Not much has gotten better since the nineties. The radio, for one, has gotten much worse. Magazines and newspapers totally suck now. In real terms the minimum wage has barely increased. Why, in my adult life I might say there hasn't been much to be very proud of in this country — except, of course, clothes shopping. Over the past five years or so the way we shop has transformed in parts of this country, largely on the backs of the hallowed triumvirate of "fast fashion" retailers, H&M, Forever 21 and the Spanish retailer Zara and if you'd allow me to geek out for a minute, a story in today's Wall Street Journal lays out the reasons for that: Zara and H&M have become wizards of logistics, the scintillating business of figuring out how much stuff to get from which factories to which warehouses to which stores how fast. In the process, they've brought clothing manufacturing back into higher-wage countries and made cuter clothes available cheaper and faster. How did these companies manage to kick the asses of the Gap, Abercrombie etc. so quickly? I have a (socialist) theory as to how this all happened.
In Europe, retailers traditionally weren't supposed to hold sales. This has changed recently in some countries, but like, for years and years the government didn't let them mark down clothing. So while American retailers would over-order inventory from China by the shipping containerful, figuring that if something — boyfriend jeans? Editor pants? pleather — happened to take off, they could sell more of them at a retardedly inflated full price and get a better Christmas bonus. European retailers, meanwhile, were barred from law by generating this sort of waste. They were forced to simply become more efficient about monitoring what exactly was going to sell. This forced them to become more attuned to fashion while keeping prices at an "everyday low" level.
Then they came over to the U.S. and kicked the asses of all the bloated boring retail giants by offering cute clothes at reasonable prices. The thing is, do you end up buying more crap than you need now vs. the era of The Gap? Or less?