Recession dressing: Dark and conservative or bold and beautiful?

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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.

I've recently experienced a bit of this trend: wandering through local stores, I've found myself staring at bizarrely-patterned shoes and brightly-colored clothes, filled with a wild-eyed desire to revamp my wardrobe. I recently fought with myself over an impulse to buy a bright green cashmere sweater, ultimately resisting when I realized that the color made me look like I was on the verge of renal failure. I wasn't nearly as successful with a slim-silhouette, Andrew Marc jacket that brought out my inner badass; while it's still too cold for me to Shaft my way down the street, I'm counting the days before the weather warms and I can offer my take on the "cat who won't cop out when there's trouble all about."

Bruce! Can you dig it?

A recent article in New York alluded to this trend: quoting the creative director for Barneys, it noted that that "The more unusual avant-garde [items] are the first things to fly out the door. Flamboyance, not stringency." Similarly, Jennifer Mankins, a clothing store owner in Brooklyn, argued that the renewed popularity of bright, exciting clothes indicates that consumers are trying to cheer themselves up: "People want things that make them feel good."

My new tan pimp jacket and I couldn't agree more.

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