I heard references to the "hemline theory" during my graduate economics studies, but the "Madonna-following theory" escaped my attention ("Bikini-Girl Barometer," by Jonathan Gold, On the Town, Feb. 26). As an engineer, I get to see many computer- and electronics-oriented magazines, and in that arena I can verify Gold's economic-barometer theory.
When the market is booming, the engineering ads are replete with curvaceous young women, holding, or standing near, the advertised product. While seldom clothed in bikinis (engineers tend to be conservative), the women are dressed so as to effectively display their physical charms--so much so that female engineers have periodically complained to these magazines about the "exploitation" of the models.
However, as soon as business starts to slip, the women in such ads immediately appear dressed in laboratory smocks or similar concealing outfits. Or, to reinforce the implication that the advertisers' products are of the highest quality and offer the best return for the money, women disappear from the ads altogether.