Hotels provide you with two different media with which to cleanse your corpus after a long day of giving talks and going for coffees:  plain old soap and then a substance packaged under various labels whose modal variant is something like bath and body gel.

The soap is delivered in the form of a solid bar and the bath and body gel is poured out of a plastic vessel like the shampoo that it’s usually paired with. Now I generally prefer to shower with a liquid detergent, (Lever 2000 is my go-to solvent, it’s hard to resist the industrial counterpoint to the traditional fay branding and the pitch on the squeeze bottle is “for all your 2000 parts.”  My lifelong project is to count my 2000 parts one shower at a time) but I never reach for the shower gel in a hotel.

The reason ultimately stems from the fact that there are two choices available to begin with, but lets work backward to that.  The proximate reason is that shower gel makes me smell like a geisha at a tropical fruit stand.  Not that I have any objection to that smell, indeed it’s exactly how I would like a geisha to smell, especially when I am in the mood for a refreshing snack. It’s just not a smell that I personally wear very well.  On the other hand, you can usually count on hotel soap to smell like soap or at least something more manly than the bath gel.

Liquid/gelatinous soap doesn’t have to smell girly, viz. Lever 2000, but in hotels it always does. What gives? As usual when pondering the deepest puzzles of lavatory accoutrements, the answer can be found in the theory of labor market discrimination.  The little bottle of shower gel is like a job market applicant.  It is sitting there asking you to try it out on your body.  And indeed you will only really discover its cleansing qualities when you are fully awash in its lather. Whether you want to take that risk depends on how you expect it to smell, not on how it actually smells. This is just the theory of statistical discrimination where the true quality of a worker matters less at the hiring stage than what the potential employer expects based on her demographic characteristics.

Once we arrive at an equilibrium in which everyone knows that the shower gel is for her and the soap is for him, everyone who opts for the gel is expecting a girly fragrance.  Just as in the theory of statistical discrimination this feeds back to the initial investment decision of the applicant, in this case the decision of how to scent the product.  There’s no choice now but to make it as attractive as possible for the sub-market appearances have restricted it to.  Thus the girly scent, and thus the expectations are confirmed.

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