The Lipstick Effect Theory: Bangladesh in Spotlight

In the intricate world of economics, where indicators and theories often shape the narratives of financial well-being, one theory stands out with a touch of glamour – the Lipstick Effect. Originating from the creative mind of Boston College Sociology Professor Juliet Shore in 1998, this theory gained prominence during the American economic recession in 2000, thanks to cosmetics giant Estee Lauder, who coined it as ‘The Lipstick Effect Theory.’ Recently, increased import of lipstick reported while a video spread describing a man he is without underpants and socks as they are not visible.

The Lipstick Effect Theory Unveiled

Juliet Shore’s revelation in ‘The Overspent American’ highlighted curious consumer behavior during economic downturns. Instead of splurging on high-end luxury items, people tended to gravitate towards more affordable luxury goods. This shift in consumer preferences was particularly noticeable in the beauty industry, where the purchase of lipsticks surged. The reasoning behind this phenomenon was twofold.

Firstly, as incomes dwindled, individuals refrained from investing in pricey items like fur coats or expensive bags. Instead, they sought solace in the purchase of less expensive luxury goods, with lipstick emerging as a favored choice. The second aspect delves into the psychological realm – during tough economic times, people focused on self-care and personal grooming as a means of distraction. Lipstick, being a relatively inexpensive beauty product, saw a surge in demand.

This theory gained substantial traction during significant economic downturns, such as the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks in the United States and the 2008 recession. The correlation between economic uncertainties and increased lipstick sales led to the establishment of the Lipstick Effect theory. Researchers Sarah Hill and Christopher Rodenhafer from Texas Christian University further solidified this theory through in-depth studies, highlighting its relevance across different economic landscapes.

Inflation in Bangladesh: A Silent Struggle

Fast forward to the economic landscape of Bangladesh, where the silent killer known as inflation has been tightening its grip. The overall inflation rate reached 9.93 percent in October 2023, with food inflation hitting a staggering 12.56 percent – the highest in nearly 12 years. The implications are clear – the cost of living is soaring, and people with limited incomes are grappling to afford basic necessities.

The promises and assurances of policymakers to curb inflation seem to have fallen short, and the rising costs have led to a cutback in consumer spending. In the words of former US President Ronald Reagan, “Inflation is as violent as a mugger, as dangerous as an armed robber, and as deadly as a murderer.”

The rising inflation rates, coupled with unusual economic indicators, paint a nuanced picture of Bangladesh’s economic landscape. As citizens navigate these uncertain waters, policymakers and analysts grapple with the challenge of decoding these economic signals to formulate effective strategies for stability and resilience.

Lipstick Imports: An Unusual Economic Indicator

In the midst of economic turmoil, an unexpected trend has emerged in Bangladesh – a surge in the import of lipsticks. The Western Lipstick Effect theory suggests that during economic slowdowns, consumers turn to less expensive luxury goods, and lipstick becomes a focal point. The fear among economists is that this trend might be an early indicator of economic distress.

The import data reveals a notable increase in lipstick imports, raising concerns about the economic well-being of the country. In the first quarter of the current financial year, the customs value of lipstick imports soared to Tk 5 crore 23 lakh, marking a 55 percent increase compared to the same period in the previous fiscal year. While the increased import has contributed additional revenue to the government, it has also sparked questions about the state of the economy.

The Lipstick Effect in Bangladesh: Myth or Reality?

The question arises – does the Lipstick Effect theory hold true for Bangladesh? Khandaker Golam Moazzem, the research director of the Center for Policy Dialogue (CPD), believes that during economic instability, consumers tend to seek cost savings even in luxury goods. Lipsticks, being relatively affordable in the realm of cosmetics, witness increased usage and availability.

While researchers express skepticism about the Western Lipstick Effect theory fully manifesting in Bangladesh, they acknowledge the shift in consumer behavior towards more budget-friendly luxury goods. The lipstick, with its unique ability to add a touch of glamour at a lower cost, becomes a symbol of resilience amid economic challenges.

