Leading Lipstick Indicator

There's a theory that during a recession, sales of lipstick and other cosmetics increase dramatically because women buy more affordable items to make them feel attractive as a substitute for expensive clothes and accessories.
"The term "Leading Lipstick Indicator" was coined by Leonard Lauder (chairman of Estee Lauder), who consistently found that during tough economic times, his lipstick sales went up. Believe it or not, the indicator has been quite a reliable signal of consumer attitudes over the years. For example, in the months following the September 11 terrorist attacks, lipstick sales doubled." -Investopedia

Three sorts of products sell robustly during tough times, said Lou Crandall, the chief economist at Wrightson ICAP, an independent research firm.

The first is what economists call traditional inferior goods, what people have to buy when they can no longer afford their favorites. If you’re a salmon lover eating tuna casserole, you’re chewing on inferior goods.

Lipsticks aren’t inferior goods, economists say, but they could be small indulgences, an inexpensive treat meant to substitute for a bigger-ticket item. Or lipsticks could also be morale boosters, like Charlie Chaplin films were during the Depression. A warm shade that perfectly matches your skin tone might make you forget how far your 401(k) has tanked.

April Lane Benson, a psychologist in Manhattan who works with compulsive spenders, said there are two reasons why women would want lip color more than other affordable pleasures. Lipstick can be applied as many times a day as you’d like. “It’s very primal,” Dr. Benson said. “The mouth is an organ of so much pleasure. Kissing is what you do with your lips.”

Lipstick also helps a woman look poised, even when her bank account is overdrawn. “When women use lipstick in times of stress,” Dr. Benson said, “they’re doing it to put forward an image that they are more alive and more vibrant, and not as down in the mouth. It’s part of the uniform of desirability and attractiveness. A shirt or a cup of gelato is much farther removed from that.” - NYT, May 2008

Interestingly enough, I bought my first tube of red lipstick about a month ago. I think it had to do with all the fancy holiday parties I was attending. And I'm sure my brightly painted lips made me look alive, vibrant, and rich.

I'm really fascinated with how the financial crisis will affect fashion trends in the upcoming years. It seems like people will turn to functionality, so skirts will be longer and shoes will be more practical. But it seems like people wont want to see grim dark colors. They'll want bright, vibrant colors and prints and patterns. Guess we'll see ...

I highly highly recommend watching this NYT slide show narrated and photographed by the fantastic Bill Cunningham. Cunningham saw the first depression - and he's thrilled to be alive to see what fashion does during this one. Designer Oscar de la Renta said of Cunningham, "More than anyone else in the city, he has the whole visual history of the last 40 or 50 years of New York. It's the total scope of fashion in the life of New York." - NYT October 2002

photo: The Sartorialist

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