Planned obsolescence (PO) is a brilliant business strategy or a larcenous conspiracy, depending on which side of the sales counter you operate. At a corporate marketing strategy meeting it might be described as “A policy of producing consumer goods that rapidly become obsolete and require relacement. This is acheived by frequent changes in design, limited spare parts availability and the use of non-durable materials.”
Consumerism critic Vance Packard defined PO otherwise as “The systematic attempt of business to make us wasteful, debt-ridden, permanently discontented individuals.”
Technical PO has forced us to junk our 8-track tapes in favor of cassettes which were later replaced by CDs. Our VHS machines were superceded by DVDs which are now being threatened by Blu-Ray. The computer I’m using to type this blog probably became obsolete before I got it out of the box.
Next year, cell phones which can now make calls, provide GPS service, take us online for texting, Emailing and browsing, and which replaced our now discarded cameras and camcorders, may be upgraded to instruments that can send powerful electric rays to painfully punish scammers and melt the innards of robo-calling machines. (I’ve suggested this upgrade to Apple and await a reply. My patent is pending.)
Planned fashion obsolescence requires the cooperation of the buyer, usually female, who has an inner fear of appearing in “retro” attire. Wearing a perfectly serviceable item of clothing is not enough. There is a compulsion to replace it with something having the currently approved contours, color and length.
After a few years, the fashion designers, assuming the so-called outdated garments have been devoured by moths or donated to charity, will reintroduce that exact style as being the only logical choice for a woman who plans to go out in public that year.
This PO doesn’t work as well with men’s fashions. You can tell by watching 1940’s movies. Suits worn by Clark Gable and Cary Grant back then would not raise any eyebrows on the street today. The average guy doesn’t care much about lapel widths or pleats. During World War II men didn’t complain about losing pants cuffs. Millions of troops needed millions of yards of material for millions of uniforms. Cuffs had been a nuisance anyway, always catching things we dropped and gave up for lost, like bus transfers, small change and sometimes carelessly flipped glowing cigarette butts. There was a song back then that went something like, “Can’t get stuff in your cuffs cause you ain’t got the cuffs to get the stuff in.” It was a big hit for a few weeks.
Also, men have favorite clothing items and will wear the same jacket or suit for several days in a row because it’s comfortable, whereas a woman will say, “But everyone has seen me in this.”
I have a favorite bulky cardigan sweater, a treasured Christmas gift from yesteryear, which is nearing the end of its road as a PO victim. I checked, there are no available spare parts for cardigan sweaters and Bulky’s moth holes are now competing with his armholes. I just can’t toss this old friend in the trash. Who knows? Bulky’s style and even his condition may become fashionable. Just yesterday I saw women strolling through the mall wearing very expensive brand new faded jeans with their knees peeking out through shredded denim. Hold on Bulky. There’s still hope!

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