On Veterans Day, Lisa Smith decided to pop into a Fabletics store at the Cherry Creek mall in Denver. Smith, a 33-year-old who served four years in the Air Force, had been hanging out with a veteran friend who said she liked the popular athletic-wear brand. Smith had only ever seen Fabletics advertisements — many of which feature co-founder Kate Hudson — but that day, she ended up buying a pair of underwear and leggings. When she got home and tried them on, she realized she “actually really liked” the clothing.

The next day, Smith logged on to the Fabletics website to buy a few more items. She wanted to know whether the brand, like many others, offered a military discount, so she clicked on the site’s “Live Chat” box to ask customer service.

She was shocked by the response.

“Fabletics men offers 15% military discount to active and former military personnel and veterans of the Armed Forces on our retail stores only,” the online agent said.

“Are you telling me that you only offer military discounts for men?” Smith asked.

“I really do apologize, but the promo is only for men,” the representative replied.

Smith thought something must be wrong. By Friday, she’d gotten in touch with the chief marketing officer of Fabletics, who told her that the discrepancy had been caused by a communications error. While Fabletics offered a 15 percent discount in-store to male and female veterans, that policy had not yet been translated online — and the information provided to online customer service representatives was incomplete, the company said.

But before receiving any reply from the company, Smith decided to post about the encounter on Twitter — and received a flood of responses from fellow female veterans. Others had inquired about the discount online, too, and got similar responses. At first, the women wanted to know what the store policy actually was. But by the time Fabletics publicly clarified and apologized for the error Friday, the conversation had morphed into something more: an airing of what it’s like to be a woman in the military and have the world see you differently from your male counterparts.

“It was empowering, hearing other women share stories about how they’ve been mistreated or how they don’t look like a veteran so they’re not talked about in that way,” said Smith, who works at the veterans organization Team Rubicon. “It helped me understand I wasn’t the only one getting frustrated with this perception of what a veteran looks like.”

Iasia Brown, who served in the Marines for 16 years, also reached out to Fabletics about a military discount last week and was also told it applied only to men. Brown had been planning to buy her wife, who’s an active-duty Marine, “a bunch of activewear” for Christmas, she said.

Brown, like Smith, said this wasn’t the first time she felt the world treated her differently as a female veteran. “If you park in a disabled-veterans parking spot, people look at you like, ‘Where’s your husband?’” said Brown, who qualifies for veterans’ disability benefits. “It’s amazing that people cannot fathom that women serve. I have five deployments under my belt. I’ve been to war and back.”

For Brown, the company’s apology felt inadequate — at least the fact that it had taken so long to find the discrepancy on the site. “When you put out products for your customers, you should lead with inclusiveness,” she said.

“At Fabletics, we strongly advocate for equality for all and passionately stand behind our military, which is why we have proudly offered a discount to all those who serve — both women and men — since 2015,” the company said in a statement through a spokesperson. The statement noted that the company had corrected the issue, which was caused by incomplete information being input into the online system. It added: “We would never purposefully offer a discount only to men. Again, we deeply apologize for the miscommunication around our military discount, which we take full responsibility for.”

The news didn’t spread just on Twitter; women posted about it on Facebook and TikTok, too. For some, the situation struck a chord because a core tenet of the military is that equality matters, said Marisol Almeyda, a 30-year-old who served in the Army for 3½ years and who posted a popular TikTok about the discount. “We have come to a position within the military where we are gaining that equality with men,” she said.

The military has long been a male-dominated organization. When the draft ended in 1973, women represented just 2 percent of the enlisted forces. Today, they represent about 16 percent. And that’s partly why when civilians don’t recognize female service members, it’s doubly frustrating, said Erica Valente, who has been serving in the Army for 16 years.

“It’s really not about the discount,” she said. “The key is that, if you tell us it’s men only, we’re like: ‘Wait a minute. We also serve.’ … It’s triggering to see this step backward.”

Smith is at least hopeful that she was able to generate conversation and camaraderie with her fellow female veterans. She also appreciated male veterans’ messages of support. “To see that you really had that male veteran ally, it gives me goose bumps,” she said.

Still, there’s a lot of work to be done in recognizing female veterans’ stories, according to Smith. On Veterans Day, the same day she stepped into Fabletics, she also qualified for a free coffee at Starbucks in recognition of her service. But Smith said the barista, handing her the drink, told her: “Tell whatever family member who served in the military: Thank you for your service.”

“I just kind of rolled my eyes and said, ‘I get it, I don’t look like a traditional veteran,’ ” Smith said. “But people don’t realize how much that can hurt. I have physical and mental scars from my service, and it’s so tiny of a discount or a free coffee, but it adds up.”

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