Cost Per Wear: Is It A Real Thing?

Cost per wear: is it a real thing? I’ve read lots of articles about using cost-per-wear to determine if a clothing purchase is a good value. The basic idea: even if an item is expensive at purchase time, repeated wearings bring the actual per-wear price down to something quite reasonable. The Pretty Planeteer blog has an explanation and examples here

For us math-challenged shoppers, here’s a fun calculator to speed up the decision making.

I love to analyze! (The opposite of my personal philosophy is probably, “Well, that’s the way it is.”) So here’s my tl;dr on cost-per-wear (CPW): The concept is a reasonable one for certain categories of clothing.

A good leather handbag is worth a few dollars. Handbags are such a personal choice, though, and you can rotate through lots of fun, thrifted bags in a year for the price of one “good” one.  It’s hilarious to apply CPW to a super-high-end handbag. Here’s a fetching one for a cool $5,500. If I wear it 7 days a week for 5 years, that’s only Three Bucks a Day for my handbag! But . . . . I know I won’t want to wear the same bag every day for five years, will you?

So Question #1 for you, Do you prefer variety, or one/two higher-end handbags?

Question #2 – What’s the oldest pair of shoes you own and still wear regularly? Mine are probably a pair of Børn ankle boots, about $100, purchased five years ago. They are my best walking shoes for NYC and they look good with all my jeans and skirts.

A couple of cashmere sweaters and a high quality wool coat are the only other items I’d permit myself to spend a bundle on. Cashmere lasts for a long time and keeps its good looks, if washed carefully. A quality coat or jacket will do me for a decade in Florida, and makes any winter outfit look more special.

This classic coat would last me a decade.

After handbags, shoes/boots and coats, the CPW starts to lose its power. For example, I used to think suits should be purchased with the “investment” philosophy. But I never really did get my money’s worth out of the wicked expensive ones. The styles changed just enough that they looked dated, or I got tired of the cut/color long before the CPW was reasonably low.

Everyday pieces — cardigans, shirts, knit tops, skirts, jeans, et al — I just can’t spend too much on these and justify it with a CPW. Consignment and thrift shopping have spoiled me for full, high-retail on these pieces. For example, I’d have to wear this beautiful skirt about 300 times to get it down to a CPW of $5.00. My lovely chevron thrifted skirt gets the job done in two and a half wears.

Love this vintage skirt from Suzanne’s shop, for under $30.

“Try to do quality and cut down on quantity.”

Vivienne Westwood

What’s your take on cost-per-wear and Investment Dressing”?

Stay safe, xo

Wear what you love, always. Here are some goodies to browse:

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  1. Hey, Patti, I’ve actually been doing a series over the past year called “Flashbacks,” looking at items in my wardrobe, featuring all the ways I’ve worn them, and then calculating what my CPW has been. I made it over 60 wears on an expensive pair of Fluevogs (which are pretty close to the only things I buy retail other than glasses and underwear). Figuring out my CPW is just for fun, as I like to see how low I can go!

    I’m also spoiled by thrift store prices, even though I’ve been shopping more consignment this past year. Believe me, people DO buy that expensive sh*t new – because they resell it when they are done! I’ve seen Chanel, Balmain, and all the expensive brands, and I’ve even bought a few of them, but only if I know I’ll be wearing it a ton. I do recommend that people shop second hand for party dresses – there is ZERO point in buying them new when you’re only going to wear them once or twice (I have a wardrobe of simple gowns that I loan out to friends).

    • Oh hey Sheila! Always happy to see you and hear what you’re up to. The Flashbacks are wonderful and you are the best record keeper ever. Love the pink trousers and your v. cool eyeglasses. And you’re a sweetheart to keep a stash of gowns for your friends to borrow. Stay fabulous, xx.

  2. You also can look at what it takes to clean and maintain a garment. Cost per wear goes up if the garment must be frequently dry cleaned.

  3. Had to laugh at your handbag example. I own 3 bags, one of which I’ve had for almost 40 years & have used almost every day in that time. I love good leather bags but never buy them because I can’t stand the hassle of changing the contents over, so they sit in the closet while I grab my trusty fringed hobo bag. I’ve had it repaired & redyed a couple of times, zippers & lining replaced, the stud “feet” on the bucket bottom replaced, the strap restitched. One clue as to why might be in the fact I find the phrase “wearing a purse” really odd. Does one “wear” a purse? I think of them as briefcases, just a mode of transport for all the stuff I carry around, NOT as a clothing accessory.

    As for the rest, I absolutely use CPW in my decision to buy something. I thrift some things but not good clothing — for one thing I don’t have access to good thrift or consignment shops where I live & haven’t the time or patience to make on-line thrifting work for me. I’d rather just spend the money on good clothing when I need it than wander around (even digitally) looking through tons of things I don’t need trying to find the one thing I do. Then again, I’ve never had a job where “dressing for work” meant anything more complicated than jeans & a hard hat, so I suspect my fashion sense may be a little more simplistic than most 🙂 And now I’m retired, those jeans are still the first thing I reach for.

