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Understanding Cost Per Wear

It’s easy to fall into the habit of over-consuming.

Sometimes it’s boredom or lack of planning.

Constant sales, non-stop Instagram ads, TikTok, and Influencer culture certainly don’t help. They are exhausting, expensive, and contribute hugely to unnecessary spending.

I grapple with this in my work.

My job is to provide a service to our wide-reaching readership, offering vetted recommendations, tips, and guidance.

I want your wardrobe to be thoughtful, well-loved, and bring you joy.

And you won’t achieve that if your closet is filled with stuff you don’t wear. 

If you want to focus on conscious spending and only buy items that will add value to your wardrobe, there is one formula to help determine if a new purchase is worth it.

Cost per wear is an equation you can quickly use to determine an item’s actual cost and value.

Understanding Cost Per Wear

Understanding Cost Per Wear and How to Use it When You Shop

Before we jump in, it’s important to remember, this is not an exact science.

Rather, this is another guideline to help you determine if you’ll get value out of a purchase or not. 

Let’s talk about the basic formula. 

Simply take the cost of the garment and divide it by the estimated amount of times you would wear it. 

You can use this formula and manipulate it many ways. 

Seasonal Pieces

For example,  let’s take this white blazer from LOFT. It was a best seller last Spring.

Originally priced at $140, but remember LOFT always has a promotion, so we never pay full price.

It’s was on sale for 50% off, making your upfront cost $70.

For this exercise, let’s assume you need some kind of tailoring, so we’ll add $30 for maintenance.

Then, I always base the times per wear over the corse of one season or one year, using the assumption that the first year of an item is when you’ll wear it the most.

Because this is a white blazer, it’s a seasonal wear.

So if you wear the blazer 20 times your first season with it, your cost per wear is $5.

Not bad, and an excellent value when you compare it to the cost of other, more expensive white blazers.

Your cost per wear will continue to drop over each additional season, and by the time you’re ready to move on, you know you got your money’s worth.

Now, let’s talk about those pieces in our wardrobes that don’t owe us anything. 

Seasonal Basics 

These sandals from Tuckernuck were another best seller last spring and summer.

I wore them almost every day.

They are a testament to buying better neutrals and focusing on quality over quantity.

They are perfect with shorts, linen pants, and dresses.

For this equation, I put it at 48 wears, averaging four times a week for the summer.

My cost per wear for the summer is $3.22.

Even if I wear them half that amount next summer, my cost per wear will be pennies.

THAT’S an excellent buy.

Year-Round Better Basics

When thinking about clothes as an “investment,” there are a few things to consider.

Mainly your lifestyle and the longevity of the item.

For example, pre-Covid, I was traveling for work monthly all around the country for work, I bought a pair of black Theory pants in a seasonless fabric and timeless cut.

I wore them as separate trousers, and paired with their matching blazer to make a suit. So they were in constant rotation.

In the equation above, I added an extra $70 maintenance cost to cover alterations and dry cleaning.

And I break down the cost per wear over the four years I wore them. Three times a month, for four years, is 144 times.

That gives us a cost per wear of $2.30.

I ended up using these so much, I bought two pairs, so if one was at the cleaners I could still make an outfit.

Today, this wouldn’t be a wise purchase for me because my life is much more casual, and I’m not on the road. BUT, it still have and wear them and they don’t owe me anything.

Thoughts on Special Occassion Purchases

For big moments in your life, like being the Mother of the Bride or Groom, I think you should set a budget and buy the most special, stunning dress of your life. 

You’ll wear it once and who cares.

But if you’re a wedding guest, or attending a gala, this is were I try to save.

Instead, I either look for something less expensive (there are great brands at Nordstrom that make dress for under $300) try to find something fabulous on sale at Off 5th or a similar store, or, more likely, I use Rent the Runway, which is fabulous for everything from formal gowns to fun, novel tops for girls weekends. 

How to Use Cost Per Wear with Designer Buys

This is particularly helpful when making a considered purchase.

A splurge may be a smart purchase if you get real use out of it. 

This is why understanding your personal style is so important. 

I’ve been on both sides.

My Louse Vuitton wallet, which I’ve used for the last eight years and is still pristine, was a fabulous splurge.

I use it every day, and it’s maintenance-free since you can take it to the store to be cleaned and fixed at no extra charge.

It’s at zero cost per use.

But the sky-high nude Louboutins I got for Mother’s Day one year only lasted three wears before I realized I could not walk in them and didn’t really want to be 6’3.  

What is a “Good” Cost Per Wear?

There is no right or wrong answer. 

