Cost Per Wear: My Favorite Approach to Wardrobe Budgeting
I say it all the time — to clients, in blog posts, on Instagram: always buy the best quality you can afford. This previous blog post explains some details to look for when it comes to quality and strategic wardrobe investing but when you’re setting your overall clothing budget or trying to be more intentional with purchases there is another important factor that you should consider along with the best quality you can afford: cost per wear. Whether you are trying to justify spending more than you usually do for a pair of jeans or figure out if you’ll really wear a dress as much as you’d like to, cost per wear is an easy calculation that is customizable to your lifestyle and clothing needs.
Important factors when thinking about how often you’ll wear something include location, occupation, lifestyle and honesty.
Location. Most of us will get year-round wear out of solid denim (versus heavily distressed) so for many of us, calculating an average of once a week, or 52 wears per year for denim is probably a realistic estimate. Some weeks, you might wear the jeans a couple days, others you might skip them altogether — 52 wears is a close ballpark average. I live in Southern California so maxi dresses can be a year-round investment for a lot of Southern Californians. For myself, I calculate a little less than once a week for maxi dresses because when I think about what I wear throughout the year, I will probably wear a maxi dress once a week on average for three seasons out of the year, or about 39 wears per year. If you live in an area with cold winters, you will have a lower cost per wear for a heavy winter coat and should invest in one that will be up to the task; someone who visits the snow once or twice a year and doesn’t need to spend as much on a winter coat to get the needed use out of it.
Occupation. If you’re back in the office and in a business casual environment, you can estimate once a week for a pair of casual work pants and blouses. You can probably go up to a twice a week average for comfortable flats and jackets. Even if you live somewhere where you can’t wear flats year-round and need to wear boots, you can still calculate the twice a week average for work flats because the seasons you are wearing them, you may even be wearing them more than twice a week. Remember, your average estimates should be applied to your own habits.
Lifestyle. Do you live for comfort and athleisure? I completely understand why you might invest in the higher-priced athletic brands to take you from the gym to all the other aspects of your life. Are you constantly on the move for work or travel a lot in your free time? Greater investment in tailored pieces made in comfortable, breathable fabrics makes the most sense.
Be honest with yourself. An important note when thinking about clothing cost per wear is what your habits are. I’m perfectly content with wearing the same dress once a week and styling it different ways but you have to be realistic about what can be done versus what you’ll actually do. If you’ll wear a certain dress once a month a couple of seasons a year, just be honest with yourself when making your calculations. This will help guide you to being more intentional with each clothing purchase.
Below is a table illustrating an example of denim price per wear.
We also need to take both fit and quality into consideration. Remember, you’re going to want to wear those jeans for a couple of years if they fit well so really take the time, as frustrating as it can be, to find a pair that fits you well and makes you feel most yourself.
High cost unfortunately doesn’t always guarantee quality but in thinking about this example, denim in the $100 plus range is more likely to be a higher quality and last through those two years (or more!) of wear and wash, whereas denim in the $30 to $50 range is more likely to fade or thin out after just a few washes so you may not get close to 52 wears, let alone 104 wears out of them. Plus, if the quality ends up lacking for the higher cost denim, brands at those price points often go to great lengths to keep their customers happy so kindly reaching out to the brand or store if the denim doesn’t last may help you recoup your cost in the form of a store credit or return if the quality is subpar by their standards.
A note on special occasions. Price per wear for occasion dresses is always going to be higher, especially if you don’t like wearing the same dress to multiple events. This is where the popularity of rental sites comes into play. I think they’re a great option if you’re standard sizing; unfortunately, there aren't as many choices available in the rental market in specialty sizing such as plus, petite and tall. I also recommend resale and consignment sites such as ThredUp, The Plus Bus, and The Revury for special occasion looks. The purchase cost can be similar or less than rental costs and you can have the item tailored to fit you — and perhaps even be inspired to hang onto it for a future event. Another advantage to resale for special occasion outfitting is that most of these types of clothing items in the resale market are in excellent condition. Many have only been worn once and a ton are still new with tags since retailers often have very strict return policies and return windows for occasion wear.
I always encourage clients to be intentional with any new wardrobe items they bring into their closets. By calculating an estimated cost per wear, you can save on items you may not wear as frequently while freeing up funds for investing in pieces you know you will get mileage out of.