Friday, August 17, 2012

Economy of Nails

When economic times are tough, one might imagine that money spent on superficial products like cosmetics and clothes might be the first expense to be cut. Scholars would disagree. And I theorize that nail polish is the new indicator.

Over the past nine decades many learned scholars have shed light on the correlation between economic conditions and seemingly non-necessary products for women. The Hemline Index asserts that as the economy weakens, miniskirts come out. When assessing a representation of women's fashions between 1916 and 1999 in US Vogue, as discussed in a paper published in Human Nature, as economic conditions worsen, skirts shrink. Evolutionary-minded scholars have argues that as economic conditions worsen, intrasexual rivalries yield shorter skirts, perhaps as a unconscious strategy for women to beat out men. What is fascinating as well is that there is a direct correlation between women's education and hem length. Nigel Barber's article Sex Roles he argues that as more women are educated, skirts become shorter, perhaps to augment sexual signaling in the mating market. Where this theory may be reductive and a tad be sexist, I say use what your mama gave you. I'll let the reader judge of how offensive they find these theories, but there is no question that the miniskirt and hot shorts are back on trend during our current economic troubles.

Another theory we are seeing played out today is the Lipstick Index. Developed by Leonard Lauder, former chief executive officer of Estee Lauder, declared in 2001 that as the economy worsens, lipstick sales amplify. Prestige lip category sales in department stores grew in the US over the first half of 2012 by 8%, lead by a 10% growth in lip color and 54% growth in multifunctional lip products. Lip is the third-largest makeup segment. The growth in lip sales is likely due to the fact that lip color is an inexpensive way for women to look put together and try something new. Cosmetics retail giant Sephora has already predicted blood-red lips as the key trend for fall. Transitioning from summer corals and pinks to fall red and burgundy, saturated lips are a popular trend that is economically feasible to achieve.

Hemlines and lipstick are noted, but I'd like to throw my support to a new index: the nail-bar-ometer. Along with many business people, I have been noticing a overt push toward nail color, designs and manicures/pedicures. Articles in fashion magazines and beauty blogs abound on nail art, hot colors and funky styles, and they don't seem to be stopping-- as seen by the abundance of nail products taking center stage at the Cosmoprof North America beauty trade show, often the hotbed for up-and-coming trends. I hypothesize that women participating in nail art, color and trends has a negative correlation to economic conditions, as supported by the following indicators.
Photo: Ian Langsdon/EPA as seen in
 Time's "The Olympic Manicure"
Not only are funky colors, metallics and details on trend, but nail care products have some of the lowest price points in prestige beauty. Just like lipstick, nails have become an outlet for women to feel beautiful and alluring without dropping serious cash.

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