    • Hello Janet and thanks for coming by! Your fringed purse sounds like a treasure. And your outlook on buying good clothing has served you well. Stay safe and well, xx.

  4. I had a wonderful pair of shoes that I re-soled more than once. They were so comfortable. Eventually the uppers also gave up the ghost. Shoes give their all.
    You’re spot-on about suits and such looking out of style because of the slightest details in things like the cut.

    • Good morning TOF, always good to see you. I too have re-soled some favorite boots to extend their lives. I love your observation that shoes “give their all.” Gotta respect shoes for that. Stay well and fabulous, xx.

  5. Great topic to consider!. I agree that coats and shoes are the best pieces to invest in, particularly if you live in a cold winter climate. They’re usually the most expensive pieces in my wardrobe, but they’re key pieces for confort and style, so more an investment than a splurge!. They last even decades, so the CPW can be really low!.
    On the other hand, it’s difficult to find a bag that keeps my interest for such a long time, so I prefer to stay away from the expensive pieces.
    Thrifting has also spoiled me for full prices! ;DDD

    • Hello Sra and thank you for coming over. Yes, a good coat and well-made, comfortable pair of shoes are investments, I agree. And you’re in the “spoiled for full price” club! Have a lovely weekend, and stay safe, xx.

  6. Thanks for featuring my shop here Patti : )

    I do think that CPW is a good way of trying to figure out if I should or shouldn’t buy something. Like Rena I’ll spend money on shoes if they promise not to hurt me and underwear. I just spent some money on some bamboo underwear I’m waiting to arrive. I hope it’s as good as the ratings claimed. 90% of the time the ratings are useless.

    • Hi Suzanne! I will buy good underwear too, and please let us know if the bamboo is comfortable. I trust your ratings! Have a great Friday and stay fabulous, xx.

  7. Patti,

    What a great topic for discussion. I was just thinking along this same line the other day and wondering who is actually still paying full retail for those pricier items. At this point, I still willing to buy quality footwear and underwear at retail (but on sale); the rest, I’m perfectly content with buying secondhand.


    • Hello Rena – your hair looks fantastic! Thanks for coming by. I share your wonder at who is buying $2000 purses or $800 sneakers, but it must be so. I hope you are well and happy, xx.

  8. I have a 13 year old pair of black Born ankle boots that I bought in Provincetown on impulse and have worn the s**t out of, they are great with jeans and skirts. Walked a ton in them. They still look fine! I have to admit I hang onto things a long time if they are right. But ruthlessly ditch mistakes.

    • Hi Ramona, good to see you. Isn’t it great when an impulse buy turns into a stone-cold favorite? And I love this for a style statement: “ruthlessly ditch mistakes”. Stay well, xx.

  9. Thank you Patti great topic to think about. I have found my most enjoyable win win cost per wear items have been spurge accessories that match my personal aesthetic. A beautiful artistic piece of jewelry ,silk scarf or well designed handbag always adds so much joy to an outfit and can be creatively styled again and again to minimize cost per wear.

    • Hello dear Joan and thanks for coming over. You make a great point about how accessories elevate our looks, and have a long life-span! Stay well and safe, xx.

  10. I, too, am spoiled by thrift/consignment prices. Three years ago, I thrifted a made in Switzerland black 100% cashmere coat for $14.90. Soft, warm and light as a feather. The sleeves were a bit short, but my local tailor lengthened them and $25 later, it is a perfect long winter coat! Will last forever (or almost at my age) LOL! CPW is probably pennies.

    • Hi Barbara and thanks for coming by. That is a brilliant thrifting story, the kind that makes us want to thrift right now. What a fabulous coat! Stay well and safe, xx.

  11. Interesting post. I think you can apply CPW to anything you buy, regardless of the cost. If it’s thrifted or high street (do you say that in the States?) and you wear it often it’s even better value and less damaging to the planet than if you buy more and wear less. CPW as an idea is useful to me in that it makes me stop and think whether I really need or want the item amd whether it will have an active life or stay buried n the dark somewhere.

    • Hi Apple and thanks for your comments. I like that you can use CPW to ask “buying” questions about an item. I’ve only heard “high street” from my UK friends but it’s a helpful category. Stay safe and well, xx.

  12. Yeah, that is called blowing smoke up your a**. What a crock! Buy more expensive items of clothing to wear more often? But I buy everything at thrift with the exception of lingerie and shoes. I even bought my one Coach bag at a clothing reseller. I agree with you and cashmere, I wear as much of that as humanly possible.

    • Hi Tami and thanks for coming by. I am a big thrifter too and it does “spoil” you for the shock of retail prices. I hope you’re feeling well and staying fab, xx.

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