Instead of focusing on a specific number to hit, determine a comfortable range and look at your TOTAL wardrobe cost.

Related: Where to Splurge, Spend and Save in Your Wardrobe

For example, I’m fine with the white blazer above equaling around $5 per wear (or more) because (1) I know it’s less wearable because it’s seasonally specific and (2) while it might be on the high side, other items in my wardrobe bring my total cost down. 

Meaning, I’ll wear that white blazer with a pair of jeans.

And because I wear jeans several times a week, all year long, I pay more for better quality and get a longer life out of them, and they still work out to be a few cents per wear by they are donated.

So I’m pairing a higher cost per wear blazer, with a lower price per wear jean and the two costs average out. 

This is what my mother refers to as “Megan Math” so I hope you’re following along. 😉

Cost Per Wear Helps Avoid Wasteful Purchases

I find this to be most helpful when you want to avoid wasteful purchases.

I use it in my head all the time when I’m pulling together round-up or outfit posts.

That’s why you’ll never see me feature a $300+ print blouse or an expensive trendy item.

You simply won’t wear it enough. 

It’s essential to know how to wear something before making a purchase, big or small.

And why we repeat best-selling items throughout our How to Wear and Outfit Formula series so you can see the frequency of use and the actual value of our reader favorites. 

Because if you impulsively spend $40 on a sale skirt but you never wear, that will end up being the most expensive item in your closet. 

Understanding Cost Per Wear
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MEET THE AUTHOR

Megan Kristel

Megan Kristel is an entrepreneur, working mom, and former personal stylist. Tired of the one-dimensional portrayal of women online, she founded The Well Dressed Life as a resource for other professional women.

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Janice

Monday 16th of January 2023

A few seasons using the Stylebook app was eye opening for cost per wear as it tracks it for you. My best items are consistently jeans, shoes, bags and jackets. Which are actually some of the more expensive items to purchase.

Occasion dresses are my worst purchase, but I’ve got better at ensuring I accessorise with more wearable shoes, bag etc rather than the really impractical items that will only ever go with that outfit.

Adding in the cost of tailoring and dry cleaning is interesting. I do most of my own alterations but dry cleaning often puts me off a purchase.

Karole Sherlock

Monday 16th of January 2023

After reading your "cost to wear" post months ago, I decided to track my somewhat capsule closet. We live in a moderate PNW climate, so we really have only two seasons -- cold months and warm months.

Currently I have a carefully curated wardrobe of 17 tops and 17 bottoms most of which work together for various outfits and occasions. The goal is to wear each item twice per month, although it's a loose goal and the number 17 does not actually divide by 2 (Nana numbers, LOL). Anyhow, this method is working because it controls new purchases and ensures everything I have currently is used and enjoyed. LOVE the cost to wear concept and LOVE your posts.

Tere F.

Monday 16th of January 2023

Thanks for the excellent explanation, Megan. As a math-challenged retired teacher, I found this easy to follow and apply! Whodda thunk it?! 😉

Wendy Bennett

Monday 16th of January 2023

Hi Megan! Thank you Thank you Thank you!!!🤗 Todays info on cost per wear just “blew my mind”!!! I am a new member & am absolutely LOVING all your info/posts/emails, loving the wardrobe challenge(& understand I will be repeating this many times 😁)…todays’ info is a total game changer for me that has me very excited to get back to the editing in my closet and an entire new clarity on the big “why” and how to make permanent changes in my buying patterns!!! Breaking my life-long pattern of sale purchases followed by the “nothing to wear” syndrome has been a very real challenge…this morning reading (& Re-reading) your cost per wear process just totally provided the break through I desperately needed!!!! And given me much needed permission to let those (newly understood most expensive items) that I thought were a great deal a toss to the donate pile!!! A sincere THANK YOU for all you are doing & providing to this fabulous community you are growing…your impact and life-changing work is deeply appreciated !!!!!!!!!!!!

Linda E

Monday 16th of January 2023

GREAT INFO!!! I think they should teach this in school.

Tracy Gray

Saturday 2nd of July 2022

This was a great article! I never really considered the cost per wear. As I read the article I realized that I have made purchases that basically were one and done pieces which of course at the time I didn’t think about. Being able to not only have great outfits ensuring that you will literally get your moneys worth is important. Thank you and happy holiday!!

Marlene Baldwin

Thursday 30th of June 2022

My mother taught me this concept 50 years ago, and i use it to this day. I always think of the sale dress you buy because it’s on sale and never wear….still a high cost per wear….. as opposed to the white blazer you speak of that you wear and wear…..