Monday, July 15, 2013

open forum: cost-per-wear

One of the perks of visiting my parents is the unlimited cable. I have been able to watch a few episodes of What Not to Wear this week. One incredibly helpful shopping tool that really stuck with me was B.A.S.E.

B = body appropriate
A = age appropriate
S = situation appropriate
E = expense appropriate

Ask yourself whether the item passes the four tests. (Does it flatter your body type? Is it meant for your age? etc. I think they are pretty self explanatory, but see season 8, episode 6: Jordan)

I personally find the most difficulty with the E: is it expense appropriate? 

Suppose you find a dress for $80. In order to get the cost-per-wear down to $1.67, you would have to wear the dress twice a month, every month, for the next two years. 

But this gets me to wondering: what is a reasonable cost-per-wear? The idea behind cost-per-wear is that you could buy a skirt at Target for $20, but if you only wear it twice, that puts the cost-per-wear at $10. However, if you buy a skirt at J. Crew for $80, and wear it twenty times, that puts the cost-per-wear at $4. Essentially then, the J. Crew skirt was the better purchase since it had a lower cost-per-wear.

Let's go back to the $80 dress in question. I myself couldn't imagine actually wearing a dress twice a month, every month, for the next two years. So suppose you only wear the dress once a month for the next two years. That puts cost-per-wear at $3.33. Is that a reasonable cost-per-wear? 

Do you think about cost-per-wear? It seems like a really tricky concept to master, so is it easier to just decide based on your budget? Suppose your monthly budget is $100. Does purchasing an $80 dress simply mean you can only spend $20 more that month?

While I was in undergrad, I put a price point on every type of item. I wouldn't buy any top that was more than $20, wouldn't spend more than $30 for pants, etc. While I am no longer committed to this approach, I often find myself wondering about whether there is any merit to it.

How do you decide what is a reasonable amount to spend on a particular item?


  1. I've been thinking about this a lot lately, too. I think I used to have more of a limit, like I really hated to spend more than $10 on a top, but I'd maybe spend $15 on a skirt or sweater, and maybe up to $20 on a dress or jeans or shoes. Then I realized that I had a closet full of things that didn't really go together or fit properly, because I was just buying stuff that was cheap. Cost per wear is a good way for me to think about things, and I try to get down to $1, but I'm not super legalistic about it, especially if I really like something and it fits well. Last summer, I splurged and spend $50 on a pair of flat sandals. I felt ridiculous at the time, but I'd been looking for a comfortable pair for a few years, and finally found them. I think this was a good decision. I'm sure I've worn them 50 times. For shoes, I need to remember that it’s better to spend more on a cute and comfortable option, instead of buying 5 pairs that are all “not quite right”, just because they are $8 at Target.

    I do think there are exceptions to the cost/wear guideline. Fancier dresses are a good example where I will spend more. I only need a "formal-ish" dress a few times a year, but I'm usually with the same people, so I don't want to wear the same dress every time. I still try to buy something on sale, but the cost/wear on those dresses is probably going to be much higher than it would be on an "every day" item. On the other side of the spectrum, I think about purses. I don't switch out super often, so I might carry the same purse for 4 months straight. I'm still not going to spend $100 on a purse. For me, it's pretty easy to find a cute/usable purse for less than $30, so why would I pay more?

    Apparently, I write really long comments on your posts!

  2. I wish I had an answer to this, but I haven't figured it out myself yet. I don't have set points for items, but I think that having a budget with a finite end does help cut down on the endless needless spending. Of course I still buy dumb things I shouldn't have, but in the end, I think about it more before I buy it. I hope I'm getting the cost per wear down on items! I know that actually does happen for certain items, like my purses and shoes. I have a rotation of like 3 purses. All were fairly expensive, but because I love them so much, I don't buy a new Target purse every other trip. that helps!

  3. Hmmm... this really interesting to think about it. I definitely still do the thing where I just decide $20 is too much to spend on a shirt and $30 is too much for pants, but I'm trying to get out of that mentality. Cost-per-wear might be a better thing to think about, but $80 is still $80, which is what I struggle with. But I did recently buy a really nice bag from Fossil to replace 2-3 bags from Target that had fallen apart over the last couple of years. I carry the bag everyday so I'm guessing my cost-per-wear would be pretty low for that!

    Also, I LOVE What Not To Wear! It's such a treat when I catch an episode because we don't have cable :)

  4. Surprisingly I have never thought about it this way! I'm thinking it could help me in some cases, but could get me in to trouble in others, haha! It proves that things you wear every day like watches and handbags are worth the extra money!

    Xo, Amanda

  5. This is a great question. As I am finding out what works for me and my lifestyle, it's not so much about price anymore, but about quality or how much I will actually wear something. It doesn't matter how much it costs (well within reason), if I love it I will consider buying it. If I am not in love, I think really hard before purchasing it (even if it's on the sale rack for $5).

  6. For me setting a limit to an item doesn't seem to work. I am learning that if you spend more for an item, the piece of clothing is typically higher quality and better fitting. I am really bad at clearance sections and buying it because it is cheap. I am really tying not to do that anymore and end up with things I would not have bought in the first place.

    I try to buy pieces that I can wear year around (except heavy jackets/sweaters) and items that hopefully are gaps in my closet or something that I can incorporate easily into my closet.


  7. I will need to keep the B.A.S.E. method handy. The thing that I struggle most with is the "age appropriate" part- I mean, I'm turning 31 this year! I need to stop shopping in the junior section :( I don't ever think of "cost per wear" because that's too much planning ahead for me. And i really don't care about the cost per wear. I just want to think of how the item will fit into my lifestyle and would I love it regardless of cost? I don't want to buy things just because they're cheap, I want to really love them. Like, I'm totally willing to buy a super awesome fancy $200 dress that I'm IN LOVE with and that I wear once, and the cost per wear will be $200, but that's okay because I love it. I'm not going to force myself to wear it five times a week just because it was expensive!

  8. Awesome questions, Kate. I'm not really one who thinks about cost per wear when I'm shopping. I'm super frugal (grad student budget...grrr) so I tend to buy things that are inexpensive (usually $10ish for a top, $15 for a skirt, $30 for pants/dress, no more than $40 for shoes...just as a general guideline). I used to buy things just because they didn't cost a lot, but I have gotten so much better and am choosing to buy only things that work for my body, my lifestyle, etc. I love my closet so much more now than I did a year or more ago, and I'm having less rotating of things in and out of my closet. I really like the B.A.S.E. method you outlined. What would we do without What Not to Wear?! (<--my new URL!)

  9. I think about cost per wear when it comes more to bigger ticket items... Is this $200 well made classic purse a better buy than a $30 trendy Target purse? Probably so if I'm going to carry it for 5 years versus one season. Of course there have to be some exceptions... I had to have a cocktail dress for an event a few years ago and found one on super sale, but it was still $60. I've worn it twice, so the cost per wear is pretty high, but still better than if I'd dropped $150 on a special event dress. I used to be really bad about buying things just because they were cheap and on sale, but now I try to go for items that I really love. I still try to stick to the same budget, but I find myself with more items I truly like. The quantity may be less, but the quality and wearability is better than before.


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