Food Inflation: A Persistent Challenge

The unsettling revelation that food inflation has surpassed 12 percent for three consecutive months paints a grim picture of the economic landscape. This prolonged surge in food prices not only impacts the cost of living but also poses a severe threat to the very essence of survival. For individuals with modest incomes, the struggle to secure basic food items becomes an everyday battle, amplifying the gravity of the inflation crisis.

Inflation: The Silent Killer

Inflation has earned its ominous moniker as the “silent killer,” a term echoed by former US President Ronald Reagan. His stark analogy portrays inflation as an assailant with the violence of a mugger, the danger of an armed robber, and the deadliness of a murderer. The metaphor underscores the insidious nature of inflation, as it quietly erodes the purchasing power of individuals, leaving them vulnerable to the economic onslaught.

Economic Strain on Limited Incomes

As inflation tightens its stranglehold on the nation, the silent cries of those with limited incomes grow louder. The rising cost of essential goods and services becomes an insurmountable barrier, forcing individuals and families to make difficult choices between necessities. Inflation, often unseen and underestimated, transforms into a palpable force that dictates the quality of life for many.

Addressing the Crisis: A Call to Action

To confront the multifaceted challenges posed by inflation, policymakers and economic experts must mobilize swiftly and decisively. Crafting strategies to alleviate the burden on those most affected by the rising costs of food is paramount. Proactive measures, such as targeted social assistance programs and policies aimed at stabilizing prices, can serve as a lifeline for those navigating the turbulent economic waters.

The Role of Media in Raising Awareness

The role of media in disseminating information and raising awareness about the implications of inflation cannot be overstated. Through insightful reporting and analysis, media outlets can contribute to a broader understanding of the economic challenges faced by the population. By shedding light on the lived experiences of individuals contending with inflation, media becomes a catalyst for empathy, advocacy, and informed decision-making.

Advance Warning: Underwear in Action

As history often repeats itself, economic downturns bring forth peculiar consumer behaviors that serve as advance warnings. One such indicator emerged during the recession of 2008 – the Lipstick Effect. This phenomenon, observed by Alan Greenspan, then chairman of the US Federal Reserve, highlighted a shift in consumer spending patterns. While the demand for luxury goods like clothing dwindled, an unexpected surge in lipstick sales was witnessed.

In a recession, people tend to cut back on purchases deemed non-essential, and buying new clothes becomes a perceived liability. However, the lipstick, a relatively affordable luxury item, experiences heightened demand. The Lipstick Effect has become a noteworthy economic indicator, reflecting how consumer behavior adapts during times of financial uncertainty.

Interestingly, a reverse trend has surfaced in recent times, offering another unusual economic indicator – the Men’s Underwear Index. Historically, a decline in men’s underwear sales in the United States has signaled economic recessions. The rationale behind this lies in the belief that when faced with financial uncertainties, individuals prioritize essential spending, leading to a reduction in discretionary purchases like new underwear.

Recent survey data indicates a significant decrease in men’s underwear purchases in the US, triggering concerns among economic experts who fear an impending recession. The Men’s Underwear Index, with its uncanny accuracy in the past, serves as a peculiar yet insightful gauge of recessionary conditions. In line with the US, Bangladesh may be also on the same road as a video recently showcased a biker saying he avoids buying underpand and socks to face crises as they are not visible.


In conclusion, the surge in lipstick imports in Bangladesh raises intriguing questions about the intersection of consumer behavior and economic trends. Whether it’s a true reflection of the Lipstick Effect or merely a shift in preferences, the lipstick has become an unexpected economic indicator, inviting economists and policymakers to decode its significance in the larger narrative of Bangladesh’s economic trajectory. As lipstick sales rise, the economy silently whispers its tale, and analysts eagerly await the unfolding chapters.

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