FREAK-Shots: Forget Hemlines and Lipstick

An article in The Economist reports that “the lipstick index,” the theory that women buy more lipstick in tough economic times, is probably not valid.

A better index might instead be hairstyles. As The Independent reports, Japanese researchers found that women tend to have longer hairstyles when the economy is doing well, and shorter styles during harder times.

Later on in the article, Susanna Sallstrom-Matthews, a cultural economist at the University of Cambridge, offers this explanation for the apparent short-hair/recession correlation:

People enjoy fewer material pleasures in periods of recession, so want more visual pleasures, and there’s more variation among short haircuts than long.

But since trendy, short haircuts cost around $60 each and require more frequent upkeep than long hair, do they make sense when you’re trying to save money?

They may now, as some salons are offering discounts if you show up with your hair already washed, or let you pay as you wish for your cut.

I passed up the salon altogether and opted for this deal at a neighborhood bar:

INSERT DESCRIPTIONPhoto: Annika Mengisen

The result was a mediocre haircut, but a pleasant bourbon buzz.


shorter hairstyles may also require less day-to-day primping, so the logic might be that it's one less thing to stress about in the morning.

Or perhaps they're planning on leaving more time between haircuts - if you plan to go every three months, you get about an inch off, but if you don't want to go for six months, you take off two or three to make sure it doesn't get too long during the wait.


Wouldn't read too much into it. How many recessions did you have over that period? Now, how many fashion cycles did you have? What's the probability that it is all just chance???

On the other hand, I am losing hair and it is suspiciously correlated with the current recession. Hmm... Could it be that I am subconsciously getting rid of hair to save some money in the future?

Roman @

This is definitely an area where it pays to be a man - short hair is culturally more acceptable on males and it is also OK to have your hair done by a member of your family - considering the hairstyles of men it isn't very difficult if you have the equipment.


Wow, that's great! I would get my hair cut there all the time. I hate 'salons' and I haven't gone to the same place more than twice since college. And I only went there because the hair dresser would gossip about my professors.


I think this article's logic is all wrong. The reason lipstick and more interesting and expensive haircuts are counter-cyclical has to do with women's strategy of improving their looks so that they can more easily shack up with a man to save on livings costs. That is to say, these little costs or perks are investments in a way to cut expenses elsewhere more drastically. (I'm certain men have such stragegies as well for the same purpose).

This is also why during recessions and crisis periods, internet dating revenues and usage rise substantially.

- Dober


I hope this is true because I think short hair on a lady is very attractive!


So did they bust out the Flowbee at that bar or what?


From just a personal interest observation, magazines targeted at the motorcycle enthusist tend to have the most pages right before a recession.

By reviewing the stacks of my late father's treasure trove of early 1980's motorcycle magazines, I found this to be so for the early '80s recession. I found a less dramatic bump in the early 1990's recession- probably still coming out of the 1980's down turn.

I would have thought that this rise in page could may differ due to the internet today but it seems like the page count had ballooned in the last couple of years. This is probably on account of digital publishing making it easier to format and publish a paper mag...

This is based on that motorcycles in the US are toy-like, pleasure activities, not basic transportation.


Let's say, in a period of economic stability, there is a particular fraction of women who choose to wear their hair long, and a fraction who choose to wear it short. Let us also assume that there is something about the economy hitting the skids that may influence women's preferences, one way or the other. Those with long hair who change their preference can just go ahead and get a haircut. However, those with short hair who change their preference can only start growing it out. Given how much time it takes for short hair to grow out, most of these women will probably spend the duration of the recession sporting what is more likely to be characterized as short hair that could use a trim rather than what we would consider a "long hairstyle". :-)


Long hair means needing more shampoo, conditioner, gel, and using a blow dryer longer. My products last twice as long when my hair is short. That is enough reason to cut your hair when you are saving.


I definitely don't think I would agree that short styles require less day-to-day primping. That very much depends on the hair style itself (both long and short). As the article says, though, a short hairstyle definitely required more maintenance in the hair cutting department (an in or two makes little different once it's past your shoulders).

I'm going with the article's conclusion on this one. There can be some practical reasons for wearing your hair shorter (young mothers frequently cite baby hair grabbing and spit up as one), but since I suspect there hasn't been a sudden baby boom less than 9 months into the panic, I'd go with the most common reason women change their hair style drastically. They want to change something about themselves. Women frequently change their hair after a break up, when they have kids, when they get or are looking for a new job, or when they're just trying to break out of a rut. You don't do it when you're feeling comfortable and content- you do it when you're bored, down, or feeling shaken up and want to feel like a new you/get people to pay attention.

Note that the transition from short to long (unles you do extension) is never makes shock waves because it's forced to be a slow change. Long to short is the way to make a dramatic change. I'm wondering- is there also an increase in people changing hair color?



