The other day, I was innocently doing laundry when a typical father-son discourse ensued. The topic: underwear. No, really. My son, who is a total clotheshorse, didn’t hesitate to point out how un-hip my underwear has gotten recently, and he insisted I check out “Ethika,” a new clothing brand all the cool kids are into. And apparently, their focus is underwear.

This exchange triggered three things in me:  low self-esteem, a burning desire to be more trendy, and memories of the origin of the “MUI”, or Men’s Underwear Index. Please indulge me while I offer an explanation for why the real estate market struggled then, is surging now, and generally does what it does.

The MUI is meant to represent the rate at which men replace their old underwear, what they’re buying, and how expensive (or cool) it is. This may seem like an odd metric for the economy, but the underwear market is generally very stable; it’s a no-frills necessity for the majority of consumers, barring commando specialists – you all know who you are. Any deviation in national underwear sales represents a positive or a negative reflection on discretionary spending, or what can also be thought of as consumer confidence.

In 2009, there was a -2.3% sales drop in “shorts” from a 3.7% increase in 2007. A sales slowdown from 2008 then carried into 2009. This signaled consumer confidence was going awry in the coveted world of men’s intimacies, and also outside of it. As underwear sales aficionados predicted, there was then only a .5% sales decline in 2010. This was great news for a $4.75 Billion sales market. Hard to believe as that seems like a big number for undergarments, but it’s true.

Small and obscure market trends can often be very telling, and this is just one example. I have it on good authority that Alan Greenspan himself, former chair of the Federal Reserve Bank, followed the MUI. I’m not sure what his favorite brand or cut is, although it’s probably something baggy. What I do know is the MUI is the real deal.

2008 was the height of the recession. The economy then struggled mightily, but eventually things began to even out and today, the recession is behind us. In parallel, the real estate market crashed then rebounded, and has been on the rise ever since. I recently attended an economic seminar where Jonathan Smoke, an economist for, proclaimed that the national real estate market has officially recovered. Consumer confidence is back to a height it hasn’t seen since 1985. The Cambridge-Boston market has especially surged in the last 6 years.

Ethika’s goods may seem pricey at $25 a piece, yet sales have recently been a bonanza. So much so that the site in fact crashed several times last weekend, delaying my attempts at relevancy. Check your underwear drawer – I did, and it was deplorable. Ethika only offers four printed styles for men, and all were sold out. 25 bucks for confidence in the form of moosehead briefs??? I’ll take two! But I can’t. So I lugged myself to TJ Maxx and splurged on 3 packs ($5.99 each).

Consumer confidence is at an unbelievable high, and more home-buying men than not will be sporting fresh new underwear to the closing table. Gentlemen (and ladies too): keep buying. It’s good for the economy, the real estate market, and the MUI.