The Wall Street Journal on Saturday, August 22, 2009 ran a story “They Know What She Wore Last Night,” about the website (and book) WhoWhatWear.com, that allows young fashionistas to find out what designer a starlet wore to some event. Featured celebrities include Rachel Bilson, Kate Moss, and Rhianna (of the Chris Brown beat-down and criminal court case). While garnering only a small following (its weekly newsletter has only 125,000 subscribers, a fraction of what larger sites garner, even in the fashion subsegment), the website gets a commission from sales by users clicking on links to what various celebrities wear. Partners include everyone from Maybelline to J.C. Penney.
But what happens when the money runs out?
Rebecca Ravenna, who describes herself as “a religious WhoWhatWear reader,” says she didn’t know the site was selling feature names and getting commissions from the purchases of its readers. But she’s not bothered. “It’s a time for all of us to get creative financially,” says the 23-year-old real estate broker from Chicago.
What happens when the 23-year-old real estate broker from Chicago can’t afford to buy the latest fashions, and adopts a “use it up, wear it out” type of attitude? Particularly if she is not a real estate broker any more, and has to scramble for money?
Much of the new girl order is discretionary spending, on things such as fashion and cosmetics than can be stretched out, or used up. Belmont Club has links to various economic predictions of either inflation on a massive scale, debt repudiation, or perhaps both. Regardless, states like California, can no longer afford to simply keep government employment up, particularly when the stimulus money runs out in 2010. The the female-friendly employment in Health, Education, and Welfare, will be hit along with the far more sensitive resource extraction, construction, transportation, and manufacturing sectors that generated most of the layoffs, ala the Mancession. Government employment does not generate its own income stream, and depends on the larger economy for tax receipts. The current economic picture does not look good.
Inflation, of course, eats away at discretionary spending, which is the heart of the New Girl Order. Much of the “fabulous” excitement seeking in all areas, regardless if it’s fashion, or politics, or relationships, in the New Girl Order has been based on bubble wealth. WhoWhatWear.com has the uncomfortable ring of Pets.com or Etoys.com. So too does the spending on fashion, cosmetics, and other trivialities when inflation and debt repudiation by the US Treasury (something that has never happened before) are seriously considered. This is particularly true if real estate brokers in Chicago lose their jobs, and have to struggle to find work and pay bills. Website visits and spending on fashion can quickly go to zero. Eventually, if Jeffrey Rogers Hummel is correct, and most democracies will run out of money fairly quickly to fund most social programs, this will include the growth sectors of Health, Education, and Welfare that are and were, female-friendly.
It is not merely froth, bubble websites like WhoWhatWear.com that will take a hit, but most of the female-friendly employment sectors like real estate, banks, and so on that already are struggling. Commercial real estate is already reaching high levels of empty, unleased spaces, and tenants have far more leverage to negotiate deals. Maguire Properties are warning of defaults to loan terms. All of the non-governmental office jobs that helped support discretionary spending on cosmetics and fashion (or X-boxes and Playstations for men) are at risk and likely to disappear at least in part in the next few years. Men got hit first in terms of employment, via exposure to sectors vulnerable to initial layoffs, but women are sure to follow.
This means quite likely, an end to the “New Girl Order,” which could only survive, briefly, amidst economic expansion, and assured physical safety for women.
A reader, anonymously, sends in a series of links to what Britain is dealing with. These are (mostly all young men) who are deemed “not in education, employment, or training” aka “NEETs” who form a menacing, looming semi-criminal class, at least 1 million strong, in the UK. Not connected politically or socially, they seem intent on lounging around like Somali warriors in Mogadishu, waiting for opportunities, and whiling the time away in fairly poor circumstances (Britain’s welfare state is not generous to natives). Meanwhile, young females in Britain remain at least, underemployed if not fully employed. But have understandable concerns for their safety.
Indeed, the death-knell for the “New Girl Order” is likely to be the twin factors of safety and economic security. Attractive young women will certainly find somewhat older men who have financial security more winning than they used to, if not for marriage then certainly co-habitation. There promises to be relatively few of these men who are unattached, but “soft polygamy” of the John Edwards variety is gaining acceptance, and indeed it’s probable that Edwards career is not over. The other issue is of course safety. Increased risk of crime and gangs of young men with nothing to do are not generally associated with young women out and about on the streets at night, or even the daytime.
For most women, however, their lives promise to be radically different. Bars and nightclubs promise to be rare events, if nothing else because every penny has to be watched. Longer cohabitation with parents or family, or room-mates promises to be a factor for both men and women. Discretionary spending for both sexes promises to crater.
But likely the biggest factor is the collapse of the whole entertainment-media complex built around the “New Girl Order.” While male discretionary spending certainly exists, it tends to be oriented around specific sectors: video games, cars, trucks, motorcycles, and entertainment centers and electronics. In other words, big ticket items. More and more men live on their own, and do spend on a wide variety of consumer items, but marketers still inhabit in one sense the world of the 1950’s when women do all the shopping. You can still find sites such as she-conomy.com asserting that 85% of all consumer purchases are made by women. Intuitively with high divorce rates, and delayed marriage rates, and chaotic cohabitation rates (couples rarely stick together) this figure does not make sense. Nevertheless, marketers believe it.
What we are likely to see, and in some instances already are is the substitution of online games for pay, console games, and the fairly rapid erosion of the video game industry, along with huge declines in auto, truck, and motorcycle sales. For “New Girl Order” sectors such as fashion, cosmetics, and the like, similar declines are a certainty as female consumers face inflation eroded paychecks or layoffs. It is not merely a question of WhoWhatWear.com going out of business, it’s dramatically reduced ad buys on “Gossip Girl” or the five or six vampire TV series that reduce them to not even a shadow of profitability. It is women forgoing seeing “Sex and the City Part Two” on release in favor of a cheap pay-per view or download from Netflix or Amazon or rental at Redbox a few months later. Its the entire edifice of everything from Oprah to the View to Today to the CW to Entertainment Tonight collapsing under ad revenues that simply cannot support the cost structure.
Much of the female-dominated media-entertainment rests on the simple fact that with huge margins, fashion houses, cosmetics manufacturers, and the like were willing to pay large sums of money to reach the inhabitants of the “New Girl Order.” With neither the economic pay-back (their consumers are likely to be pinching pennies for years) and an expectation of an ever-growing market, this is likely to change significantly, and in short time spans too.
Quite likely, we are going to see a broader, more mass-oriented culture, and one that is no longer youth-obsessed. We’ve already seen the start of that with the annoying Viagra and Cialis ads, and it’s likely that since the few remaining consumer dollars will be in middle aged hands, that is where the advertising dollars and revenue will move.
With younger women constrained both physically (risk of danger in the streets with our own “NEETs” about) and more importantly, economically (there will always be “some” safer areas), it is quite likely that younger cohorts can receive radically different cultural messages. Messages more attuned to the innate conservatism of middle age, when there is much yet to lose, than the risk-taking of the young. In particular, it is likely that the current wave of vampire fiction and television shows and movies will be the last, as young women find risk-taking in relationships less than appealing with a large dose of daily risk in their own lives. This would not necessarily mean “the return of the Beta Male” but he won’t look as bad as he did when the good times were rolling and fashionably dressed young women from Warsaw to Westchester did not need to worry about where the next paycheck will come from. Financial and physical insecurity tends to create a more conservative outlook.