Meera Pal, wtop.com
WASHINGTON - When times are tough, women turn to their heels.
At least that's the finding of a recent social media analysis by IBM.
But, the economy has been in a downturn for so long that heels are on the way down.
"Usually, in an economy downturn, heels go up and stay up -- as consumers turn to more flamboyant fashions as a means of fantasy and escape, " Trevor Davis, a consumer products expert with IBM Global Business Services said in a news release.
"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."
IBM looked at the last 100 years in shoe fashion trends and found that heel heights were at their highest during peak recession times in U.S. history.
During the Great Depression, high-heel pumps and platforms replaced the low-heeled flapper pumps of the 1920s.
During the 1970s oil crisis, platforms made a come-back, reversing the low-heel trend of the 1960s.
And, the low, thick heels of the 1990s "grunge" period were replaced by sky-high stilettos following the dot-com bust of the turn of the century.
Mark Hodges, market strategist with Hodges Capital Management, speculates higher heels may correlate with a woman's desire to feel more confident and look better during down times.
"All the things that beautify a person, men or women, they might take more seriously at a time when all these factors could add up to a job or add up to not having a job," he said.
He added that heel height is not something that "any serious economist or investor would rely on to make an investment decision."
In the past, hemlines, underwear purchases and makeup use have been analyzed as economic indicators. Some economists tracked hemlines -- the lower they were the worse the economy.
IBM analyzed billions of social media posts to find a correlation between economic health and women's heel heights.
"It may be women need to buy higher heels because they need to stand above the crowd when times are tough," said Kurt Carlson, associate professor at the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University.
Based on IBM's analysis, heel height peaked toward the end of 2009, and then started dropping.
"What we have now is a population of people that tends to respond to hard times by being a little bit more flamboyant," Carlson says.
"Essentially, when things get tough you would try to do something to make yourself special."
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