Cost-Per-Wear: How This Trick Can Dramatically Change Your Shopping Habits

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We’ve been talking about cost-per-wear at The Mom Edit for more than a decade now. It’s the simple calculation used to figure out if a piece is, quite simply, worth the cost.

The concept of something being “worth the cost” is very subjective and, ultimately, a deeply personal one. It depends on a person’s lifestyle, their vibe, their values, and how they prefer to spend their time — and money. 

Cost-Per-Wear: The Trick To A Sustainable Clothing Budget

While cost-per-wear can help us stick to a budget, it’s also the best way to reduce waste and clutter (both mental and physical) by cutting down on unnecessary purchases. Shopping with cost-per-wear in mind is the first step in creating a closet that actually works.

So if you’ve ever stood in front of a full closet feeling like you have ‘nothing to wear’…shopping with cost-per-wear in mind can help.

How To Calculate Cost Per Wear

Cost-per-wear is simply adding up the number of times — based on lifestyle and preferences — you think you’ll actually wear a piece, then dividing the cost of that item by the projected number of times worn.  

$Cost of Item / # of Times Worn = $Cost-Per-Wear

I actually find it helpful to calculate the cost-per-wear of the first year first…and use that as a level-set. If you only end up wearing it for a single year…is it affordable? Is the piece still worth it? 

Once I’ve looked at the first year, I then calculate cost-per-wear of additional years only if it meets one or more of the following criteria:

  • the item is made from something fairly durable (natural fibers — cotton, denim, cashmere, wool), 
  • is somewhat trend-proof, 
  • is supremely practical (or useful)
  • I love it so much it literally makes me swoon (brings joy)

For the purpose of cost-per-wear calculations, I almost never calculate beyond three years. Not because I don’t keep things longer than three years (I definitely do), but because it’s harder to judge what I’ll actually be wearing that far in the future. So — from a practicality standpoint — I want to make sure I can afford the near-term cost-per-wear.


Cost-Per-Wear Examples From My Closet

ItemInitial CostNumber of Times Worn in First YearCPW Year 1CPW Year 2CPW Year 3
Sweaty Betty Ski Pants$36832 – 40 times$11.50 – $9.20$5.75 – $4.60$3.83 – $3.06
Naadam Cashmere Sweatpants$17564$2.73$1.36$0.91
Danner Hiking Boots$36015$24$12$4
sample cost-per-wear calculations of a few of my most-worn pieces

*I’ve owned my Sweaty Betty Ski Pants and my Danner hiking boots for four years now, and they’re still going strong. The cost-per-wear for each is currently $2.30 and $3, which means that in another year or two, their cost-per-wear will be under $1.

How To Accurately Estimate “Number of Times Worn”

In order to estimate — with any sort of accuracy — how often you’ll actually wear something, I find it useful to make A Pie Chart of Life (I KNOW — just go with me here).

To create A Pie Chart of Life, simply estimate the number of hours you spend each week doing…something. My category list often includes things like ‘working out’ or ‘working at home’ vs ‘working in office’ and ‘running errands’. These activities can be as narrowly or as broadly defined as you’d like — there’s no right or wrong answer. Just create categories that feel particularly helpful.

Since the pandemic has changed everything, let’s dive into a more interesting, pre-pandemic example. I tend to do one pie chart per season, since my activity list often changes with the seasons. So. Here are my list of categories and a rough estimate of hours for a typical (pre-pandemic) winter:

ActivityHours Per Week
Working Out5-7
Working From Home20
Working From The Office20
Kid Duty (Pickup/Dance/Tennis/Running Errands)6
Skiing16
Apres-Ski4-8
Date Night (or going out with girlfriends)3-4
Evenings at home/lounging16-20
Momming at home (cooking breakfast, lunch, dinner, bills, picking up the house, etc)16
Cost-per-wear helps us stick to a budget + reduces waste by cutting down on unnecessary purchases. Shopping with cost-per-wear in mind is the 1st step in creating a closet that truly works.

The first thing I notice is that the bulk of my hours are spent at home: Whether I’m momming at home (this is the cooking and cleaning and bill paying, etc.,), spending an evening cuddled up with the fam, or working from home…I spend a decent amount of time at home in the winter. So for cost-per-wear calculations, anything that I’ll honestly be happy wearing around the house is a safe bet for my lifestyle. Which means, YES: spending money on cute sweatpants does make sense. (I’d also throw workout gear into this category as well.)

