Near the end of Wrath of the Lich King, there was a real feeling that gearing had gotten out of control, between unintentionally heightened ilevels (due to the introduction of heroic modes early in the expansion), a raid-wide buff that made the penultimate raid of the expansion easily puggable (until Arthas), and ridiculously simple heroic 5-mans and Emblems of Triumph that allowed you to gear out your freshly leveled alt in high-ilevel epics.
When Cataclysm launched, part of the intent between the fairly difficult heroic 5-mans and the fact that they dropped ilevel 346 blue items was that Blizzard wanted to slow down gearing. This worked; the roadblock created by early Cataclysm heroics for casual players did serve to slow down gearing. For the first time in years, full epic-geared characters were seen as more of a rare occurrence than a staple of your average AFKer in Orgrimmar.
Fast forward to last Saturday, where I decided to transfer my blue-geared death knight (who hit 85 and was subsequently forgotten in March) to my main's server to make use of her professions. On a whim, I decided to see how long it could take to gear her. By Sunday night, she had tanked Madness of Deathwing in Raid Finder, was in three-piece tier 13, and was one item away from being in full 378 or higher epics.
It seems clear to me now that the original Cataclysm model for gearing has failed, and the roadblocks originally put in place to prevent quickly gearing alts are no longer in place. That said, I don't mind it, and I don't think Blizzard minds it. Getting gear is fun, even on an alt that's only supposed to be used for running around Tol Barad picking flowers and mining ore. I like having four characters at 380+ ilevel, and it served me well when my guild recently needed me to main-change from my mage back to my shaman to heal. So yes, the original gearing model for Cataclysm does seem to have failed -- but is that really such a bad thing?