I fell in love with a dress I knew that I could never afford during my junior year of college. It was as though an entire night sky (as viewed on the Fourth of July from Griffith Observatory) had been draped expertly over a human body. But the beautiful space photography dress didn’t come in Salvation Army prices, and at the time I was left wondering: How could I wear a galaxy for under 10 bucks?
The answer came to me a few weeks later when I was shopping for a nail file at CVS. As I made my way down the makeup aisles, my eye stopped suddenly at the Wet ’n Wild display case. For just 99 cents a pop, I had my pick of sparkly nail polish in various shades and glitter speck sizes. I had nothing but a few bucks to lose and a whole galaxy to gain, so I bought a black base coat, a sheer, silvery top coat and several differently-colored sparkles for in between the two.
That night I went home and layered all of my new polishes and settled down in front of the television for a night of “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” while I waited for my heavy nails to dry. By morning, my fingers were ten tiny windows into the Milky Way, and I walked to class, decked out like the night sky and weighed down by a wallet still full of cash.
Unbeknownst to me, I was participating in an economic phenomenon called the “Lipstick Index.” Forced to forgo fancy new cars and lavish beach vacations in tough economic times, people tend to trade these expensive extravagancies for smaller luxuries, such as lipstick and nail polish.
Leonard Lauder, the chairman emeritus of cosmetics company Estée Lauder explained: “We have long observed the concept of small luxuries, things that can get you through hard times and good ones. And they become more important during harder times. The biggest surge in movie attendance came during the 1930s during the Depression,” he told Roya Wolverson in a Sept. 14, 2011 TIME Magazine story titled “What lipstick tells us about the economy.”
Historically, lipstick sales increased as our country’s economic health decreased, and Lauder coined this phenomenon (as he observed it in the makeup industry) the “Lipstick Index.”
The phrase was definitely better suited for the ’90s, when lip liner and a deep burgundy hue was the difference between Marge Simpson and Carrie Bradshaw, and according to Adam Davidson from NPR’s (National Public Radio) “Planet Money,” “For reasons nobody quite understands, the lipstick indicator doesn’t hold up anymore, though nail polish sales now seem to reflect the economy very clearly (albeit inversely). A rise in nail polish sales indicates that we’re searching for bargain luxuries as the economy craters - and sales of nail polish are way up right now.”
A quick trip to the nearest nail salon or Target displays the growing popularity of wild nail polish abundantly clear. The decision is no longer between shiny red polish or a French manicure; there’s magnetic lacquer, gel shellac, crackle and instant dry. Hands are a rainbow of colors with color block splashes. Essie and OPI bottles have names like “Midnight in Moscow” (a deepy reddish black sparkly hue) and “My Boyfriend Scales Walls” (a white color that is part of OPI’s Spider-Man themed collection). Even men are getting in on the action: Amazon is currently selling a brown hued nail polish made by ManGlaze called “Santorum.” It promises to be “Formulated for ugliness.”
Though our wild nails might not save the economy, they can definitely tell us a lot about it.
This is the opinion of Kenzie O’Keefe, a senior English major from St. Paul, Minn. Please send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.