As a Share of Income, Clothing and Footwear in U.S. Are More Affordable Today Than Ever Before
Americans spent almost $338.1 billion on clothing and footwear in 2010 (data here), which as a share of disposable personal income (data here), was the lowest ever in U.S. history, at only 2.97%. Spending on clothing as a share of income has fallen in 21 out of the last 23 years, from 4.78% in 1988 to less than 3% in both 2009 and 2010. Compared to 1950 when spending on clothing was 9% of income, spending last year was less than one-third that amount, and compared to spending on clothing of 6% of income in 1970, spending last year was half of that share.
In other words, clothing is now cheaper than at any time in history, when measured as a share of disposable income. And there's a better selection of clothing now, at higher quality, and with options available today like no-iron fabrics and washable silk that have become increasingly available in recent years. And when it comes to footwear, I don't think anybody would argue that the selection and quality today are far ahead of past decades - just think of the athletic footwear options today vs. Chuck Taylor Converse All-Stars, which were at one time "state-of-the-art" and were only available in two colors (black and white) until 1966.
Bottom Line: As a direct result of increased global competition, advances in technology, and increased worker productivity, clothing is cheaper today both in inflation-adjusted prices and as a share of disposable income. We have more clothing today per person than any previous generation (think of the number and size of closets in a typical 1930s, 1940s or 1950s era home), and the clothing and footwear are cheaper and better than ever, contributing to an ever-increasing rising standard of living for the average American.