An Open Letter to Pac Sun: Fabric Doesn’t Have A Gender

Kyl Myers in her "Man Pants"

Kyl Myers in her “Man Pants”

Dear Pac Sun,

I recently spent some time and money in one of your stores and I had an experience that perplexed me. Surely your marketing team wants feedback regarding customers’ perspectives on the campaigns you run – especially if it informs you of whether or not people are spending money. So, lucky for you, I’m going to tell you how you lost money because of your unnecessary, sexist, heteronormative sale restrictions.

I have a bachelor’s degree in Gender Studies and I am now a Sociology PhD student – I view the world with a critical lens when it comes to how companies attempt to convince men and women more about their differences than their similarities. I was not surprised to find your store layout divided by gender – like most clothing stores are. Immediately when I walked into the store I noticed a display of pants, with “women’s” pants on the left side of the shelf and “men’s” pants on the right side of the shelf. I was immediately drawn to the “men’s” pants, although I, myself, am a cisgender “woman.” I don’t typically shop in “men’s” departments, but on this particular day, I liked the colors of the “men’s” pants more than the “women’s.” I grabbed a size “small” and headed to the dressing room [I would never think to grab a size “small” in “women’s” pants, but the topic of body shaming women is another letter entirely].

Guess what? I loved the ‘man-pants.’ They fit great and my younger sister [who spends enough money at Pac Sun to pay the entire company’s annual electricity bill] said they were “super cute.” Great! “I’m going to buy them,” I told my sister. And she said, “You should pick something else out because they are having a ‘buy-one-get-something-½-off-sale.” My lucky day, right? Wrong. It was my day to get all fired up about how crap big companies are and how much they love making money and reinforcing gender segregation [oh wait, that is practically every day].

I went perusing the store to find that second item, so you could try to make me think I was getting some great deal, when in fact you are just getting me to buy something I really don’t need for a “lesser” price, like you’re doing me some favor, although we all know your mark-up from your sweat-shop buys are astronomical and my ½ off item is no biggie since you’re making a 1200% profit from my first item. But that’s beside the point. I found another pair of pants that I wanted, but they were in the “women’s” section – which shouldn’t be a problem for your BOGO, but I found the following sale restriction a bit disconcerting…


Free item must be same gender? As if fabric has a gender? Ew. My brain immediately started churning to theorize why this could possibly be a restriction. I could not come up with one satisfactory answer. I found the manager of the store and asked her why I could not get the sale price on a second item if it was from the other side of the store. She stopped folding shirts and looked at me and said, “Do you want to know the real reason? Or what corporate would like me to tell you?” I smiled at her and said, “How about both?” She told me that the reasoning behind the ‘No mixing gender products’ was a money-making scheme [surprise surprise]. She told me that if a man and woman come into Pac Sun together and there is a buy one/get one promotional sale going on then maybe the couple will each pick out one item for themselves and Pac Sun will only sell two items. If there are gender restrictions, then the woman will buy two articles of “women’s” clothing and the man will buy two articles of “men’s” clothing thus resulting in Pac Sun selling four items as opposed to two. This may or may not be the real reason behind the promotional restrictions, but even if it isn’t the real reason, I’d love for you to tell me another reason that isn’t just as gender segregating and heteronormative. [The manager couldn’t even tell me what she thought corporate would want customers to be told about the gender restrictions].

I dare you, Pac Sun. I double-dog dare you to show me the minutes from the marketing meeting where this decision was made, voted on, discussed, whatever. Or did anyone even bat an eye? Did anyone say, “Why?” or “Is this restriction completely necessary?” or “That’s kind of a douchey rule.” Anyone? Because if no one asked critical questions about that sale restriction, I hate to be the one to tell you this, but you need a more diverse marketing team. You need people asking normal-person questions. Since you obviously don’t have staff coming up with them, I will give you some marketing advice. On the house. Ask these questions:
1. Are we assuming that our customers only wear clothes from their designated “gender” sections? Why do we assume this? There are greater body shape differences AMONG men and AMONG women than BETWEEN men and women. Dudes were pouring themselves into “women’s” skinny jeans before clothing companies caught on and just started putting skinny jeans in “men’s” sections too. And in my case, I just liked the colors of the “men’s” pants more than the “women’s” – so I bought them.

2. Are we assuming people are shopping with romantic partners? Are we assuming that everyone is in a relationship – and in a heterosexual relationship with someone who prefers the other gender’s clothes? Why do we give a fuck?

I teach a college course titled Sociology of Gender and Sexuality, so as I’m sure you’ve noticed, I have a hyperawareness when it comes to pointless reinforcements of gender segregation, but frankly, I wish everyone did – because it is only through challenging the institutions that are doing the reinforcing that there can be a chance for change. Had you not had a stupid rule telling me I could only buy clothes from the side of the store corresponding to my XX chromosomes or my feminine gender expression, then you would have made more money, because I would have bought that second item. But you didn’t; so I didn’t. So here’s a picture of me, enjoying my extra money in the pocket of my “man-pants” at a Women’s Equality Day celebration.

I leave you with this, keep in mind that gender is a complicated performance and not everyone completely subscribes to one or the other – nor should they. And products do not have a gender, that’s just weird. So in your next marketing meeting, go ahead and ask yourselves, “Will Kyl write us a pissed-off letter if we go through with running this?” And then simply choose to be one of the cool companies – breaking the gender segregation cycle.




  1. bueno

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