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More Dogs on Main Street

One of the many arcane economic indicators that economic analysts study is the Men’s Underwear Index. They make millions of dollars a year studying underwear sales. The theory goes that men view underwear (at least their own) as a simple necessity. It’s not a luxury item, or something that men decide to splurge on. I guess there are men out there who have bad day and decide that it can all be set right by going out and buying new underwear, but these would largely be men who shop at Victoria’s Secret. For most of us, underwear is not a big deal.

The theory of the Underwear Index is that if sales of new skivvies fall, the economy is so awful that men are putting off that basic purchase. Whether it’s the monogrammed silks of the hedge-fund managers or the tighty-whities of the convenience store clerk, underwear is an easy purchase to defer. On the other side, when sales begin to pick up again, it shows the economy is on the mend. Some of the real theoretical types also measure the sales volume ratios of singles to multi-packs. The most recent reading of this important index I could find is from 2009, when sales were still dropping.

The other thing to keep in mind about underwear is its importance in one’s social standing. It’s a well-known fact that when you are taken to the emergency room, the first thing they do, even before looking for your insurance, is to check your underwear. If you land in the ER with dirty or worn-out underwear (or, god forbid, commando), a note is made on your chart, and it will affect your medical care for the rest of your life. A lesser-known fact is that ratty underwear will also adversely affect your credit score. That’s why teenagers wear their pants at half-mast all the time, proudly showing off their drawers so we all know that they are people of good character who pay their bills.

Anyway, I reached the point where I had to deal with the underwear situation to maintain my standing in the community. Once the fabric gets so thin that you can see through it, and holes start developing where holes ought not be, well, it’s time. According to the Underwear Index people, men buy an average of 3.4 pairs of underwear a year. It’s the .4 that I’m trying to get rid of. I buy it differently. I buy it all at once, and when it starts falling apart, the whole batch goes out, and a full replacement fleet is put into service.

Anyway, it’s been a while since the underwear stock was turned over. I discovered that the Jockey outlet at the Outlet Mall is no longer there. People have said that there are other places to buy underwear, but that has been the source for many years. Now it’s gone. So here I was, ready to boost the economy by loading up on new unmentionables, and my source of supply is gone.

A few days after that crisis, I was in Walmart loading up on dog food. (As an aside, I have to admit that the new Super Walmart, which we didn’t need, is turning out to be a pretty attractive building for a giant retail box). Then it hit me. Walmart sells underwear. They didn’t have the Jockey brand. I bought Hanes instead, though the Fruit of the Looms were a little cheaper. It’s kind of like changing toothpastes; you wouldn’t think there would be that much difference, but it’s enough to notice. The new stuff is neither good nor bad. It’s just underwear. I still can’t jump like Michael Jordan.

One thing I did notice was size inflation. For years, literally since high school, I’ve worn a medium, which, according to the size chart, was for a 32- to 34-inch waist. I’ve certainly covered that range through the decades, but it’s always been a medium. Now, a medium is for a 34- to 36-inch waist. A small is for the 30-32-inch range. I’m right there in the middle. For the first time in years, I had to think about which size to buy. A large is for a 38- to 40-inch waist, and at Walmart they had sizes clear up to a pair of boxers the size of a Springbar tent.

I’m not sure how the Underwear Index people would account for my purchase; a bulk buy from Walmart instead of from the outlet store. I guess the important thing is that I didn’t pay full retail for underwear.

The guys making the canned sandwiches are missing an opportunity here. Imagine the market for fresh undies in a can sold in airport vending machines.

Tom Clyde served as Park City attorney in the 1980s and is the author of "More Dogs On Main Street." He has been a columnist at The Park Record for more than 20 years.


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