What will you do?
Stop driving. Live where you work. Maybe lose your present job and have to do something else. Watch everything you have earned and saved disappear in inflation.
How will we replace the things we need? So much of our stuff is petroleum based. What if we had to live without plastics? What if old plastic was sucked up by the government to make computers to run the infrastructure, or recycled into tank and jet fighter fuel? (I do not know if this is possible – if it will ferment, you can distill it, and everything carbon-based will ferment under the right conditions, so my guess is yes, but it will be expensive.)
I could replace my clothes with some ease, relatively speaking. I have a pile of wool to spin, I have a loom on which I could weave cloth, and really, a loom is a fairly simple thing to make, as is a spinning wheel. Fiber will be the scarce commodity. Northerners would start growing flax and going to the trouble of retting and braking it, which are long, smelly, hard labour processes. But they were commonly done into this century even on family farms. Wool is the easiest to raise and prepare; we would wear more wool clothing.
The hardest thing to replace would be modern underwear. We wear form-fitting things made with stretch (read: petroleum based) fibers. A pair of bloomers is an easy thing to sew, though. Women would have to contrive drawstring waists and men would go back to buttons on their briefs. Brassieres are an engineering marvel. It is possible to make your own, and I suppose for those worried about fit and support, we would contrive some sort of underwire or boning made from spring steel or real bone. I would probably just figure out how to sew in a supporting panel and skip the wire. Can you imagine a day when a bundle of bra underwires from old fitted garments would go at a pretty penny at auction? Likely, the au naturel look would be accepted again as it was in the 60s.
Fashion would disappear as we found we couldn’t get replacement parts or good machine oil for our sewing machines. Fashion originated with trade routes; as these become more localized, we might see the end of fashion and a reversion to simple, hard-wearing clothes. Certainly, old clothes would no longer be discarded in landfills or bundled as rags. We would use every scrap for as long as we could. Of course, I try to do that now. My underwear may get sewn out of old t-shirts. Isn’t that a luscious thought?
Shoes – now there’s a problem. My own boots tend to last for several years, although I am still searching for the hundred year boots. Local butchers may supply local tanners, who would supply local shoemakers, who would repair their own work for years. Customers used to keep their own lasts – wooden foot molds – on file with the local shoemaker and get a new pair as needed every five years or so. Fashion footwear, so dependent on oil-based fabric and soles and transportation, might never reappear. Shoe addicts would go into serious withdrawal as Manolo Blahnik takes monastic vows. (Is this a real person or just a brand name?)
Cotton requires lots of water and heat and hand maintenance to grow organically, and might be confined to the traditional cotton-growing areas such as Egypt and the southern part of North America. It would become very expensive elsewhere. Get used to linen.
Would you mind terribly if we all had to dress like sixteenth century peasants? How many people would just break down and refuse to leave the house when shopping malls close, the I-95 and the autobahn are useless, and they must learn how to make their own tallow-dip candles? Are we going to be concerned about our manicures when we all must garden in the back (and front) yard?