The ‘Shape’ of the Economy – A Plastic Surgeon’s Perspective

The past few years have been part of  an economic recession that we are told is the most serious since the Depression. Economists take a daily pulse on whether we are in some form of a recovery yet. As we enter the Christmas season, this economic ‘dip sticking’ is particularly keen. The flurry of buying, or lack thereof, at this time of year is one gauge of the state of the economy.

But, if you really want to know how the economy is doing this holiday season, don’t bother listening to pundits and endless boring numbers, such as the consumer price index, or even most of the more dry economists that have created them. They are about an accurate as the local football handicapper. I propose focusing on just one indicator and a very simple one at that – one that nearly any consumer can understand.  In one word…bras…more specifically that of bra sales.

The sales of this one single clothing item is a lot more tangible for me to grasp than any cadre of numbers, fractions or percentages. If women are buying themselves new lingerie, this surely must be a sign of economic recovery.  I would like to hear from Victoria’s  Secret how their sales of push-up bras are going this season. According to the expert I consulted on this topic (my wife is a bra connoisseur and can spot a LaPerla knockoff in a room chock full of underwire, lace and padding) bras can sell for up to hundreds of dollars.  In my mind, such purchases are a sure sign of consumer confidence. When the largest buying segment of the population is willing to indulge themselves (men may buy underwear but they are not about to splurge on an expensive item that no one ever sees), this suggests they may be willing to spend freely in other ways as well.

Paralleling the bra sales economic indicator is that of cosmetic surgery. Major cosmetic surgeries, such as breast augmentation, tummy tucks and many facial procedures, took a serious nose dive the last two years. Some plastic surgeons reported decreases of 40% or more in numbers of elective cosmetic surgeries performed. The national pulse now indicates that patients are returning for nips and tucks and some remodeling and overhauls. From Botox injections to facelifts, patients are returning to the ‘table’ in substantial numbers and spending on ‘personal image’ is gradually returning to its previous levels.   Either consumer confidence is improving or the reflection in the mirror is heading in the wrong direction.

Does this mean the recession is over? No one seems to know for certain, but on a recent trip through the local Victoria’s Secret there were encouraging signs that the economy may be pushing back up.

Dr. Barry Eppley

Indianapolis, Indiana