Fashion math… thinking about cost per wear

LogoIf you’re like me, there have probably been times when you’ve stood in a dressing room trying to decide whether or not to buy an item because the price seems too high. It fits well, looks great on you, and you love it, but can you really justify spending that much?

That’s when you need to think about cost per wear (CPW). I was never very good at math, but this formula is so simple that even I can handle it!

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The simplest version involves dividing the price by how many times you estimate that you’ll wear the item. Of course, there are other factors to take into consideration. For example, does the item need to be dry cleaned. If so, it’s a good idea to factor that cost into the equation.

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Obviously, no one knows exactly how many times they’ll wear a particular item, but here are some questions that can help you estimate:

  • Where will I wear it?
  • Is it a single season item or something that I’ll wear year round?
  • Is it a trend that will likely disappear quickly or something that I’ll probably wear for several years?
  • Is it well made? Will it keep its shape and colour through multiple wears and washes or will it wear out quickly?
  • Will it play well with other items in my closet?
  • Will I get tired of it?

Let’s look at a couple of examples. I’m planning to buy a new winter coat this year. Imagine that I find the coat I want for $250. I live in a climate where winter lasts from late October until March. Unless I slip away to somewhere warm for a couple of weeks, I’ll likely wear that coat at least once a day all winter long, so let’s estimate that I wear it 150 times over the winter months. If I keep that coat for just one year, the cost per wear would be $1.67, but I’m likely to wear it for several winters so let’s multiply the number of wears by 3. Now I’m dividing $250 by 450 and the CPW is only 56 cents! On the other hand, if I spend $250 on a dress to wear to a wedding and I only wear it a couple of other times, the CPW is over $80! In my mind, the coat is a good buy, but the dress probably isn’t.

Here’s another way to look at it. Let’s imagine that you’re shopping for a basic black sweater and trying to choose between buying a high quality one for $120 or a cheaper, poorer quality version for $24. Which one is the better buy? As counterintuitive as it might sound, sometimes buying cheap is actually more expensive. If you would wear the more expensive sweater 200 times over the next few years, the CPW would be 60 cents, but you might only get 20 wears out of that cheaper sweater before it starts to pill, stretch out of shape, or even unravel. In that case, the CPW would be 83 cents. Clearly, the more expensive sweater is actually the better buy.

For CPW to work to your advantage, you have to love and enjoy wearing your clothes to such an extent that you’re willing to continue wearing them long term instead of constantly buying new ones; you have to be willing to make fewer and more intentional purchases. That’s the whole idea! Rather than forking over more and more of your hard earned dollars for cheap quality pieces that won’t last, you’ll spend more for clothes that will last longer.

Cost per wear isn’t a hard and fast rule. Splurging on something trendy that you won’t wear long term isn’t all bad. Getting dressed ought to be fun, so achieving a low cost per wear isn’t always the desired end, but it’s a handy tool to use, especially when you’re considering a major purchase or when sales racks tempt you to buy on impulse.

So next time you go shopping for clothes, shoes, or accessories, why not do the fashion math?

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