Recession dressing: Dark and conservative or bold and beautiful?


Really want to know which way the economic winds are blowing? Don't check out the hemlines, check out the pimp attire.

Over the last few months, financial analysts and commentators have been desperately searching for the ideal economic indicator. Like ancient Greek mystics poring over the guts of an eviscerated goat, they have tried one tool after another, looking for the perfect crystal ball, the grand unifying index that will truly predict what the future holds. From snow to Super Bowls, mistresses to McDonald's, it's hard to imagine a potential talisman that hasn't been analyzed, a superstition that hasn't been dragged out of the closet.

Along the way, certain old chestnuts have gained new life. For example, the miniskirt index has once again found currency. This popular tool holds that, as the Dow Jones Industrial Average falls, so do hemlines. The pop-psychology explanation for this is that consumer confidence translates into sartorial boldness; conversely, a lack of confidence leads consumers to desperately hide their flesh. The evidence for this index is pretty sparse, consisting mainly of attempts to match the demise of flapper gowns and micro-minis to the Great Depression and the 1970's oil embargo.

The thing is, this index seems to ignore the connection between economic decline and the rise of mercenary sexual activity, a little something that I like to call the "Weimar Index." Historically, failing economies have often led to increased prostitution; while not always as pronounced as the famed streetwalker explosion under Germany's Weimar Republic, the expansion of sex-for-pay during down times is well documented. It would seem counter-intuitive to assume that clothing would get more conservative while social standards become more lax.

In truth, current fashion trends indicate an impressive increase in bravery and boldness. For example, Conde-Nast noted that beads, fur, feathers, and bold colors dominated this month's fashion week offerings. While fabrics were often cheaper, or of lower quality than previous offerings, they also featured wilder prints and more flamboyant designs. In many ways, it seems like fashion consumers, tired of gloomy forecasts and depressing news, are trying create their own bright, exciting reality.