The Dominance of Quality in Economic
Pursuits, Continued: Clothing, Housing,
and Stone Age Economics.
The survival function of clothes is to protect the body from the elements, and the only truly necessary tailoring is that required to allow a person to engage in other survival activities while wearing the clothing. Choice of materials would be based on a trade-off between durability and the resource cost of making the clothes. In many places and seasons, little or no clothing is needed for protection.
Functional considerations are far removed from our production and purchase of clothing. Cultural convention, style, appearance, cut, color, and texture dominate, not protection from the elements and durability. There are few areas of "basic" production and expenditure in which the pursuit of shifting styles plays such an explicit role. These aesthetic standards not only render clothes obsolete before they are worn out but also add considerably to their initial cost. In addition, convention requires that we have multiple sets of clothes, each appropriate to particular places and occasions.
One way of estimating what truly functional clothing would cost would be to look at what it costs the United States military to clothe a soldier in the field. Field clothing, as opposed to the dress uniform, is intended to be functional, cheap, and durable.
Data are available on both the "standard-issue" clothing provided to new soldiers and the cost of maintaining and replacing this clothing over a long period. In 1995, the standard-issue clothing listed in Table 3.1 cost between $200 and $265 per year, depending upon the climate in which the person was assumed to be living ( U.S. Department of Defense, 1995).