The lipstick test

Things are bad, bad, bad. And do you know how we know that? Lipstick sales are up, hemlines are down and AC/DC’s newest album has topped the music charts.

All these items are rising stars in the world of economic indicators.

For example: as purse strings tighten women opt for that cheap luxury lipstick as the thing they “want when they aren’t allowed to want too much,” says the New York Times. It reported a 40% jump in lipstick sales in the past few months.

In South Africa we are seeing similar trends.

According to Clicks MD Michael Harvey the company’s lipstick sales are up 6% this year.

Harvey believes “there is some merit” in this kind of indicator, as women across the country “might not buy the new dress they wanted, but won’t hold out on that new lipstick”.

Lipstick contributes between 5% and 8% of Clicks’s R6,2-billion turnover.

But a number of other things reflect the day’s darkened zeitgeist. Women’s hemlines have long been reported to be an indicator of market mood—bull markets have coincided with bare knees.

Think of the roaring Twenties and higher hems followed by the long skirts of the depression. This time around, we can expect darker palettes and severe silhouettes on runways.

According to the Guardian, hard rockers AC/DC make it to the United Kingdom album charts whenever the economy slumps.

Their new album, Black Ice, is outselling its nearest competitor by 2 to 1. The album that launched the band, Back in Black, in 1980, came at a time when the country saw inflation rates of 20% and soaring unemployment.

It is not just the UK that loves hard music in dark times. AC/DC sales in the United States are soaring; far above competitors such as the soundtrack to teen film High School Musical 3.

But one of the most interesting indicators of the economic climate has got to be men’s underwear sales.

Alan Greenspan, former head of the US federal reserve, famously looked to men’s underwear sales as indicators of the economy, according to NPR radio in the US. Things are toughest when men’s underwear sales dip. The logic is that undies are the first item a guy will cut back expenditure on, since they are the least visible.

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