How Is the Economy Doing? Look in Your Underwear Drawer

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It looks like
2009 was a bad year for men’s underwear. Mintel, a consumer research
firm, says that sales of men’s skivvies dropped 2.3
from 2008. Meanwhile, NPD Group, another firm, argues
that the decline was more on the order of 12
. Either way, it’s a fair bet that many underwear drawers
are looking a bit ragged.

Some analysts
refer to this economic measure as the "underwear index."
While seasonal outerwear, flashy luxury clothes, and women’s lingerie
are often tied to seasons or holidays, men’s undies tend to be pretty
straightforward. They are replaced as needed, which means that their
sales should remain relatively constant.

In this context,
2009’s drop in the sales of men’s underwear means that many men
are walking around with busted elastic, fabric that has worn thin,
or a much-reduced stock of spare BVDs. Given the difficulty of getting
a few extra months out of a pair of boxers, it suggests that many
men are reaching the end of their easily-absorbed cutbacks. After
all, while eating out less or taking fewer trips can be a minor
annoyance, wearing tired underwear or – worse yet – going
suggests that consumers are truly caught on the horns
of a financial dilemma.

While an unusual
measure of the economy, the underwear index is reportedly
one of Alan Greenspan’s favorite statistics to consult. Part of
its significance probably lies in the possibility that, for many
men, buying underwear is largely unconscious. When asked about the
state of his underclothes, one consumer (who chose to remain nameless)
stated, “Actually, I’m running out. I don’t know how it happened.”
He went on to note that he has been cutting back on some expenses.
As the drop in underwear sales continues, it seems to be shifting
from an unconscious to a conscious trend; in the process, it is
becoming increasingly significant, as consumers deliberately sacrifice
comfort for cash.

the rest of the article

1, 2009

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