Living the Brand
When you walk into a clothing store, do you notice how the sales associates are dressed? Their hairstyle? Skin color? Body type? While you might not think those things matter, many store chains have established unwritten specifications for whom they want working in their stores—and representing their brand.
In their book, Walking Mannequins: How Race and Gender Inequalities Shape Retail Clothing Work, UMass Provost Professor Joya Misra and Kyla Walters ’14MA, ’19PhD explore how racism, classism, and gender bias impact retail employee demographics. Throughout many studies on the subject, they’ve found these biases influence every element of retail jobs—from a worker’s experience with customers, managers, and the personal aesthetics and beauty requirements they endure while on the job. All while wearing the clothing they are trying to sell (another job requirement). The studies most notably detail how white-associated beauty standards are perpetuated through dress codes and hiring practices.
“We wrote the book for our students working retail jobs,” explains Misra. “We admire our students so much, working so hard, trying to make a difference, even when they face low pay, variable and unpredictable schedules, and poor working conditions. Our goal is for the book to make things better for young workers.”