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What can lipstick and underwear sales tell us about the economy?

By June 30, 2024No Comments

Is the country heading towards a recession? Ask 10 economists and you’ll likely get 10 different answers. Which is why some people have given up on the traditional data — GDP, jobs, etc — and have instead recently been tinkering with more unusual economic indicators to help them guide their companies. Here are a few that I’ve seen.

Uniform patches

Men’s underwear


Overseas freight

Recreational vehicles

I’m only scratching the surface on unusual economic indicators. Besides RVs you can follow the sales of champagne. Instead of men’s underwear you can also track women’s hemlines (which are believed to rise and fall along with the stock market). You can dig into the buttered popcorn index (which some say increases during times of recession as a small bit of a luxury in an otherwise cruel world). You can even keep track of hairstyles in Japan, where some say that women wear their hair longer when times are good and shorter when times are tough. Good luck finding this data, let alone making any sense of it.

Goofy economic metrics like these are fun to talk about with your friends and colleagues. But they shouldn’t be taken seriously. I run a business, and my go-to economic indicator is my clients. I’ve learned that the best way to insulate my business from the economy is to diversify: have as many clients in as many industries and geographic locations as possible. The US is a big country, and even when one client is cutting back on his underwear purchases in Illinois, I’ll likely have another buying uniform emblems in Texas. Focus on this instead of lipstick.

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