perpetuating a woman’s worth being found in her looks and the over sexualization of their bodies as being normal and expected, but then when women go to shop and see advertisements in the fashion industry these concepts come to fruition. And who are at the top of both the media creating these images and the fashion industry sustaining these images? Men. It seems to me this creates a cycle – one that can hopefully be broken by women who find their ambition and can make it to the top and then turn around and help the women behind them.

    The Forbes article noted that things are changing, but at slow rates. It is important that, just like any industry, the fashion industry reflects inclusivity and diversity. If you want to read the Forbes article I referenced, the link is below.

  4. While I was initially reading this blog post and I got to the line that says “at the VP level, only 73% of women have higher aspirations for themselves.”, and thought “ yeah! I would totally be satisfied at a VP level”. I think that it is engrained in the way we think as women to be overly grateful for the accomplishments we are able to make. Once we have “made it”, whatever that looks like for each person, we feel as if we have made the contribution we are supposed to make, and then it is time to sit back and relax into the role we had worked so hard to strive for. Whereas men are taught to constantly strive for excellence and that their worth is based on success in comparison to other men rather than reaching for the best that they can in a role that makes them feel fulfilled. This is a struggle for both men and women, and I’m not super familiar with the fashion industry, but this seems to be a recurring theme.

    I also immediately thought of the impact of having perfectly sculpted people who embody the pinnacle of beauty of our culture modeling clothing for these large fashion brands. The majority of models are female, though there is just as much toxicity and pressure put onto male models, and those models have been treated in our culture as stupid, vapid, vain, and empty people. All of this, while they are also being strained by designers and brands to look as perfect as humanly possible. Having these “human mannequins”, as they are often treated, be mainly female, I am sure has an impact of higher ranking women in the industry. Having to combat the stigma of females being lesser in an industry that is so founded on the stereotypes of airheaded models must be full of obstacles and extremely exhausting. Though this stigma is slowly changing with the introduction of social media as was previously stated there is still much work to be done.

  5. The idea that women feel thankful for making it this far in the fashion industry
    when they acquire the role of VP boggles me. Why are they seeing themselves this way, especially in an industry driven by women? My honest retort to this phenomenon is reflected in the Zeilinger reading: Women have been trained to doubt themselves, question our worth, and view ourselves as improvable projects (Zelinger, 2012, pg. 2). It’s hard to see ourselves as our own leaders in this industry most likely because we have been trained to doubt ourselves and our physical appearance. In particular, I wonder if the fact that women feel so insecure in their bodies is what keeps them from these high achievement positions in the fashion industry. Maybe they feel as though they are not enough body wise and therefore shouldn’t have as much of a say in the field.

    I also wonder if women fear the criticism they would receive in a higher-ranking position in the fashion industry. For example, are they scared that others would call them vile and vain for focusing upon looks instead of leading at something with a more humanitarian cause, such as an NGO.

    I also imagine the lack of confidence felt by these women is attributed to the perfectionistic standards. Specifically, maybe women feel as if their lack of knowledge of how to succeed in the fashion industry would keep them from achieving success and leadership perfectly. Thus, their inability to see a perfect outcome prevents them from pursuing leadership.

    One way I see the gender disparity in the fashion field is in the women’s lingerie industry. Victoria Secret is one of the premier women’s lingerie brands. They are known for their high-end luxury bras to simple everyday PINK wear geared towards teens and tweens, along with their Victoria Secret Fashion Show. The CEO of this company is John Mehas, a man. In comparison, Savage X Fenty is an online women’s lingerie site and is known for its comfy bras. The bras are designed and owned by pop star Rihanna. Victoria Secret, however, is a bit more popular and well-known compared to Savage X Fenty. Thus, there is more male influence in the lingerie industry than female influence despite the industry not being for men at all (or at least functionally it’s not).

  6. I think this is an interesting point that you make about the fashion industry. I wouldn’t consider myself to be the most fashionable person out there, but I do work at a clothing store that caters exclusively to women and more feminine styles. While working at New York & Company, my job is to style our customers and recommend outfits, but I never really thought about who actually runs the company. Women represent the brand and predominately work at the front of the store because people tend to prefer to see people like them (men or women) wearing the styles they want to buy. However, after reading this, it didn’t shock me to find out that the CEO of this company is also a man. In terms of more reputable brands, it is very interesting as well to realize that the items made for women are not necessarily headed or created by women. While they very well may have a diverse group at the table discussing styles, it is not too hard to imagine that not existing, especially when you think about some recent stylistic/social faux pas that could have been avoided had other voices been at the table.

    Part of the reason that women are satisfied with lower level positions can very well be due to our ideas of the glass ceiling, lack of self-promotion, and overall lower expectations of what our leadership and success can entail. There is a lack of representation, and very rarely do we here of female designers or brand CEOs in particular. The disparity between who operates at the lower levels versus the higher levels is intriguing. For example, there is almost an expectation that fashion designers be women, but those who actually own and run the company are not those same women most of the time. Perhaps if women had more of a voice in the decision-making, we would have more of a say about clothing sizes and styles. I can attest that the sizing standards are ridiculous, at least in the U.S. While some brands are trying to accomplish this by showing “real” women, such as Aerie, I think the supermodel fashion world has some catching up to do.

  7. I first encountered this surprising fact when I took the honors Changing Fashion course here at CNU. During the class, we had to give a presentation from one of the designers Prof. Jaremski had put together in a list. I was surprised to find that less than half of the designers listed were female, and of those there were only one or two who were modern designers (began designing during or after 1960). I ended up doing my presentation on Betsey Johnson, my favorite modern designer, but most of the class ended up presenting on male designers like Yves Saint Laurent, Christian Dior, and Valentino. This really struck me as odd because I had always seen the profession as more feminine, and it also strikingly contrasted with another section of the course that discussed how fashion itself impacted the feminist movement and vice versa. I found it fascinating how they chose the colors of the suffragist sashes specifically for their meaning of purity (white), royalty/freedom (purple), and hope/new beginnings (green). And yet this fashion was adopted in a profession dominated by men despite the source. This contrast between those who influence fashion and those who create it is truly shockingly stark, and I hope that it can be more balanced one day.

  8. Every time I read one of these blog posts I am less and less surprised by what is said. This piece reminds me of another blog post a little while back, regarding women in performing arts. I remember finding those statistics shocking because performing arts is thought to be a female dominated field, similar to fashion, but women still struggle to be hired, or taken seriously, as leaders.

    I love fashion and I have always been interested with this industry as a whole and when I was younger I always used to imagine women in the field of fashion. However, as I’ve gotten older I found myself repeatedly associating successful fashion with men. I have since realized that this is because men are highlighted in the media for fashion success, more so than women. It’s almost as if the media does not want to highlight women because it is so ‘common’ for women to work in fashion, that they choose to highlight men because it is more rare and seen as more of an accomplishment for men than for women.

    I love that you brought up the issue of sizing because as I’m sure many other women can relate with, we are taught to associate our confidence with a number. I never understood why the sizing for men and women were different, using different numbers making it more confusing for women, but I have always found it demeaning. We are taught that the smaller the number, the more beautiful you are and should feel, ideally you should be a 0. Men do not have this problem, because there sized are measured in inches based on the waist, which makes much more sense than approximating size to a significantly reduced number. I applaud stores that have chosen to size women’s clothing by actual inches, 26, 30, etc., rather than using 0,2,4 and so on. Although I understand men do experience insecurities with their bodies, it is hardly splattered all over the media like women’s is.

    Although I love the fashion industry, it is a brutal realm for women.

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