Juls writes: “I am at work, and my boss is making signs. What is correct for a discount sign for ‘ladies jackets’ or ‘ladies’ jackets’?
“Then someone thought to just use ‘womens’ buuut the same problem arises!”
I see similar confusion in ads all the time, and for good reason: The answer isn’t as clear-cut as it might seem.
Juls said she didn’t have her AP Stylebook with her, but AP would have sent mixed signals.
It suggests avoiding use of lady except “when a specific reference to fine manners is appropriate without patronizing overtones.” That doesn’t exactly translate to business of retail.
As for the apostrophe, by AP’s definition, ladies could certainly fall under the category of a descriptive phrase, in which case it would not need an apostrophe.
AP offers this memory aid: “The apostrophe usually is not used if for or by rather than of would be appropriate in the longer form: a radio band for citizens, a college for teachers, a guide for writers, a request by the Teamsters.”
Hence, we get these forms: citizens band radio, a teachers college, a Teamsters request, a writers guide.
So in the store’s case, these are jackets for ladies, or ladies jackets.
Except that, as Juls points out, these are also jackets for women. Women is already a plural, so you can’t add an s to it without also adding an apostrophe.
Same with men and children. Grammatically, it is incorrect to write mens clothing or childrens shoes. You have to add the apostrophe.
Which leads us back to ladies. For consistency’s sake (that’s called a quasi possessive), I would make it ladies’ jackets.
As I said, I see people struggle with this all the time, especially in garage sale ads. Often, the apostrophes seem to be thrown in randomly, as in the ones below.
Sometimes, I even see this construction. It avoids the problem of possessives, but makes it sound as if men and women are for sale.
That’s exactly what we try to avoid by following conventions of style, grammar, spelling and punctuation. Those small things become distracting, annoying, even comical, and they pull attention away from the things we want people to focus on.
The small things matter in a big way.