A “Brief” Look at the Economy

What your underwear says about the recession

Adriana Mocciola/Telemundo 51

Some experts think America’s underwear drawers are a good reflection of what’s going on in the economy.

Economists say men’s underwear sales are usually stable because people just need underwear. But during tough times, men may wait longer to replace them, or buy less expensive pairs.  Even former Federal reserve chief Alan Greenspan is said to be a believer of the theory.

"More bills are coming up, so I better get the stuff I need before the bills come up," said shopper Lee Jackson, as he purchased underwear at a San Diego Target store.  "I don't try to put it off for too long, though.  Yeah, when it's time to go, it's time to go."

Bill Patterson, a senior analyst at the consumer research firm Mintel, says sales are expected to drop 2.3 percent this year, the first drop since the company started tracking the data in 2003.

According to Mintel, among men who had bought underwear in the past 12 months, the average number of underwear purchased was 3.4. But in the last several years, more of those men are buying just a single pair of underwear, rather than a multi pack.

"To me, it seems men just don't think to buy that kind of stuff.  So if the economy is bad, yeah, they're not going to go out and buy unmentionables,” said Kensington resident Jeanne Dockery, while shopping with her son for school clothes.

"I don't think it's like, people are sitting there, oh shoot I'm really hurting for money, I'm not going to buy new underwear.  But it's one of those things where you say, ‘Oh I can wait’," explains San Diego State Marketing professor Dr. George Belcher.

Belcher thinks it makes the underwear economic indicator theory makes some sense from a consumer standpoint.

"If I'm wearing a tattered shirt, people are going to say, ‘geesh you're wearing a tattered shirt, can’t you buy a new shirt?’ or something like that.  But they don't know whether I'm wearing tightie whities or boxers or anything else because they're not seeing it."

Mintel analysts believe the drop is men's underwear sales may be slowing down, however, and say that could be a sign that better economic times are on the way.

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