What underwear tells us about the economy

  • Posted: Monday, November 12, 2012 7:12 a.m.

Iím writing this column a few days before the election, so Iím not sure whether the next president will be wearing holy underwear or something made by Hanes or Fruit of the Loom.

It doesnít really matter. I agree with Larry Sabato, Virginiaís oft-quoted authority on politics: The 2012 presidential election is the most important since 2008. And Iíve never looked at a politician the way those chicks in Hanes commercials looked at Michael Jordan, wondering what he had on under his tailored threads.

But underwear sales may provide a more meaningful barometer on the economy than the results of the election. At least theyíre more reliable than the conflicting claims we heard throughout the late, unlamented, campaign.

In witness thereof, I call on Alan Greenspan, former chairman of the Federal Reserve Board.

Greenspan maintains that when the economy is good, the sales of menís underwear balloon. When the economy tanks, menís underwear sales droop.

If thatís the case, things are looking up. Sales of menís underthings rose 6 percent between August 2011 and August 2012. The economy hasnít risen that fast, but this is an era in which menís underpants tend to sag, so I look forward hopefully to an upturn.

The explanation for the relationship between menís skivvies and economic good times is not rocket science. When times are ordinary, the sale of male underwear follows a flat line. But when the bottom falls out of the economy, whatís the first thing to feel the pinch? Men will not cut back on necessities, such as beer, cigarettes, greens fees, lottery tickets or cruising for chicks. They will just put off buying new underwear, no matter how tattered the old shorts.

ďThat is almost always a prescient, forward impression that here comes trouble,Ē said Greenspan in his breezy economistís way of talking.

When tatters take over the fabric of our underpinnings, the more daring and desperate among us will simply go without underwear. Thatís an alarming thought when you consider the number of dudes who allow the waists of their pants to droop toward the knees and rely on their underwear to fill in the gaps.

When money is plentiful again, men once more begin investing in underwear.

Although statistics donít lie, some people will argue with them anyway.

Some insist that underwear sales are more related to ups and downs in relationships.

When I married, I went on a shorts-buying spree because I had posed as a neatnik and didnít want to blow my cover before the honeymoon was over.

Even in an era when marriage is simply another excuse for a vacation together, I suspect that the unblushing bride will still make sure the groomís underwear drawer is well stocked.

A man coming out of a broken marriage may let his underwear slide for a while when thereís no female to nag him about his bedtime appearance. But when he returns to circulation, he may go out and buy some undershorts just in case he finds himself in a romantic situation and nothing to wear.

My mama always taught me to wear clean, presentable underwear when I went out into the world, because you never knew when you might have an accident and need to go to the hospital.

I didnít pay her much mind and never had to expose my sartorial underpinnings to medical professionals without having a chance to dress for the occasion.

I donít recall having bought underwear since my wedding, and thatís been decades ago.

It isnít that I go around in holey underwear. Itís just that my underwear drawer has a self-renewal feature. I open it every morning, and thereís a neat stack of fresh, white briefs.

My sock drawer is much the same. Each time I need a fresh pair of socks (which is at least once a day), I find the drawer full of socks arranged according to color, and there always seems to be at least one to match whatever outerwear I happen to choose.

I think Miss Peggy has something to do with that. The deal seems to be that once youíre married, you can forget about buying socks and underwear. Your wife will take care of that.

Economic hard times donít seem to slow her down. In fact, a shortage of money seems to lend energy to her shopping, and when she heads for Walmart or Target, she makes like George Pickett and yells ďCharge!Ē

Iím hoping that the bull market in underwear is an indicator of economic good times to come. As long as Social Security stays solvent, IRA remains sound and Miss Peggy retains her zest for shopping, I should be able to keep up a supply of underwear that would make Mama proud.

I firmly believe that whoever we have as president will not let us down in the undershorts department.

If Mitt Romney inherits the Oval Office, his underwear is more likely to be holy than holey. In keeping with his faith, Iím told, he wears special underwear to remind him of his relationship with God. Ann will make sure itís well-maintained and replaced when needed.

If Barack Obama remains in office, Iím sure heíll never open an underwear drawer that is running low. Michelle looks like the kind of lady who would not tolerate ragged shorts in her man.

If we end up with an electoral-college tie, then it will be up to the House of Representatives to make the decision.

I hope congressional spouses have been diligent in the underwear-buying department. We wouldnít want a House with ragged shorts to be caught with its pants down.

Readers may write Gene Owens via email at WadesDixieco@AOL.com.

Gene Owens is a retired newspaper editor and columnist who graduated from Graniteville High School and now lives in Anderson.

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