Reese Witherspoon Faces Backlash After Clothing Company Contest Gone Wrong

Reese Witherspoon in dress

Fashionista Reese Witherspoon is known for starring in the upcoming Legally Blonde 3, along with TV projects like Big Little Lies and Little Fires Everywhere, but she’s also in the fashion industry, spearheading her brand Draper James to the masses. As teachers everywhere working from home were faced with new challenges, Draper James decided to do something to nice, but it backfired and now Witherspoon’s company has had to backtrack.

Back at the beginning of April, Draper James sent out a nice Instagram post paying tribute to teachers. The post included information on how to redeem the free dress and more:

Dear Teachers: We want to say thank you. During quarantine, we see you working harder than ever to educate our children. To show our gratitude, Draper James would like to give teachers a free dress. To apply, complete the form at the link in bio before this Sunday, April 5th, 11:59 PM ET. (Offer valid while supplies last - winners will be notified on Tuesday, April 7th.)

If you notice, the offer does say while supplies last, but in general there seemed to be some confusion from educators who entered not realizing it was a contest or that only a small number of people would receive a free dress. Some commenters on social media mentioned they signed up but never heard back from Draper James. Others had to deal with the website crashing as over a million teachers tried to apply.

Most in general on that platform seemed to be a combination of “bummed” but also happy for other teachers, as this one Instagram comment sums up:

Bummed I never heard anything, congrats to the wonderful teachers who won!

On Facebook, users were less positive about the whole experience, noting their disappointment in various comments, often echoing something similar to this comment:

The Draper James free giveaway of dresses was completely false advertising it’s insane.

Others chimed in that it was all simply to get their email addresses, which is common when coupons and the other ilk are offered online. But the real problem with this particular giveaway, according to one user?

Giving away 250 dresses to teachers IS a nice gesture. HOWEVER, misleading thousands of hardworking teachers into thinking all they had to do was “apply” for their free dress was NOT COOL. It was strategically worded to make us think we just needed to get our credentials verified and we would get a dress. It was 100% unclear that by turning in your personal information, you were entering a drawing for a chance to win one of 250 dresses. Those types of drawings are a dime a dozen and wouldn’t have gotten nearly as much media attention as this stunt did. Looks like it backfired. Now, all these women who had never heard about the brand before now have a bad taste in their mouths.

Draper James later tried to explain that way more people were interested than they had anticipated in a statement to the New York Times. Per Senior VP Marissa Cooley:

We felt like we moved too quickly and didn't anticipate the volume of the response. We were really overwhelmed. It was way more volume than the company had ever seen. We expected the single-digit thousands.

A photo posted by on

Eventually, Draper James strove to do a little damage control, revealing 250 dresses were ultimately given out before the supplies were out, as it were.

Still, by then there were a lot of confused teachers out there. Giveaway language can be tricky and ultimately this seems to be a case of good intentions but poor execution. Founded in 2013, Reese Witherspoon's Draper James has only been around for a few years and we’re still in a world where a lot of companies (and people) are figuring out where they fit into social media. The brand said it is working to “navigating the world of remote learning,” so perhaps we'll have to chalk it up to that this time.

Jessica Rawden
Managing Editor

Jessica Rawden is Managing Editor at CinemaBlend. She’s been kicking out news stories since 2007 and joined the full-time staff in 2014. She oversees news content, hiring and training for the site, and her areas of expertise include theme parks, rom-coms, Hallmark (particularly Christmas movie season), reality TV, celebrity interviews and primetime. She loves a good animated movie. Jessica has a Masters in Library Science degree from Indiana University, and used to be found behind a reference desk most definitely not shushing people. She now uses those skills in researching and tracking down information in very different ways.