The second thing I notice is that we spend a ton of time skiing and doing the après-ski thing. So yeah — cute (and functional) ski gear also makes sense for my lifestyle.

Lastly, pieces that I can wear to work aaaand maybe transition into a night out are also solid choices. But the fancy, date-night only pieces are clearly NOT my top need.


Cost-Per-Wear Calculations In Action: 2 Real-life Examples

Example 1: Affordable Sequin Cocktail Dress vs. Expensive Silk Slip Dress

The sales around this time of year are always nuts. And since my birthday is in the winter, I often find myself looking for…something pretty. While my actual ‘find’ — the thing that draws me in — may change each year…it almost always starts with some sort of gorgeous, on-sale dress. (Cue ominous music…remember my pie chart of life?)

So. For argument’s sake, let’s use this cute sequin dress. It’s currently on sale for $123 — down from $410. Sooooo tempting, right?

OK. Let’s pretend I have a birthday event coming up (ignoring the pandemic for the moment), and maybe I’d also wear this dress for Valentine’s Day…or perhaps for NYE next year? But that’s pretty tough to say, so let’s just assume that I’d, most likely, just wear this dress twice this year. Based on The Pie Chart of My Life, that’s all I can safely commit to.

So the cost-per-wear of this dress in 2021 would likely be $123/2 = $61.50.

If I have nothing else to wear to my birthday event…$61.50 might be worth it. It’s in the ballpark of the cost of renting a dress. So now I need to decide if this is the type of dress I need in my closet– is this the type of dress that will prevent me from buying additional dresses in the future?

We already know — from My Pie Chart of Life — that my slice of time for wearing fancy dresses is pretty small. But it does exist. So. How often will I actually wear this dress?

This is where personal preference comes in. Here are a few questions I ask myself when calculating cost-per-wear beyond known events:

  • Can I wear this piece in different seasons?
  • Can it be layered? Can I warm it up by layering it over a turtleneck or will it fit under a sweater, a blazer or an other jacket?
  • What kinds of shoes/boots can I wear with it?
  • Can I warm it up with tights?
  • Does it require a special bra or underwear?
  • Would I be comfortable wearing this in the summer?
  • Can I think of 10 times — right now, off the top of my head — that I’ll want to wear this piece in the next three months?
  • Does this item make me feel amazing?
  • Does it spark joy to wear it?

Right away, after running through this checklist, there are a few red flags: I don’t typically wear sequins in the heat of summer, no matter how fancy the occasion. And because of the sleeves, I can’t really layer anything over the dress. And I certainly can’t think of 10 times (off the top of my head) that I’d want to wear this dress.

Upon further consideration, I realize that my Fleur du Mal silk dress — purchased three years ago for a whopping, not-on-sale $485, could probably be worn in any event that this $100 sequin dress could be worn. In fact, if I go through the above checklist…the much more expensive dress — with its timeless style, and layering ability — is, in the long run, a much better buy.

Cost-per-wear helps us stick to a budget + reduces waste by cutting down on unnecessary purchases. Shopping with cost-per-wear in mind is the 1st step in creating a closet that truly works.

Since the silk slip dress can be worn in so many situations, the cost-per-wear after a single year of use could be as low as $42 per wear…while the (initially) more affordable sequin dress would likely have a cost-per-wear of $61 after the first year.


EXAMPLE 2: Affordable Black Cashmere Halogen Turtleneck vs. Expensive Black Cashmere Turtleneck

Most of the time, cost-per-wear can be used to justify the purchase of a more expensive, higher-quality item. But sometimes it acts as a level set of what constitutes ‘good enough’. Take two of my favorite black cashmere turtlenecks, for example.

I picked up Halogen’s Black Cashmere Turtleneck last year for $98 (not on sale). I’ve written about it extensively — it’s one of my favorites. I wear this turtleneck sweater tucked into jeans, over leggings, knotted with a skirt, and as my skiing midlayer every weekend. I’ve easily worn it 50 times this winter alone. Even if I stopped wearing it right now, the cost-per-wear after a single year would still be as low as $1.96.

