What’s Your Cost-Per-Wear? A New Way to Evaluate Your Closet

Posted November 5, 2013 by in Lifestyle

You paid $50 for your favorite pair of jeans, but if you want to know how much they’re really worth, the sales tag isn’t the only thing to consider. The true price of an item of clothing could hinge on how often you actually slip it on.

Call it the “cost-per-wear” quotient, which you can figure out using simple math: Divide how much an item of clothing costs by the number of times you’ve worn it.

There’s nothing quite as revelatory as taking a cost-per-wear inventory of your closet. You’ll see which items are the sartorial all-stars, the ones you go to again and again—and which are the benchwarmers, the things you keep around but that never see any real action. It might turn out that the $200 dress you’ve worn 20 times was a better buy than the $20 tunic you wore once.

“Cost-per-wear is not only a concept that I share with all my friends and clients, it’s also something I do all the time in my own life,” says personal stylist Lindsay Weiner, who has worked on TLC’s “What Not to Wear.” “It can help you save money by figuring out which pieces are actually the most important to you.”

As it is, Weiner says most of us only wear about 20% of the contents of our closet regularly, though, ideally, that number should be at least 50%.

The next time you’re out shopping, put the theory to the test: Is that trendy top on sale for $19.99 really a total steal? How about that classic trench you think you’ll wear for years to come?

Here, we asked 10 LearnVest readers to tell us which item in their closet has offered the greatest return on their investment—and which has yet to earn its keep.

The Yoga Pants


Name: Kristen Fanarakis
Age: 36
Location: New York City
Profession: Writer, entrepreneur

The Purchase: Lululemon black yoga pants, circa 2010

Cost-Per-Wear: $98/130 wears = $0.75

Buyer’s Remorse—or Worth the ROI? “I’d always been on the lookout for nicer workout clothes, since most tend to wear out easily, and these were the only ones that really made my butt look good—that alone was worth the money to me! I’ve traveled the world in these pants—from sightseeing in Sydney, Australia, to hiking and biking in Northern California. Even with weekly washing, they still look good enough to make the steep price tag worth every penny. Plus, I like that a nice pair of black yoga pants can easily take you from brunch to barre class with a quick accessories swap.”

Our Expert’s Take: “I think this is a great buy. Lululemon is certainly expensive, but it’s quality, so if you are going to wear the pants a lot, like Kristen does, it really makes sense. If you buy a $10 pair of yoga pants, you might have to replace them quickly—and that will add up.”

The Leather Jacket

leatherjacketName: Elaine Wiart

Age: 32
Location: Montreal

Profession: Image consultant and fashion blogger

The Purchase: A Danier leather jacket, circa 2011

Cost-Per-Wear: $292/300 wears = $0.97

Buyer’s Remorse—or Worth the ROI? “This jacket will never go out of style. It’s a reliable, instant pick-me-up in my closet! I wear it all the time during the fall, winter and spring—and it still looks as good as new.”

Our Expert’s Take: “Leather jackets can be tricky. But if it’s a classic lightweight bomber or a blazer, then you’ll likely get a lot of wear out of it, like Elaine does. Just make sure it’s not overly trendy, and steer clear of styles that are sparkly or colorful, which you’ll probably get sick of over time.”

The Sweater

sweaterName: Abbey Duncan
Age: 28
Location: Indianapolis

Profession: Retail planner

The Purchase: Burberry sweater, circa 2007

Cost-Per-Wear: $80/10 wears = $8.00

Buyer’s Remorse—or Worth the ROI? “The sweater was originally $600 and I got it on sale for $80, which was still a big splurge for me. It seemed like a good deal on a well-made sweater by one of my favorite designers, so I didn’t think twice about buying it. But I don’t wear it often. It’s technically a summer sweater, which really doesn’t work with a lot of weather conditions. It’s too heavy for hot weather and too light for cold weather—the temperature has to be just right. Plus, it’s nautical-themed, so I only get the urge to wear it when I’m vacationing by the water.”

Our Expert’s Take: “Just because an item is severely discounted doesn’t automatically make it a smart purchase for your wardrobe. So often we get suckered into buying something because it seems like a good deal, but then it just sits in our closet. So far, this sweater hasn’t been a great buy for Abbey, but she can get more wear out of it by adding a scarf or layering it on top of a button-down for colder weather.”

The Everyday Shoe

brad-hines-shoesName: Brad Hines
Age: 29
Location: Boston
Profession: Digital marketing strategist

The Purchase: Timberland brown leather shoes, circa 2001

Cost-Per-Wear: $60/1,248 wears = $0.05

Buyer’s Remorse—or Worth the ROI? “I’ve worn these shoes about twice a week since I bought them—and no one has any idea that they are a dozen years old. They look great with a pair of jeans or khakis. To keep them looking new, I polish them every six months, and I replace the laces every few years.”

Our Expert’s Take: “Once again, here’s an item that’s simple and classic, the kind of thing that people don’t notice every time you wear it. It’s also smart to extend the life of an item by caring it for it properly.”

The Party Dress

heidi-bad-outfitName: Heidi Bujnowski

Age: 22

Location: St. Louis
Profession: Nurse

The Purchase: Forever 21 tutu dress, circa 2011

Cost-Per-Wear: $40/one wear = $40

Buyer’s Remorse—or Worth the ROI? “What a terrible investment! I bought this dress because I thought it looked fun, like something I could wear out dancing, and it was super cheap. I liked the pretty, intricate fabric on top, and it made me feel like a ballerina. I wore it once and I felt ridiculous. The tutu is so big that I could barely sit down!”

