Examining the Consumer Psyche

Impact of financial crisis on buying appetites.

Frederick's of Hollywood’s Xtreme Plunge Bra.

Frederick's of Hollywood’s Xtreme Plunge Bra.

Courtesy Photo

After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, President Bush said, “It’s back to business, but it’s not business as usual.”

This story first appeared in the December 1, 2008 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

In the current climate, consumers are being traumatized in a different way. Instead of a fear of another attack or flying, the survival instinct is kicking in over having a job, a home, health insurance, savings and money to buy groceries.

After Sept. 11 there was a trend called cocooning and the focus was on the home, where items such as comfy robes, lounge pieces, sleepgowns, pajamas, and bath and body products helped provide the warm feeling Americans craved. Sexy boudoir fare such as baby dolls, push-up bras and thongs, which offered a sense of fantasy and escapism during harsh times, also were in demand.

“After 9/11, there was a presidential mandate to go back to our normal consumer habits,” said Robert Thompson, professor of media and pop culture at Syracuse University. “Buying a pair of shoes or underwear was tantamount to doing a patriotic act. This is a whole different situation. Buying and spending will rehabilitate the economy, but the fear now is we’re keeping company with the Great Depression and ‘I’m the next one to be laid off.’ People have got a sense they’re in it for the long haul.”

However, “there still is that appetite for amusement,” Thompson said. “There is that sense that when you can no longer afford your cable bill, lingerie provides an alternative to ‘Cinemax After Hours,’” he added. “And if you can’t afford that fancy, romantic vacation, you can go to Target and buy a thong set and have part of that experience at home.”

Linda LoRe, president and chief executive officer of Frederick’s of Hollywood, said the hunger for escapism was reflected in Halloween sales.

“It told me very clearly where the customer’s mind-set wants to be,” LoRe said. “We had unprecedented increases across the board, not only to goal but during the same week a year ago. It wasn’t just costumes, it was lingerie with which customers could have their own exciting night at home and do their own kind of party. Instead of spending a lot of money on a night on the town, the customer spent a little on a night in.”