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The underwear index is overrated

Joy about increased sales of boxers and briefs might have been premature.

By Karen Datko Nov 3, 2009 3:03PM

Here's a headline from August we won't soon forget: "Manty sales are up! Is the end of the recession near?"


There was joy across the land when retailers reported a resurgence in men's underwear sales. Known as the underwear index and attributed to former Fed chair Alan Greenspan, the indicator is based on the theory that men stop replacing worn boxers and briefs when the economy is in trouble. When men start buying again, good times are near.

Thus the joy back in August. But, David Colman writes at New York Magazine's Intelligencer, there were two flaws in that thinking.

  • When Greenspan mentioned the undies indicator to NPR reporter Robert Krulwich back in the 1970s, a man's choice of underwear was not part of his fashion statement. They remained hidden, holes and all. Colman said:
Today, courtesy of low-cut jeans, underwear is often one of the most visible parts of men's attire, all of which has helped men's skivvies snowball into a category that grossed more than $2.4 billion last year.
  • It seems that those positive underwear reports included sales of undershirts as well as bottom attire. Undershirt sales are up 18%, while manty sales declined by 1.5%. Colman offers speculation that men are buying more undershirts because they consider them an acceptable alternative to more expensive T-shirts or simply want to make their dress shirts last.

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