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The Death of Clothing

3487 Views 35 Replies 17 Participants Last post by  Hebrew Barrister
Interesting, albeit depressing Bloomberg article.

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Let's parse this sentence from the article: "At a time when the economy is growing, unemployment is low, wages are rebounding and consumers are eager to buy, Americans are spending less and less on clothing."

A couple of points:
- "the economy is growing": true, but most wages are stagnant, and the vast lion's share of the growth is only going to a small minority of earners (this is called "income inequality", and it's rising very rapidly in the USA; my own town, Atlanta, has the greatest income inequality of any US city)

- "wages are rebounding": correction, *average* wages are rebounding... look at the fine structure and you see a mix of mostly stagnant wages with a handful of rapidly increasing ones, such that the overall average is on the rise. Journalist - at a very far remove from being mathematicians, have never been able to grasp the uselessness of averages without also reporting on medians.

- "consumers are eager to buy": So? again, most wages are flat. Have fun window-shopping.

- "Americans are spending...": come again? what's an American, exactly? No category which describes 330 million people is of any use as a market segment.

Here's what I'm seeing: two separate apparel universes are peeling apart and moving rapidly away from one another. One the one hand, the increasingly worthless garbage billed as "clothing" that one finds at Target, Wallmart, Macy's, etc. On the other, an increase in bespoke apparel, more luxury men's shops (at least here), more small-run, exclusive shoe makers, etc.

So I don't think clothing is imperiled per-se... I just think it's important to be on the correct side of the income divide as it expands into a less-and-less bridgeable gulf.

There *was* a time when the typical man could have clothes tailored, buy good shoes, and so on, and so naturally folks were better dressed *on average* than now; those days are long gone. Frankly, it's no longer actually possible to dress well on a budget (I'm excluding "thrifting", because the real cost of thrifting - factoring in opportunity and other costs - is never factored in, so it's impossible to compare to store-bought clothes), but that doesn't mean people aren't doing it.

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This makes no sense at all. If "it's no longer actually possible", then how are people doing it? I know many who use their sense of style and taste to dress well on a budget - without thrifting.
People aren't doing it - have you not gone outside and looked around? Of course it makes sense.

Certainly, there are always going to be outliers who use a sense of style to dress well on a budget (mainly by thrifting, which I've already removed from my model), but you can't conflate that with "people dress well on a budget".

I completely disagree with that. It's quite easy, provided you aren't a snob about brands, fused sport coats / suits, or welted shoes, and accept that FIT matters more than anything else in terms of how you look.

Let's assemble a basic wardrobe:

-2 suits, maybe a navy and a charcoal. With luck and watching sales, you could get this done for $200, with less luck $250, much less luck $300, by shopping clearance at Jos A Bank (provided you don't have a difficult to fit body type). Fit matters most. They absolutely have normal colors, 100% wool, like solid navy and solid charcoal, in a variety of cuts, pleated or non-pleated, normal sizes, pop up in clearance regularly. Occasionally, even a signature gold (half-canvassed) pops up in clearance.

-3 sport coats. With luck and watching sales, $225-$300, JAB. Same comments as above.

-10 dress shirts. Watch sales, you can do this for $250 total, from either lands end or JAB.

-10 ties. $100-$200. $10-$20/ea on amazon, 100% silk. amazon.

-3 belts. $150. Wait for AE to have a sale and you can do this from them.

-1 pair black oxfords, 1 pair brown bluchers, 1 pair brown chukkas, 1 pair brown loafers. You could do this for under $400 if you bargain hunt for something like Cole Haan. Otherwise, if you just have to have non-glued shoes, $800-$1000 on shoe bank, $700-$800 ordering from beckett simonon. End of last year, Paul Evans did 2 pairs for $400, for sleek, patinad (or not), blake stitch, full grain leather.

Let's add this up. Using my pessimistic numbers, that's $2200+taxes+whatever shipping costs may be if any. Let's say I counted on too many discounts, and that the number after taxes and shipping is $3k.

So? That's a basic business wardrobe, and if you concentrate on FIT the most, you'll still look good, and that really is not that expensive in the scheme of things.

Of course, if you think fully canvassed bespoke suits, bespoke shirts, and yohei fukada shoes are required to "dress well", then sure, it's not affordable for most.


So, I decided to do some research on historical prices. Check this article out.

It highlights how most things were actually MORE expensive then compared to wages. The real difference is houses, which these days is extremely dependent on area. Live in LA and the average family cannot buy a home; live in Houston as an example, the average family can easily buy a home.

Cars? People forget how many more options cars have now. Basoc, low option cars these days are actually cheap. You don't need a $60k suburban to haul your kids adojnd -- a $25k minivan will do it just fine.

Bringing it back to clothing, if average family income was $7k, and an average business suit was as low as even $25, think of that ratio. That's 0.36% of your income for one suit. Let's say now you make $50k, and you grab a suit for $150, thats a flat 0.30% of your income, and average family income in the US now is well above $50k.

Things aren't perfect these days, but they are far from the doom and gloom many preach.
"with luck and watching sales" - how much does this add to the actual cost of clothing?

Who has time to shop? I know I don't - I'm not going to linger around waiting for things to go on sale, or for an Ebay auction to end, and I'm pretty sure men of the past didn't "thrift" and go visiting a dozen stores to find a shirt for 80% off.

What's the average hourly wage in the USA, about $35/hour? If you spend an hour shopping to find that $25 shirt, it's actual cost is $60.

As for FIT being the only thing that matters in dressing well: that might be the case the first, say, three wearings of a suit. Once it starts coming apart and losing its shape, the reality of the JAB's "buy one, get eighty free" sales starts to show it's true (lack of) value.

Adding in a need to search and compromise to "dress well" doesn't invalidate my points; it proves them.

For the bolded, that doesn't work.

It assumes you're always getting paid by the hour. I doubt most people miss work to go shopping, they go on their off days.
It's just a quick measure of opportunity cost.

For example, I assume my "free time" is worth $200/hour, based on various factors. So if I can spend an hour to save $100, I won't do that: I'm spending $200 to save $100, which makes no sense.

(There's a convention I attend most years which involves standing in line for an hour or so to pick up a badge, even when one has advance membership - call it Stuck in Antiquity - so I usually pay someone $50 to stand in line for me. $50 to save $200? yes please!)

So "off days" have plenty of value. What's the cost of not going to the botanical garden (or wherever) because you have to go find a sale on OCBDs? It's not easy to determine, but you at least know how much you sell your time for during business hours (annual wage/2000) - it's as good a place to start time valuation as any.

(Granted, there may be an odd species that actually *enjoys* shopping, and that's going depreciate the value of one's "free time"; fine, just work that into the model - one could still *prefer* shopping for one thing over another.)

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