Confessions of a Shopaholic: How 20 Somethings Can Figure Out Their Cost Per Wear When Shopping!

After a recent shopping trip to Target where I literally made myself guilt-sick from buying two articles of clothing I probably could have lived without, I started thinking more and more about what makes a garment worth buying and… whether I had a serious shopping problem. Turns out as I was sulking on the couch I started to think about a couple of different wardrobe/shopping dilemmas.


How much should you spend when shopping for clothes? Or, is it how many clothes you can get for your money? Is it about the quality? Or, is about the quantity? These thoughts brought me back to an episode I once watched on “What Not to Wear” where they discussed a little thing called “Cost Per Wear”.

Cost Per Wear is something we (especially 20 somethings who have the tendency to buy ridiculous trends and/or going out apparel) should all use when purchasing a new item. When Gen Y ‘ers ask “how do I transition my wardrobe?” I start by telling them my biggest two pieces of advice. The first being, start investing in key quality pieces that will last. The second being, save your money on trendy items that last approximately one season by purchasing cheaper clothes. So how do you know when it’s time to spend money and when not to? Well, that’s when Cost Per Wear comes into play.

Still a bit confused? I see it like this…

A 20 Something Wardrobe Case Study (working from Indiana University this week has clearly gotten to me)

Erin decided to do some shopping on She’s undecided on whether to buy “MIA lace up boots” for $102.

Aren’t they gorg.?

MIA boots

The Problem: Erin normally doesn’t allow herself to spend $102 on any boot or shoe. She’s a 20 something blogger working as an entrepreneur on a startup company called Righting Style. Her income isn’t exactly thriving… just yet. As a fashion blogger, she knows there are much cheaper boots to be had in stores like JC Penney, DSW, etc… However, none of these boots are identical to the MIA’s, as perfect, or the same rusted color she’s dying (no pun intended) to have.

1/2 the price at DSW


The Hesitation: Erin loves (and I mean loves) everything about this boot: the feel, the heel height, the color. She’s been looking for this style for quite some time and knows that they can belong to her in 5-7 business days if she just clicks the little shopping cart on the right hand side of her screen. She also knows that she can afford the boot as long as she buys only one item without adding four other cheaper items to her cart. But is it worth getting just one item? Or, should she go for quantity and purchase four pairs of something else? Oh, the agony!

The Solution: Erin calculates the CPW (cost per wear).

Cost / Number of times you’ll (actually) wear it = CPW

$102 / (2 – 3 times per week throughout the winter months November-February “48 times total” over approximately 2-3 years) = a rounded $2.13 per wear

The more times you wear it, the more the CPW goes down.

Worth it?  Absolutely!

Why? Erin will wear these boots so often (2 – 3 times per week) that she will need a higher quality boot to last her approximately 2 – 3 years throughout the winter months. With a CPW of $2.13, you can’t beat it!

A 20 Something Wardrobe Case Study #2

Erin has saved up some money for some serious spring fashion and has decided to kick off her shopping trip by heading to the local Kenwood Towne Center Mall. The mall has everything from Madewell and Anthropologie to H&M and Forever 21.

The Problem: Erin has a budget of $250. She knows (from past experience) that $250 can go a very l….o….n….g way especially when shopping at H&M and Forever 21, but she also has realized their quality isn’t exactly long-lasting. Yet, if she shops at Madewell or Anthropologie it’s possible that she’ll only bring home 2 – 3 new spring items.

The Hesitation: Erin has always shopped for the deals and tried to get the most bang for her buck, but after watching three of her shirts shrink after just one wash she’s trying to transition her wardrobe into more lasting quality pieces. Should she buy 2 – 3 pieces from Madewell/Anthropologie or should she get 8 – 10 pieces from H&M/Forever 21? Oh, the agony!

The Solution: Erin calculates the CPW (cost per wear).

Cost / Number of times you’ll (actually) wear it = CPW

1 item @ $125 / (25 wears over the next 4-5 years “around 6-7 wears per spring/summer season/per year”) = a rounded $5.00 per wear



1 item @ $25 / (5 wears for 1 spring/summer season before it shrinks or looks worn) = a rounded $5.00 per wear

hm dress

Which is worth it?  The higher cost!

Why? Even though they are technically the same CPW, there is a difference. You might be able to have five new spring fashion items for the cost of one, but these items will only last you one season. This means you’ll be spending more and gaining less by having to replace all of the items next year. If you invest in the higher priced item you will have one quality piece that will last at least 4 – 5 years and will be able to build on top of your wardrobe the following year rather than starting over.

1 coral color pant @ $188 / (10 wears for one trendy spring/summer season ) = a rounded $18.80 per wear

coral pant


1 coral color pant @ $15.80 / (10 wears for one trendy spring/summer season) = a rounded $1.58

coral pant 2

Which is worth it? The lower cost!

Why? You might be confused after reading my explanation for the other example above. However, in this particular case the coral pant is clearly a trendy item that might be out of style or on the “DO NOT WEAR” list for next spring. With that in mind, the coral pant is something that you should not invest in, even though it is currently popular. Being able to build a young, yet professional 20 something wardrobe requires knowledge of the current fashion trends and recognizing when you’re looking at one. Dressing like a young 20 something doesn’t mean you can’t buy a good fashion trend but just don’t spend an arm and a leg on it. The $1.58 CPW is a way better deal than the $18.80 for one spring season clothing item.

The variable cost (life of a garment) is important to calculate into the CPW. The lifetime of a garment can be determined by how long the item will be “in style” or how long “it will last”.

Look out for our “Cost Per Wear” column coming every other Wednesday!

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