Our Expert’s Take: “This sounds like an impulse purchase, which, as a rule, should be avoided. I always advise that people step away for a day, or put an item on hold overnight, before they whip out their debit card when something suddenly catches their eye. The other thing to keep in mind that when you’re looking for a special-occasion dress, opt for something more basic, and then use fun accessories to dress it up or change up the look for different events.”

The Boots

jackie-cost-per-wearName: Jackie Mikusevich Wessel

Age: 31
Location: San Francisco
Profession: Retail merchant, Gap

The Purchase: Frye Harness Boots, circa 2005

Cost-Per-Wear: $30/80 wears = $0.37

Buyer’s Remorse—or Worth the ROI? “I really wanted Frye boots, but couldn’t afford most styles. But one day I was in the clearance section of DSW and found these for $30. They normally retail for at least $250! They were a little scratched, but I think that just makes them look more authentic. The great thing is that, living in San Francisco, I can wear boots year-round, so I get incredible wear out of them. They make any outfit look pulled-together.”

Our Expert’s Take: “What a wonderful find! A good pair of boots is a wardrobe staple. Depending on where you live, you could wear them half the year!”

The Sundress

clothes-4Name: Lindsay Gardner
Age: 26
Location: Charleston, West Virginia
Profession: Public relations manager

The Purchase: A designer dress from a local boutique, circa 2011

Cost-Per-Wear: $275 / 30 wears = $9.17

Buyer’s Remorse—or Worth the ROI? “I wear this dress everywhere. For work, I’ve paired it with a black jacket and heels and I’ve dressed it down with sandals for a cookout with friends. In the past, I used to purchase anything that fit into some trend at the time, and then the next season, when it was out of fashion, I’d wonder what in the world went through my head! Now, I’m much better at picking out quality clothes, and I don’t mind paying triple digits for something that I’ll wear year after year.”

Our Expert’s Take: “The cost-per-wear for this item may not be the lowest, but the versatility and convenience the dress provides for the wearer definitely makes up for it. And if she’s happy with the purchase—which it seems like she is—that matters a lot too. The great thing about the cost-per-wear method is that it can work for anyone. No matter what you do, no matter what your style is, what’s most important is that you wear what you buy.”

The Suit

darnell-suitName: Darnell Stephens
Age: 31

Location: Oklahoma City, OK
Profession: Teacher

The Purchase: Three-piece black Austin Reed suit, circa 2008

Cost-Per-Wear: $365 / 360 wears = $1.01

Buyer’s Remorse—or Worth the ROI? “I bought this suit from Burlington Coat Factory. Every professional male should have at least one dark suit, and this one is my go-to. I make sure to take good care of it by dry cleaning it about every other time I wear it and hanging it up in a garment bag. And, because it’s a three-piece suit, I can also deconstruct it and wear it different ways to get the best bang for my buck. Sometimes I wear just the blazer or the vest with jeans, or I wear the pants with only a button down shirt and tie. This suit will stay in rotation in my closet until the seams fall out!”

Our Expert’s Take: “A dark, classic suit is the foundation for virtually all men’s dressy attire, so it is definitely worth investing in this piece. A suit can be worn at work and for social occasions, so having at least one is a must for men. And I love that he’s getting more wear out of it by sporting the pieces separately.”

The Heels

img_0984Name: Molly Killeen
Age: 40

Location: Queens, New York
Profession: Baker

The Purchase: Italian heeled oxfords from gravitypope.com, circa early 2013

Cost-Per-Wear: $200/one wear = $200

Buyer’s Remorse—or Worth the ROI? “I haven’t had these shoes for very long, but I already know the use I’ll get out of them will be somewhat limited. I’m a mom, so there aren’t many opportunities to wear heels when you’re chasing babies around. But, to me, it’s still worth it. I’ve been dreaming of owning a pair of shoes just like this for a while, so I snapped them up when I saw them. They’re exactly my style and they’re made of good thick leather with wooden soles, so I know that when I’m ready to wear them, even if it’s years from now, they’ll be just perfect. ”

Our Expert’s Take: “Molly may not be able to wear these shoes everyday, but if she still really loves them and can wear them a few times a year for 20 years, it will balance out. Sometimes you can’t put a price tag on something that makes you feel really good about yourself, though you shouldn’t make a habit of buying clothes to boost your self-esteem or as part of some kind of wish-fulfillment. Still, a feel-good purchase here and there isn’t so bad. In Molly’s case, she says that she might not get a lot of wear out of these shoes because of the heel, so she might consider taking them to the cobbler and getting a thin leather sole placed on the bottom to make them more comfortable for walking.”

The Wrap Dress

stacia-pierceName: Stacia Pierce

Age: 46
Location: Orlando
Profession: Entrepreneur and business coach

The Purchase: Diane Von Furstenberg dress, circa 2012

Cost-Per-Wear: $127/10 wears = $12.70

Buyer’s Remorse—or Worth the ROI? “This staple piece is the best fashion investment I’ve ever made. I can wear it to work events like lunch meetings or speaking engagements, or for special occasions, like bridal showers and dinner parties. Plus, it’s wrinkle-free, so it’s easy to pack for business trips!”

Our Expert’s Take: “Here’s a case where you have an expensive, brand-name dress with a steep price tag, but with every wear you’re getting more of your money’s worth. There’s no set number for what’s a good cost-per-wear, but if you can wear it at least ten times in a year, then it’s a pretty solid piece.”


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