What Do iPhones and Designer Jeans Have in Common?

Fair enough -- but what do high-tech gadgets have to do with low-tech jeans? The NPD Group, which tracks consumer behavior, reports with a bit of surprise that sales of designer jeans -- those with a price tag over $100 -- rose 2.3 percent this winter over a year ago, a small pocket of success in an apparel business that otherwise shrank 6.3 percent. "The passion for denim is alive and well," said Marshal Cohen, the firm's chief industry analyst.

Ross Rubin of NPD (who writes the "Tech on Deck" column for ABCNews.com), crunched some numbers and found that people who make less than $75,000 a year are buying large-screen high-definition TVs in increasing numbers.

"The Affordable Luxury"

But, Rubin says, "there are other forces" to explain the jump, including the Super Bowl and the looming transition to digital broadcasting.

"High-income consumers," he said, "are now moving on to smaller screens for bedrooms and other rooms."

Not everything, though, is consumer lust, which brings us back to the iPhone where we started. Several analysts argued that when money is tight, people see practical appeal in that Swiss-Army-knife, all-in-one gadget -- and they say Apple has marketed it masterfully, lowering the price and bringing it within more people's reach.

"You can call it the affordable luxury," said Gartenberg.

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