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Curating Your Closet According to Cost-Per-Wear

Alden Wicker

Good morning, class! Today we’re going to talk about cost-per-wear.

It’s hard when you’re walking past a huge window display filled with sparkly, colorful, stupidly cheap fast fashion to hold yourself back. Modern retailers have become a candy store for adults, where you can fill your bag with sweet goodies for just a few dollars and walk out on a fashion high.

And when you’re trying to stick to a budget, buying a $20 embroidered skirt seems like a fantastic deal. I mean, that is one-twentieth of the price of a similar designer skirt, amaright?

But go take a look under your bed, in that bin where you keep all your “extra” clothes that you never wear. How much would you say you’ve spent on meh tops, pants you bought because they were on the clearance rack and dresses that have pilled, stretched and faded?

There’s a better way to be fiscally responsible about your fashion, and it’s called cost-per-wear. It’s a simple concept, but something you should keep in mind as you paw through the racks on your next shopping trip.

Think about how often you’ll wear a new garment or accessory in a typical month. Now multiply that times 12 (six if it’s a seasonal piece), and then multiply that by the number of years you think it will stay useful in your closet. Divide the cost of the piece by the resulting number.

Hey, you don’t need to be super-accurate—a ballpark figure will help you decide if the sweater with the embellished neckline is a worthy investment or a money pit.

Let’s practice this new concept with some examples:

Q: Debbie has been reading about how trendy embellished, fancy sweatshirts are this season, and wants to add one to her closet. She finds this gray, embellished sweatshirt with pink and blue crystals from Matthew Williamson for $825. If Debbie can’t wear this sweatshirt to her day job without being made fun of by her boss, about what would the cost-per-wear be?

A: Assuming that Debbie will only wear this sweatshirt on weekends, and that it is so memorable that she could only wear it once a month, and assuming that embellished sweatshirts will only be in season for one year before they become old hat (much like wedge sneakers), our calculations look like this:

1 (wears per month) x 6 (months—it’s a seasonal item) x 1 (year it will be in fashion) = 6 wears.

$825/6 wears = $137.50 per wear. Ouch.

Q: Cyrus is trying to decide between a Zara coat for $179 that will last maybe three years with daily use (and cost an additional $30 to tailor when the lining falls out in two years) and this Gloverall coat for $625 that will last for probably 12 years. Which is the better deal?

A: The Zara coat costs $59 per year ($69 if you include the tailoring), and the Gloverall coat costs $52 per year. The Gloverall coat is the better value. Plus it saves him from shopping again for the next 12 years.

Q: Casidhe is walking past Forever21 when she sees this Opulent Lace Dress for $24.80 and buys it. If Casidhe wears it out to a club that weekend, and Casidhe loves to dance, what is her cost-per-wear total?

A: Assuming that a $24.80 dress will only last for maybe two nights of dancing (if we are optimistic) before it splits in the back, our calculations look like this:

$24.80/ 2 wears = $12.40 per wear.

Q: Zach is gunning for a promotion and wants to dress like a boss. Literally. If Zach can wear these sturdy pants by Apolis for $158 to work, out to dinner and on his bike during the weekend without them tearing for a couple of years, what is his cost-per-wear figure?

A: Assuming that Zach is like most men and can get away with wearing the same pants four times a week, our calculation looks like this:

16 (wears per month) x 12 (months) x 2 (years) = 384 wears

$158/384 = $0.41 per wear.

As you can see, the value of your investment in a piece is in direct correlation to the quality and timelessness of said piece. That’s why smart men and women curate their closets for the long term—they truly know the meaning of an “investment piece.”

Alden Wicker is the Founder of EcoCult, a curious, provocative, utterly enthusiastic view into sustainable fashion.