@5 - The reasons you mention would apply equally to job interviews, for which short hair supposedly looks more professional than long. So maybe more women have lost their jobs and are looking for new ones?


Shorter hair is more economical to maintain in terms of time (less time spent in brushing, shampooing, drying), money (less expense on shampoo, conditioner, gel) and effort (for the same reasons).

Also if one gets it cropped a bit shorter, one saves time, money and effort because of fewer visits to the salon.

Strange that some of those personal finance websites have not yet come out with articles like "How to Beat Recession using your Hair".

what's a girl to do?

My daughter is a hair monger ( I mean charmer)- spends 1 hour primping every day. I am no model in this area- just brush- and out the door- but am so much more comfortable with long hair- it's just a way of life- If I could only learn how to quick blow dry, I would be set- I love to go to the hair dresser- but it's just so expensive these days- $200 a clip.

Any and all suggestions for managed hair are welcome? The problem is getting rid of the knots- I find a comb quite useful-- brushes don't work--Maybe a trim is enough. The problem is- hair dressers don't distinguish between trims and cuts- Come to think of it- I have answered my own question- get basic- down to the knuckles, the nuts and the bolts. Now if I could only be so freaking prolific and profound i.e., not boring---off- blog-

my students are studying educational boredom- my daughter's idea-


For my wife, shorter hair saves time in the shower and with the blow dryer. But it costs time too because it must be styled every day. Long hair you can just throw in a pony tail if you feel like it.

The required frequency of haircuts would vary based on the style. But when it's long, she can go only once every 5-6 months. She colors highlights at home, saving a bundle.


I have had very short hair for about the last eight years. However, as my economic circumstances have changed recently (although independently of the economic crisis) because I quit my job to go back to school overseas. I used to go to my barber every six weeks or so (about how long it takes for my hair to get long enough to be annoying) for a $15 buzz, which was cheap and easy and quick. However, now that I'm a student and also paying in Euros, I got myself my own hair-buzzer-thing and I cut it myself. It takes longer, it's much messier, and my barber did a better job, but the haircut machine paid for itself in two haircuts. So I'm wearing my hair the same (well, as close as I can get on the back of my own head) but spending less on it.
My hair is short enough now to require no styling, combing, or other attention, and it takes me the better part of a year to use up one bottle of shampoo.
However, I used to have very long hair and by any economic measure I spent negligibly more time on it daily and probably slightly less money. Maybe once or twice a year when I visited my parents, my mom would trim the ends for me, so that's free and doesn't even require a $30 machine. I used a heck of a lot more shampoo, but I also made more of an effort to buy cheap shampoo in big bottles, so I definitely spent less on it than I spent when I was going to the barber every other month. I bought maybe a couple of packages of hair elastics every year. And with very long hair, it took about five minutes every morning to put it in a braid. Even if I put it up some other way, after having long hair for long enough to be able to sit on it, I got pretty fast at that kind of thing, so even still it didn't take much time. I didn't really need to wash it that often, and I wasn't even going to try blow-drying it.

Mind you, short hair is much easier for lots of other reasons, and I have no plans to ever grow it long again unless I get too poor to buy scissors. And long or short, I have never had (nor would I personally ever choose) any length or style that required styling on any regular basis. But in my experience with the two extremes, there wasn't much difference economically speaking.



Everyone knows the length of hair is also linked to ancestral memory. Hair was a sign of health, marriage and prosperity.

You only cut your hair when a spouse died if you were a woman in some societies. This would signal placement and availability in the wrungs of the womanhood ladder and also signal loss of income from the male being gone.

Your hair is a very good indicator of your own personal history. Cutting it often let's you either forget that or disguise that. Not to mention bleaching, dying, styling perming, etc., which is available today.

FWIW, I haven't been to a hairdresser in three years. Because of that, some people claim I have a psychological problem and don't care for myself. I call it transparency, which is exactly what grey hairs are supposed to be. Anyway, my hair is longer than it ever was, even way back in 72 or 73, a recessionary time and a pubicient time if you are keeping statistics in a pda.



men have it different with hair length, but i think even they let it all grow out at least once in their life when their hunter gene takesover instead of their gathering and provider gene.

Aiden kelly

Another interesting point made I think in the economist that apparently skirts get longer in a recession. Given that longer skirts would have more material makes about as much sense as the haircut thing

A google search for skirts getting longer brings up over 7 million results. Last years Fall line by some fashion designers even had longer skirts.


@ Whats a girl to do - Kerastase makes a deep conditioning mask that should take care of those knots. The cost is $50.00. Use once a week and leave on for as long as possible works better if heat is applied. If your hair is long, paying $200 for a trim is just insane. Even with long layers theres no reason why you can't get a decent trim for around $60-80. The better the products you use, the less maintenance your hair will require. Good luck!