In Asian philosophy, harmony is achieved through a carefully calibrated balance of the yin ("the dark or feminine") and the yang ("the light or masculine"). Where the two genders are concerned, doing the laundry and selecting apparel is less about spiritual harmony and more about balancing expectations.

"Using a play on the words, I actually think separating the lights from the darks goes a long way to promote household harmony when doing the laundry," muses Patricia Pao, founder of The Pao Principle, a retail consultancy. "Laundry, much like life, is all about balance."

Also like life, laundry concerns managing expectations; in this case about how apparel will perform. For example, according to the Cotton Incorporated Lifestyle Monitor™, male respondents anticipate a pair of black cotton pants will last 18 washes before fading; females cite 13 washes.

"Men have different expectations about their clothing than women do," observes Toni Mancuso, a spokesperson for Love Dry Cleaners in Bay Shore, New York. "Men are harder on their clothing, yet they expect more from it. Women tend to be slightly more realistic."

The more realistic comprehension of apparel by women is likely due to their greater knowledge and experience with laundering. One in five male respondents says that he is still learning about proper laundry care via trial and error; only one in ten females admits that she is still educating herself. Furthermore, when laundering, males are less likely to consistently consult garment care instructions (30 percent) than their female counterparts (45 percent).

Number of Days a Week Doing Laundry
  DaysMenWomen
02%1%
138%25%
224%25%
314%11%
45%7%
51%5%
61%2%
79%21%
Varies4%2%
Mean23

"I don't think it comes as a surprise that women are the more careful launderers and pay closer attention to the instructions," considers Melissa Bastos, manager of market research in supply chain planning at Cotton Incorporated. "Some of that may be a function of greater practice; on average, women launder three times a week while men average twice a week."Bastos also points to the habits of the different genders in the apparel purchasing process, which may help to establish gender-specific expectations about a garment's wear and care. Half of female respondents say they usually or always consult the fiber label; a lesser two in five male respondents made the same claim. It would behoove men to be more diligent in their label checking, since men were more likely to be upset to discover that a garment they presumed to be made of cotton was not. Three in five male respondents claimed that they would be somewhat to very upset; a lesser one in two female respondents declared she would be disturbed.

But, according to Jen Scott, denim buyer for Atrium, a popular boutique in downtown Manhattan, men are taking a greater interest in what their apparel is made of. "There's no doubt that men are becoming more conscious of what they are buying, what fibers they want in their wardrobes; and I see that every day on the selling floor," she shares. "As another example, my fiancée insists that all of his shirts be cotton. Recently, he was pretty upset when he discovered a shirt he had just bought wasn't made of 100 percent cotton."

Scott's fiancée is not alone. With wardrobes full of khakis, jeans, dress shirts and polos, men own more cotton clothing than women. According to NPD FashionWorld's Accupanel, cotton's share of men's apparel purchases on a weight basis is 86 percent, exceeding the also high 69 percent share of cotton for women's apparel.

While men may own more cotton, women own shopping in general; and this, says Scott is one reason men and women have differing expectations about apparel. "We shop more than men, and we tend to see some of our items as more disposable. Women rotate out garments and turn them over faster, anxious to try the next new item." Data from the Monitor supports Scott's observations; the average female respondent spends 102 minutes shopping for apparel per month; the average male respondent spends 68 minutes.

While shopping was once considered a nice leisurely weekend afternoon for many, Saturday and Sunday are emerging as key laundry days for both genders. While the majority of respondents do laundry more than one day a week, 50 percent of men and women include one day out of the weekend for completing their laundering needs."Men and women are so busy during the week, it's only natural that they do laundry on the weekends," observes Nancy Fendler, a spokesperson for Ex Officio, a line of travel clothing. Fendler expands the yin and yang aspect of laundering to a Zen ritual. "Personally, I find laundering therapeutic. You are sorting, following instructions, touching warm, soft clothes, folding them and finally, putting everything in its place."

For men, shopping and laundering are necessary evils; chores that must be done. Women, on the other hand, perceive these tasks as quasi-therapeutic rituals that must be practiced to be perfected. It does not take a Zen master to see that experience is the best teacher; especially where apparel selection and care are concerned. 

This story is one in a series of articles based on findings from Cotton Incorporated's Lifestyle Monitor™ tracking research. Appearing Thursdays in these pages, each story will focus on a specific topic as it relates to the American consumer and her attitudes and behavior regarding clothing, appearance, fashion, fiber selection and many other timely, relevant subjects.

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