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When Fashion Industry Copy Assumes Women Are Stupid

Consumers deserve more depth than a pie pan.

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I’m not 100% sure, but I think us gals fancy being spoken to as intelligent life forms. So it is perplexing to me that I’m still receiving ecommerce emails selling us clothes at the lowest common language denominator.

Fashion has flaws. Emaciated models, a disdain for women over a size 12 (sorry, size 6), fast fashion, etc–the problems are legion and I’m choosing to speak to just one of them today.

There’s an unspoken undercurrent that if you like fashion (design, clothing, shopping, style, etc) it’s okay to speak to you as if you’re also dumb. Hell, apparently it’s okay to speak to just about any woman who likes visually pretty things, or is visually pretty, as if we’re always expecting her to be an idiot and are therefore surprised if not in awe when she says something of importance and value. What? An attractive woman in a beautiful dress is smart? Has meaningful opinions? Call the Times, fetch the fainting couch, this is huge!

I like fashion, and clothing, and style, and if you talk down to me, assuming I must be some dumb “fashion girl,” like that’s a real thing, I’m simply going to assume you’re a little dumb yourself. At the moment, I’m speaking specifically to copy in email subject lines that looks like this:

(all examples pulled from my own inbox over the last 30 days)

“Make ur ex cry every time” — email subject line referencing what I’d call “night out” dresses

“Your closet deserves a promotion”—email subject line referencing workwear

“You’ve never looked so chic” — email subject line referencing a variety of fall items

“Fall for these romantic dresses” — email subject line referencing, wait for it, romantic dresses for fall

When I read these, I envision someone considering in their mind what would motivate a female shopper to engage with an email, and that’s why this kind of copy makes me sad. It suggests to me that people who market to women assume that women don’t think much at all. That we’re driven by pettiness, cliché, vanity. It is my hope that female fashion consumers can be seen as aficionados, not as living paper dolls. Call me an optimist.

And then there are the fashion-focused emails I receive that don’t speak down to me, that simply tell me what’s in an email, and allow me the room to decide if that’s something that piques my interest.

“Our favorite oxford–lifted.” — email subject line referencing a new platform shoe style

“Now trending: blooms & velvet” — email subject line referencing fall trend pieces

“Jennifer Garner’s Off-Duty Style is an Act of Heroism” — email subject line referencing celebrity-based style inspiration

“Should I Actually Buy This Bucket Hat?” — email subject line referencing style advice

Notice how these subject lines don’t sound like bait? They don’t sound like they’re trying to trap pray with some seemingly enticing carrot. They’re just telling you what’s in the email, and they’re speaking to you like a friend, like a real person.

I write these subject lines too, and I understand how many factors go into writing effective marketing copy, particularly factors like limited copy resources, deadlines, and volume. I don’t write about copy here to shame or berate, but instead to converse, and to highlight behaviors we think of as ordinary, that have room to improve. I hope that moving forward we see consumers as we see ourselves, and consider how we want to be spoken to. Hopefully with respect, a bit of wit, and excellent style.

Written by

NPR once called me a humor essayist, let’s go with that. Host of A Single Serving Podcast. shanisilver[at]gmail

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