On the site BaxterBoo.com, options for your female pooch include “sweet heart nurse” or French maid. “Any tidy girl dog will look adorable wearing this French Maid Dog Costume,” the site’s description reads. “Whether your pup is a clean freak or a messy mutt, she will enjoy playing ‘dress up’ in this fun costume.”
The choices for male dogs, meanwhile, include fireman, mob boss and doctor (suggested pairing: “match up with a girl friend with the Sweet Heart Nurse Dog Costume.”)
“It seems silly on the surface, but this is part of a larger message we’re sending, that there are certain jobs for men, and certain jobs for women,” said Scott Lawrie, 36, who co-hosts a podcast, ‘She will not be ignored,’ about gender issues. “The career options for women — and dogs — need to go beyond pink loofahs and pink cowgirls.”
Lawrie, who plans to dress his two dogs as the cop duo Cagney and Lacey, says he did a double-take when he saw PetSmart’s police officer costumes marked for “males.” He clicked around and noticed a pattern: Career-related costumes were often explicitly marked “male” and “female.” (A number of other costumes, however, ranging from lobsters to pumpkins and dinosaurs, bear the “male/female” label.)
“I thought surely there was some reason behind this: maybe the pets needed to relieve themselves a certain way, or something like that,” said Lawrie, who lives in San Francisco. “But all of the costumes are identical.”
Representatives for PetSmart and Baxter Boo did not respond to requests for comment.
National retailers have begun taking steps to eliminate gender labels from their products. Target last year announced it would stop separating girls’ and boys’ toys in its stores. Wal-Mart, Toys R Us and Amazon.com have taken similar measures. (Jeffrey P. Bezos, the chief executive of Amazon, owns The Washington Post.)
“We never want guests or their families to feel frustrated or limited by the way things are presented,” Target said in a 2015 news release. “Over the past year, guests have raised important questions about a handful of signs in our stores that offer product suggestions based on gender. In some cases, like apparel, where there are fit and sizing differences, it makes sense. In others, it may not.”
Last year, the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs found that items marketed to girls and women are routinely marked up an average 7 percent compared to items for boys and men. The discrepancies included a 48 percent markup for hair products, such as shampoo and conditioner.
“It’s a double whammy,” DCA Commissioner Julie Menin told The Washington Post, “and it’s not just happening in New York. You see in the aisles the issue is clearly applicable to consumers across the country.”
It turns out those mark ups aren’t limited to humans, either. At Party City, Supergirl and Wonder Woman doggie costumes were priced 30 percent higher than Superman costumes ($16.99 versus $12.99). Batgirl costumes, meanwhile, were selling for $19.99, a 33 percent premium on Batman’s $14.99 price tag.
Pet costumes have been gaining popularity in recent years, with 16 percent of Americans saying they’ll dress up their dogs, cats and bunnies for Halloween this year, according to the National Retail Federation. The most popular costumes for pets were gender-neutral pumpkins, hot dogs and bumblebees.
As for Lawrie, he has yet to buy costumes for Harry and Brody. The dogs already have wigs, but Lawrie says he’s waiting for PetSmart to remove its labeling before he makes his purchase.
“Even if it’s just on principle, this is important,” he said. “I’m waiting until they fix it.”