Cost-per-wear helps us stick to a budget + reduces waste by cutting down on unnecessary purchases. Shopping with cost-per-wear in mind is the 1st step in creating a closet that truly works.
Wearing Halogen’s cashmere sweater ($98) as a midlayer

Naked Cashmere also makes a great turtleneck sweater – for $265. It’s sustainably made, thicker, and has a slouchy, oversized shape. I love it, but since the shape is shorter and boxier, AND it’s made from a thicker cashmere, its use is more limited. It won’t fit under my ski bibs; it doesn’t look as good with leggings, nor does it knot with a skirt. (It does, however, look amazing with jeans.) So the number of times I’ve been able to wear this piece (so far) is closer to 30. The cost-per-wear (if I stopped wearing it right now) is $8.83.

Cost-per-wear helps us stick to a budget + reduces waste by cutting down on unnecessary purchases. Shopping with cost-per-wear in mind is the 1st step in creating a closet that truly works.
Naked Cashmere’s Black Turtleneck Sweater, $265

Clearly, the Halogen black cashmere turtleneck sweater is, hands-down, the better buy. (That said…I do own both because I tend to wear black cashmere turtlenecks alllllllll winter, and simply needed more than one. But not everyone is as committed to The Steve Jobs Vibe as I.)

But ultimately, the reason I was able to keep both was because of my checklist. Here are the checklist items that were a solid YES:

  • Does this item make me feel amazing?
  • Does it spark joy to wear it?
  • Can it be layered?
  • What kinds of other pieces can I wear with it?
  • Does it require some special bra?
  • Can I think of 10 times — right now, off the top of my head — that I’ll want to wear this piece in the next three months?

Because I was able to — easily — come up with at least 10 times that I’d wear either sweater…I was able to keep both. (For fun, I played around with getting a different color in one of the sweaters…but the other colors didn’t perform nearly as well as the black when I ran through my checklist.)


Going Forward: When To Calculate Cost-Per-Wear

I firmly believe that going through a mental cost-per-wear calculation before each purchase is invaluable — even if it’s just an inexpensive Target purchase! Really forcing yourself to think through a piece’s value in your specific wardrobe is the key to building a closet that works for you. It’s the best way to prevent that feeling of ‘nothing to wear’ while staring at a closet stuffed with clothes.

Reducing the amount of un-worn clothing in our closets makes it easier (and more joyful) to get dressed in the morning, and is simply better for our wallets, our sanity and our planet.

Why Cost-Per-Wear?

Not only is the calculation of cost-per-wear the best way to stick to a budget while building a closet that actually works for your lifestyle…it’s also an important step in reducing the amount of waste we generate.

Did you know that the fashion industry emits about the same quantity of greenhouse gas emissions — per year — as the entire economies of France, Germany, and the United Kingdom combined? And that the fashion industry accounts for a whopping 20% of the wasted water worldwide?

Even worse, much of the clothes we buy ends up in landfills. An old 2015 study found that we tend to wear pieces on average only seven times before getting rid of them. So if the average is seven…that means that half of our clothes are worn only a few times before getting tossed.

That’s why, bottom line, if you can’t immediately see how you’d wear a piece at least seven times (I like ten)…take a pause. That doesn’t necessarily mean you shouldn’t buy it, it just means that it’s worth a little extra thought. As trends and styles change, as your lifestyle and body shape changes…your closet does go through transition periods, and while in transition it IS hard to accurately figure out if you’ll wear something ten times. But still: If you can’t immediately come up with ten possibilities…pause. Take another hard look at your closet. Try some stuff on. Think.

Putting Cost-Per-Wear To Use In Your Closet

OK. Want to get started using cost-per-wear? Here are the steps I use:

1. Create Your Own Personal Pie-Chart-of-Life

As discussed above, start by creating a pie chart based on the activities you spend the most time doing each week. And don’t worry about making sure that the hours all add up perfectly — we’re just looking at an estimate. If this activity takes longer than 10 minutes…well. You’re probably over-thinking.

2. Identify Which Pieces You Currently Own That Have the Best Cost-Per-Wear

The pieces you wear the most will tell you something about your lifestyle. And if your most-worn pieces don’t make you feel amazing…these are great candidates for upgrades.

Bottom line: any piece that already has a good cost-per-wear and brings you joy can be considered a ‘gold standard’ in your closet. These are pieces you can compare new purchases to.

