Thursday, July 19, 2012

Apocalyptically dressed to kill

Cosmetic companies make out like bandits during economic downturns. Their sales either remain steady (thus increasing as a percentage of total economic output), or increase.

The trend to dress up during a downturn, does leave some interesting questions. In the majority of our fictional downturns (see my book review tab), people are walking around disheveled and generally all worn out looking. Should they be portrayed as being dressed to kill instead? Of course the vampires are already dressed to kill, but I mean this in the more figurative sense.

And why exactly is it that women send more on cosmetics during a downturn. One theory was that they want to cheer themselves up, but it looks like it comes down to deeper biological programing then that.

Lipstick, the Recession and Evolutionary Psychology
Sara Hill, Scientific American, 27 June 2012 (hat tip: Big Picture

While economic recessions are a recent development in human history, fluctuations in prosperity and resource availability are not. Human ancestors regularly went through cycles of abundance and famine, each of which favors different reproductive strategies. While periods of abundance favor strategies associated with postponing reproduction in favor of one’s own development (e.g., by pursuing an education), periods of scarcity favor more immediate reproduction. The latter strategy is more successful during times of resource scarcity because it decreases the likelihood that one will perish before having the chance to reproduce.

For women, periods of scarcity also decrease the availability of quality mates, as women’s mate preferences reliably prioritize resource access. This preference stems from the important role that mates’ resources have played in women’s reproductive success. Because economic recessions are associated with higher unemployment and minimal or negative returns on investments, news of a recession may therefore signal to women that financially secure men—those able to invest resources in rearing offspring—are becoming scarce...

Furthermore, we discovered that the lipstick effect and a woman’s desire to attract a mate with resources are unrelated to her independent resource access. Women of both higher and lower socioeconomic status expressed an increased desire to buy luxury beauty products when primed with recession cues. This suggests that an uncertain economic climate leads women to heighten mate attraction effort irrespective of their own resource need.

Sarah Hill, Texas Christian University (from here)

Since virtual girlfriends will wear the best lipstick that software can provide them with, does this mean that they will be relatively more attractive in times of plenty?  Note that Ms. Hill's paper on the subject is here (pdf).


PioneerPreppy said...

I have read the lipstick sales increase during a depression before. Last article I read on it explained it that cosmetic items were cheap and therefore women more easily talked themselves into buying them in a downturn.

Interesting theory none the less.

russell1200 said...

PP: There doesn't really have to be one reason. There could be a stress-attractivness inate dispostion with the economics bringing it out in a certain way. In the U.S. wealthier people tend to take better care of themselves and work more at being attractive overall. Both the money and the stress theory would imply the opposite for women: obviously there is more going on than stress and money issues.

I thought it was important to show that the author of the study was wearing lipstick though. LOL

izzit said...

You might want to consider the source (a press release via cosmetics companies.
However, women often are made to feel that their worth is based on their attractiveness. A beautiful woman could get gifts & favors (with strings). An average woman could get work as a hooker, or get hitched for security. An ugly or old woman could get canned, or left behind.

izzit said...

Postapocalyptically... In Cuba during the 80's, it was recommended that visitors not bring cigarettes, but lipsticks&eyeliner. (In the USSR, they wanted tampons & tp, supposedly.)
In the 1800's-1900's when most women did not wear makeup, women would pinch their cheeks, moisten their lips, and curl their lashes with a spoon right before they met a suitor.
Bring a comb for the apocalypse. A lot of women think it's an emergency if they go 2 days without showering. Heinlen used to claim that in the good old Depression, girls would sleep with you for the bath the next morning. Then again, Heinlen was pretty deluded about women.

russell1200 said...

Izzy: Heinlen was seriously strange about woman, and a few other things as well.

As far as I know, where it was available, men were as likely to use cosmetics as women. The Vikings being the classic case. In the case of men, they would be just as likely to try and make themselves scary, but cosmetics are cometics.

I am assuming that the "dress up - make up" ties into a whole variety of cultural cues, most of which would have developed when we were hunting-gathering. Cosmetics are simply a case of the "Red Queens Race" running harder just to stay in place.