Is it worth the splurge?
With all of the style delights constantly tempting us on our instagram feeds, it can be hard to determine which items are worth dropping serious dollars on, and which items are less worth it in the grand scheme of things. The easiest way to figure out if an investment piece is right for you is to calculate the item’s cost-per-wear, which gives you an idea of the item’s true cost. If something has a low cost-per-wear, invest. If the cost-per-wear is high, opt out. It’s simple math. Here’s the formula:
Cost-per-wear equals the item’s price divided by the total number of times you wear it.
Easy, right? Put simply, the more times you expect to wear something, the lower the cost-per-wear will be. Essentially, you’re being realistic about how long something is going to last in your life and wardrobe, and how long you’re even going to want it to last. (I’m looking at you, Juicy sweatsuits.)
Now that you know the basic formula, you have to make sure you’re accurately understanding the item’s price (not overlooking any hidden costs explained below) and realistically estimating the number of times you’ll wear the item.
Here, I’ve created a simple cost-per-wear calculator that you can use any time you want to determine whether an item is worth the investment. Just enter values in each box and the CPW will be indicated at the bottom! However, if you’re struggling to come up with a realistic estimate for how many times you’ll wear something or all of its associated (often hidden!) costs, keep reading below for a detailed breakdown!
Are there hidden costs?
This may seem straightforward, but there’s more to the price of an item than what’s printed on the tag. Many purchases come with all kinds of hidden costs that are often overlooked. Does this item require tailoring to fit properly? Does it need dry-cleaning after each use? What about additional maintenance (like heel repair or sole replacement)? Especially if you’re looking at a big purchase (a Chanel Bag or a Gucci blazer, for example) you want to make sure that the price you’re inputting into the above cost-per-wear formula is the real price of the item that reflects all of the money you expect to spend on the item during its lifetime.
On the flip side, you might consider whether the item you’re purchasing could be resold. For example, some luxury items like Chanel bags retain their value if well-cared-for, and can be resold for considerable sums on sites like ebay, The Real Real or Vestiaire Collective. If you know you can resell the item when you’re sick of it, you can subtract a conservative estimate of its resale price to the purchase price, further driving down the cost-per-wear.
How many times will I wear this?
There are lots of things to consider when trying to estimate how many times you’ll wear a fashion item. To start, is the piece something trendy that you’ll be sick of in a year or do you anticipate wearing it for years to come? Do you consider it to be versatile or will you only wear the item for a certain occasion? Is it restricted to a particular type of weather or season? Do you expect your body (or foot) size to stay the same over the next several years or might you lose or gain weight that would prevent you from using the item? (That’s especially helpful to consider if you plan to have a baby in the next few years or, in my case, if you just had a baby recently.) Additionally, take a look at the quality of the fabric and stitching: do they look like they’ll hold up after multiple wears and washes? Aside from fabric materials and other quality signals you can observe, this is often where the brand name comes into play. Certain brands have long-respected legacies for a reason—because their merchandise stands the test of time (and wear). Think about all of these questions when determining how many times you realistically expect to wear something.
Calculating the cost-per-wear
To see the cost-per-wear analysis in action, let’s take a very simple example: Let’s say you find a trendy dress at Zara that costs you $60 and you only wear it twice before getting sick of it and/or before it starts looking haggard in the wash. Despite the relatively low up-front cost, the cost-per-wear ($60 divided by 2 wears) equals $30. By contrast, take a $600 dress that you’ll reasonably wear once a week every fall (September through December) for the next two years. That’s 36 times over its lifetime. Let’s also assume that you need to dry cleaning the dress every third wear and the dry cleaning cost is $15. The cost-per-wear of the $600 dress is $21.67 ($600 plus $180 in dry cleaning divided by 36 wears). In this example, the dress that was ten times the purchase price actually had about two-thirds the cost-per-wear which is the true cost of the item. You’d have to buy eighteen $60 dresses (spending $1,080) to get the same 36 uses as the $600 dress.
Cost-per-wear evaluation definitely skews in favor of timeless, well-made items that are going to last you forever, and make you happy forever, too. Think classic blazers, seasonless dresses, high-quality coats and luxury handbags. Fleeting trend items, regardless of how frugal their pricetag might seem, are likely to have a high cost-per-wear in the long run. (Though there are, of course, exceptions!)
Is all this to say that you shouldn’t enjoy a fun high street purchase even when you know you’ll only wear it a few times? Absolutely not! Life is short, enjoy that feathered mini skirt from Topshop. However, if you’re someone who looks at a pair of $1,200 luxury boots and can’t figure out whether they’re worth the hefty price tag, this framework can be quite helpful. Below, I’ve listed several of my personal favorite investment pieces—the items I’ve worn so many times over the years, their cost-per-wear value can be counted in pennies.
So, the next time you’re having the “is it worth it?” discussion inside your head, remember to really be honest with yourself about the cost-per-wear. This will result in smarter spending decisions overall, and a wardrobe you’ll love for a long, long time.