I read an alarming story in the papers recently that the Indian economy is tanking and it is because men are buying fewer inner wear.
Financial gurus say the slump in sales of men’s underwear is a sure sign of an economic slowdown. I believe it was Alan Greenspan, former US Federal Reserve Board chairman who formulated the Underwear Index that mirrored the state of the economy.
Greenspan, if you remember, helmed the collapse of the US mortgage market and subsequently the global financial meltdown. Maybe he should have paid more attention to his underwear and to subprime lending, and saved the world.
Anyway, the question that arises is, if men are not buying innerwear what will hold up the economy? Could men be doing what we did when we lived in hostels as kids, away from home and away from the washer women who created a mess in the bathrooms while doing the weekly laundry, and when there were no such thing as washing machines? We did what came by instinct; we would turn the innerwear inside out to give us a week’s more time of clean underwear.
If Indian men are doing this then things may get even more bleaker if the sale of detergents and gels drop. One the other hand, to look at a this positively, all this austerity will help save water, which is in short supply in many states.
Last year one billion units of men innerwear were sold. Retail analysts say that as disposable income rose men shifted to buying eco-friendly and quality underwear. But things have now changed suddenly.
Unlike today where Jockey has taken over the underwear world, we had innerwear companies that had names like Dora, Rupa, VIP, Lux and I believe a sleeveless vest maker named Sandow, where every pigeon chested boy believed himself to be the famous strongman and wrestler, after putting on the cotton vest named after him.
Some of the manufacturers did not get a hang of making proper elastic bands for the innerwear and after a couple of washes the bands would lose their elasticity and at times the underwear would suddenly drop to your knees, inside the pants. Then walking become something like the cool bros of the 2000s when they wore their pants down the hipbone and had to walk pigeon toed, with their underwear showing.
You couldn’t pull up the innerwear hanging near your knees as you would give yourself a wedgie if you pulled up the innerwear and the pants up to your waist. Still, despite the discomfort, one felt relieved and free of the restrictive inner clothing. The older times were much better when the local tailor stitched your inner wear that fastened with a cloth tape.
When the tape wore out and broke, the only way you could get a new tape in was with an old toothbrush that had a hole in the handle through which you took the tape and knotted it and then pushed the broken toothbrush through the waist band of the inner wear, or underwear, as it was known then.
I always envied Mr Bean, the bumbling and mumbling Englishman, who always managed to pull off the impossible, against all odds. One sequence had him putting on his swimming trunks while still wearing his pants, as he was shy because another bather on the beach was watching.
Recently, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, advised his countrymen to visit tourist spots in the country, even if they did not have proper facilities, to help boost the tourism sector. Somebody should have advised him to urge Indian men to buy more inner wear instead.
Mahmood Saberi is a storyteller and blogger based in Bengaluru, India. Twitter: @mahmood_saberi