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High Heels Are New Economic Indicator, IBM Analysis Shows

First Posted: 11/23/2011 9:31 am Updated: 11/23/2011 3:39 pm

High Heels Economic Indicator
Heels are the new economic indicator.

From hemlines to lipstick, female fashion trends have long been seen as indicators for the economic climate. Now, the latest proposed sartorial index for predicting the future of the economy is the height of high heels, according to Jezebel.

Researchers at IBM analyzed data from social media sites and blog posts to find that flat shoes and kitten heels are in -- a possible sign that an economic recovery is already in the making.

"Usually, in an economic downturn, heels go up and stay up -- as consumers turn to a more flamboyant fashion as a means of fantasy and escape," Trevor Davis, a consumer product expert with IBM's Global Services Unit said in a press release announcing the results of the study.

At the height of the economic crisis in 2009, the median height of women's heels peaked at seven inches, according to mentions on blogs and in posts to social media sites. By 2011, that median had dropped all the way to two inches, Portfolio.com reports.

There are, of course, other possible explanations for dropping heel heights. Women may simply be ditching their heels in favor of a more pain-free walking experience, or, for once, low heels may actually indicate longer-term economic woes.

"This time, something different is happening -- perhaps a mood of long-term austerity is evolving among consumers, sparking a desire to reduce ostentation in everyday settings," Davis said in the report.

This inferred correlation between women's shoes and the economy recalls earlier fashion trends thought to be economic indicators.

Back in January, ABC News took a look at the hemline theory coined by George Taylor, a professor at the Wharton Business School. Taylor noticed skirt hemlines climbed during the roaring 1920s, but fell again during the Great Depression. He explained women wore shorter skirts to show off their expensive silk stockings during good economic times, but longer hemlines were more preferable to cover bare legs during a recession.

The trend seemed to continue in the 60s and beyond, long after silk stockings weren't widely warn, according to the blog Financial Jesus.

Still, some say that lipstick is the best indicator of where the economy is headed. Leonard Lauder, the chairman of Estee Lauder companies, introduced the idea after noticing that lipstick sales jumped in the aftermath of 2001 terrorist attacks, according to The New York Times. His explanation? Women turn to less expensive indulgences, like lipstick, when they felt less confident about the future.

So just how well do these alleged indicators say the economy is doing? According to a recent study from the NDP Group, a market research firm, U.S. lipstick sales increased 14 percent between 2010 and 2011, according to the Daily Mail. According to the lipstick index, that means our economic future isn't looking so great. And hemlines? Fashionology reports skirts are trending toward knee length, a development which might be interpreted as, "It could be worse."

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Filed by Tara Kelly  |