There are three things in particular I hate shopping for: bras, jeans, and work boots. The reasons for my dislike vary. When it comes to bras, it’s the challenge in finding something that’s both my size and comfortable. For jeans, it’s the combination of the inconsistency in sizing in women’s clothing, along with the fact that for years almost the only thing available in stores has been the skinny/jegging style. And when it comes to work boots, my irritation can be summed up in one word.
I’ve been in an industry that requires safety footwear for over 20 years, and in all that time, not a hell of a lot has changed. Selection is limited – stores that have near a hundred options for men will have eight for women. Of those eight, there will be two pair of slip-ons, two ‘dress’ shoes, two sneakers, one boot with a 6″ top, and one boot with an 8″ top. And they’ll all weigh considerably more than the men’s stuff.
That’s been pretty much a constant since I started buying work boots at the Canadian staple, Mark’s Work Wearhouse, all those years ago. There are more stores selling safety footwear these days, but most don’t carry any bigger selection than Mark’s. Now, I get that there are more men than women who need safety work gear, which explains the disparity. But the reality is that more and more women are joining the trades all the time. There are also more businesses than ever before, especially retailers, that require all their employees to wear safety footwear. Yet there’s been little movement in the quality or quantity of women’s footwear.
No, for some reason, manufacturers and retailers have focused on one thing: colour.
Ron also wears work boots, which he orders online, as he always gets the same brand and model number, and they’re not available locally. Now, I won’t order footwear online, especially not the safety variety, because you never know how they’re going to fit or feel. But just for shits and giggles, I went to the website he uses to see what they had.
Of ten boot options for women, three are pink, and one has pink accents. Plus one is navy and one is … turquoise? Seriously? The same website has 57 boots for men, all in the traditional shades of black, brown, and grey – although two of them do have red accents.
In the years I’ve been in my primary industry, my coworkers have numbered into the thousands. I’d guesstimate around half of them have been women. I’ve only known one who’s chosen pink boots. Two others went the pink sneaker route. And that’s it.
As for women in the trades, an industry in which I do a bit of side work, all the ones I know won’t touch pink boots – or other pink gear, for that matter – with a thirty foot tape measure. The trades are still very much a boys club, and the last thing women on the jobsite want is to give the men a reason to not take them seriously. Sure, there’s the occasional Pinky from Holmes on Homes out there, who builds her persona around all pink all the time, but they’re few and far between, and their decision to do so is as political as that of the women who avoid pink like the plague.
I’m fortunate in that a few years back, a new work gear retailer opened near me, and it carries a comparatively large selection of women’s and unisex work boots. So this weekend, when I went to buy a new pair, I had three choices. (Three! I’ve never had three choices before. It was awesome!) The staff member who helped me grinned when I specified, “No pink.” As we chatted while I tried things on, she told me that the pink boots they stock almost never sell. Neither do the pink hard hats, jackets, or other gear.
Which goes to show that it’s not just the trades themselves that are still male-dominated. Designers, manufacturers, and retail buyers all seem to be doubling down on pink work gear. Whether that can be ascribed to a general ignorance of what women want, a pernicious belief that all women like pink, or a more sinister attempt to ensure women continue to be ‘othered’ on the jobsite is unclear.
Whatever their reasons, the girly stereotypes are beyond old. It’s time for suppliers at all levels to start actually listening to, and providing for, the needs and preferences of their female customers.