WaPo Looking for Good Economic News in... the Underwear Drawer?

Ken Shepherd
August 31st, 2009 2:02 PM

It's a cute theory and maybe it deserves brief (pardon the pun) coverage in some other section of the paper, but the front page of the Monday Washington Post?

Readers of the August 31 edition were greeted by a 17-paragraph below-the-fold front page story by business writer Ylan Q. Mui about "What Underwear Says About the Economy."

Mui explains:

Here's the theory, briefly: Sales of men's underwear typically are stable because they rank as a necessity. But during times of severe financial strain, men will try to stretch the time between buying new pairs, causing underwear sales to dip.

"It's a prolonged purchase," said Marshal Cohen, senior analyst with the consumer research firm NPD Group. "It's like trying to drive your car an extra 10,000 miles."

The growth in sales of men's underwear began to slow last year as the recession took hold, according to Mintel, another research firm. This year, Mintel expects sales to fall 2.3 percent, the first drop since the company started collecting data in 2003.

But the men's underwear index -- or, conveniently, MUI -- may also have a silver lining. Mintel predicts that next year, men's underwear sales will fall by 0.5 percent, and as with many economic indicators, a slowing of a decline can be welcomed as a step in the right direction.

Of course, Mui's story meant that other pieces arguably worthier of front page coverage were pushed further back in the paper, such as:

  • the page A3 placement of a story on former Vice President Dick Cheney's criticism of an Obama Justice department probe into CIA interrogations of terrorist suspect detainees
  • an AP piece published on page A13 about how federal bureaucrats have failed "to disclose their contacts with lobbyists trying to influence how the government doles out money to jump-start the economy"