Virginia Postrel uses clothes to help explain why we're suffering less now than we did during the Great Depression:
In the 2009 survey, the average wardrobe had shrunkto a still-abundant 88 items. We may not be shopping like we used to, but we aren't exactly going threadbare. Bad news for customer-hungry retailers, and perhaps for economic recovery, is good news for our standard of living.
By contrast, consider a middle-class worker's wardrobe during the Great Depression. Instead of roughly 90 items, it contained fewer than 15.
For the typical white-collar clerk in the San Francisco Bay Area, those garments included three suits, eight shirts (of all types), and one extra pair of pants. A unionized streetcar operator would own a uniform, a suit, six shirts, an extra pair of pants, and a set of overalls. Their wives and children had similarly spare wardrobes. Based on how rarely items were replaced, a 1933 study concluded that this "clothing must have been worn until it was fairly shabby." Cutting a wardrobe like that by four itemsfrom six shirts to two, for instancewould cause real pain. And these were middle-class wage earners with fairly secure jobs.