Look in Your Closet for Some Perspective on the Great Recession

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The average American now owns about 90 articles of clothing, and that total doesn’t include underwear, socks, bras, or pajamas. Guess how many items of clothing the average person had during the Great Depression?

Less than 15.

Writing over the weekend for the WSJ, author Virginia Postrel offers some perspective on just how tough times actually are today, along with some insight as to why it’s not all that difficult to cut back on new clothing, among other expenses:

Thanks to our bulging closets, over the past couple of decades, clothing has become a much more discretionary good. New purchases are as easy to go without as restaurant meals or entertainment (which consumers can similarly get from their accumulated stock of DVDs, games and music).

In the past few years, people have been forced to refocus on what they really need. Not want or desire or that which one feels compelled to buy, but need. And when you have closets, dressers, attics, and trunks stuffed with (perfectly good, if out-of-fashion) clothing you already don’t wear, the last thing you need is more. Despite what marketers, designers, department stores, and colleagues, friends, neighbors, and your pushy relatives say, regularly buying new clothing and keeping up with the latest ever-changing fashions are not necessities in life.

This isn’t to say that sometimes, for some people, abstaining from new clothing purchases isn’t without its challenges. Check out some thoughts from women who have joined the Great American Apparel Diet, in which participants agree to not buy clothing for a full year, and to get by with whatever abundance of items they already have in their closets. Commitment or no, many have broken down and bought something at one point or another during the experiment in anti-consumerism.

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