It's not hard to imagine men's ties as an unofficial economic indicator: When the economy crashes, men button up their shirts, perfect their half-windsors, and try their best to look very serious and busy. It's a good way to keep a job if you have one, or get a job if you need one.

Apparently, men's underwear is an economic bellwether, too. The theory goes like this: When the economy crashes, one of the first apparel sectors to feel the burn is boxers and briefs. After all, if you're tight on cash, no one will know that you haven't sprung for new undies in awhile.

Of course, if you hold off on springing for new boxer shorts, by the time the economy turns around, your undergarments are in rough shape, so one of the first things you do is buy fresh undies. Indeed, underwear sales were up 13 percent last year, and socks were up 12 percent. And so you get statements like this: "With the economy improving, it must be the right time for men to get rid of all that holey underwear," Edgar Dworsky, founder of, tells MarketWatch.

Another theory is that men buy fresh underwear for dates — and men date more when their bank accounts are cushy. As MarketWatch puts it, "Personal confidence typically accompanies economic confidence."

Boxers and briefs (and boxer-briefs) aside, the economy has a long way to go before it's buzzing along again. Last month, fewer working-age people had jobs than at any other time since 1979, said the New York Times.