Target dress apology: Industry experts should not require Twitter policing

The Target dress apology started on Twitter, after a shopper took a snapshot of a piece of plus sized clothing in the color 'Manatee Grey.' The standard size of the same piece was 'Dark Heather Grey.' The Target dress apology shows that a slew of people in Target command center weren't paying attention.

Geoff Robins/Reuters
Target apologized this week after it named a dress color 'Grey Manatee' for the plus size while named the standard size differently. Here, employees stock shelves at a Target store in Canada, March 4.
Geoff Robins/Reuters/File
Clothing is displayed at one of Target's new Canadian stores in Guelph, Ontario, last month. The US retail store giant issues an apology after it named a color for a plus sized piece of clothing 'Manatee Grey,' offending people who considered it an implicit comparison between a plus size person and a manatee.

There may indeed be 50 shades of gray, but Target made a mistake as big as a herd of sea cows when it chose to switch the name of a dress color from “Dark Heather Grey” to the more mass-representative “Manatee Gray,” when the dress was sold as a Plus Size. In this case, a major manufacturer played-into social bullying. And while “sorry” is expected, it’s not really going to get this job done for consumers who shouldn’t have to be the common sense police for an entire industry.

If a manufacturer or seller wants our hard-earned dollars in this economy it’s not about what they do for us as much as what they should never do to us as female consumers. They should never be so insensitive as to humiliate us or our kids in public by cluelessly naming things that will make a chubby kid’s life worse with bullies than it already is.

The Examiner reports that Target customer Susan Clemens was browsing through when she saw a grey, plus-sized garment labeled "Manatee Grey." The same exact dress was on the screen listed with the more appealing name, “Dark Heather Gray.” Clemens called out the retailer on Twitter. Target, admitting it had really missed the bulls-eye on this one, issued a public apology.

My mother, Glen Kristi, of New Jersey, a Parsons School of Design graduate who later taught there, spent decades as a fashion designer in New York City. One of her clients was the plus-size clothing firm Lane Bryant, so this morning the parenting blogger goes back to Mom for wisdom and insight into how this kind of error happens.

“Oh Lord! What were they thinking?” was mom’s reaction when I e-mailed her the photos from the Target website showing the two dresses and color descriptions. “They’re lovely animals, I swam with them once you know, but they’re called ‘Sea Cows!’ "

Once mom was over the shock she explained to me that colors for fabrics and other design trends are not something that the industry takes at all lightly.

“Every year when I was in New York, the Fashion Color Association council met to name all the news colors for the season,” she said. “Then I would go to meetings as a designer to spend hours learning all the names of the new hot colors before I worked on my line.” She added that manufacturers also choose their own color names, outside the council.

Mom added, “I do feel sorry for the people who have to come up with a new name for yellow every season: citron, sunshine, lemon.”

The color “Manatee Gray” had to at least get approved by the manufacturer first, then the marketing people before the raft of people at Target like their buyer, merchandiser, sale staff, and web team. All those eyes on that name and nobody thought, “Wow, that’s a bad idea.”

Mom was quick to point out that “manatee” as a general color name isn’t so bad; it’s the application, “but you never single-out a color for a size and never applied strictly to products worn by large-size women.”

Last Christmas I got the gift of nail polish from a friend in California who gave me one of those get-a-box-every-month-for-a-year gifts via a company I’d never heard of called in Seattle, WA. This was funny to my kids because I am so low maintenance I barely remember I have nails let alone polish them. But I was struck by the color names like: Rebel (a super silver for plus-size Rebel Wilson who is in my favorite new film Pitch Perfect).

The Julep website states: “There’s a reason our nail colors are named for women who inspire us – women who are strong and smart and funny and gorgeous and different. Because everything we do as a company is grounded in the power of women emboldening other women to be their most vital, beautiful, confident and happy…and to have a lot of fun along the way. A part of the proceeds from the sale of every Julep Nail Color goes to organizations that empower women.”

No matter what the shade, it’s going to be a lemon with customers if a seller segregates us by our shape, size and their color choices. If you target someone for their weight your new name will be Mud with moms.

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