3. Pull Together a Set of Cost-Per-Wear Questions

These will likely change, depending on the piece, but here’s a list of questions I almost always go through:

Questions To Ask Before Purchasing

  • Does this item make me swoon with happiness?
  • Is this item supremely practical (or useful)?
  • Is this item made from natural fibers (cotton, denim, cashmere, wool)?
  • Does this item fill a hole in my closet (or do I already have something that works)?
  • Do I consider this item a forever piece, or am I looking for something trendy and fun for now?
  • Is this item sustainably made?
  • Is this item from a Black-owned business or small, woman-owned business?

Questions to Ask Before Ripping Off The Tags

Some of my questions really can’t be answered until I try a piece on…and most I have to try on in my closet, with all of my other existing pieces.

  • Does this item make me swoon with happiness?
  • Can I think of 10 times — right now, off the top of my head — that I’ll want to wear this piece in the next three months?
  • Can I wear this piece in different seasons?
  • Can it be layered? Can I layer something over AND/OR under it?
  • What kinds of shoes/boots can I wear with it?
  • Does it require a special bra or underwear?
  • Do I have pieces in my closet already that work with this new one?
  • Can this piece be dressed up?
  • Can this piece be dressed down?
  • Is this piece actually comfortable?

4. Calculate Cost-Per-Wear Before Every Purchase

Because part of cost-per-wear isn’t just about budget — it’s also about reducing our carbon footprint — calculating cost-per-wear becomes important for every purchase you make…not just the expensive ones. In fact, calculating cost-per-wear for inexpensive purchases is just as important: it’s too easy to be lured by a sale price.

Bottom line? Be picky. Be thoughtful.

xo,

S

Oh hey, Pinners…

Cost-per-wear helps us stick to a budget + reduces waste by cutting down on unnecessary purchases. Shopping with cost-per-wear in mind is the 1st step in creating a closet that truly works.

18 COMMENTS

  1. This is a fantastic post. I love how helpful it is, the case studies are spot-on, and it focuses on things I really care about (budget AND sustainability) while still being about style and including pictures for inspiration. Thank you!

  2. One more thing I try to ask myself… If I buy this thing (the sequin dress is a good example), am I reducing the number of times I’ll wear something else I already own (like the red slip dress)? You can try to estimate the cost per wear when you purchase an item, sure. I can say that I wear black dress pants 20 times a year. But if I buy a second pair of black dress pants, I should probably now assume they will each only be worn 10 times. A new purchase can sabotage the cost per wear you *thought* you would get from an item you already own.

  3. I’m adding this article to my bookmarks…it’s so good. I can see myself returning to this again and again as a reference. Thank you so much for this thoughtful, much-needed post, Shana!!

  4. I have read lots of bloggers’ thoughts on cost-per-wear, but this is the most helpful one. I love the idea of making a pie chart of how many hours you spend in various activities. Valerie’s comment was also really, really smart – is a new item sabotaging the cost-per-wear of something I already own (I am often guilty of this!).

  5. Cost-per-wear and “there will be other sales” are the only things that have stopped me from completely devolving into an impulse-buying machine this past year. Loved this article and how in-depth you got with it. I will definitely take away some of these techniques and use them when I’m weighing whether to buy anything.

  6. Really like this post. I have been binge watching Amy Smilovic ( founder of Tibi- amazing designer) style classes on IG- she started doing them weekly at the start of the pandemic. Instead of cost per wear, she has created a whole dialogue centered around creative pragmatism. She also gives great substantive advice on how to see new modern shapes and how to successfully incorporate them into real life. I love her!

  7. The pie chart concept is great, but I’m laughing because the first place I saw it was in this “find your style” book my mom had in the 90s. It was all about creating a capsule of power suits with mix and match scarves and blouses- so, workwear. They introduced the pie chart concept with Work/Shopping/Leisure categories or whatever. Then they said well if you DON’T work, of course you wouldn’t need all the suits and there was a different pie chart for a SAHM but it was a total afterthought with no outfit examples. Major shade being thrown!

  8. This is so well thought out and easy to understand…I love everything about it! In college I used to calculate CPW based on how many free drinks on a night out it would take for a particular dress or top to pay for itself! Your method seems much more my speed these days 😉.

  9. Bringing mindfulness to fashion! Love it. This is one of the best pieces you’ve ever done, Shana, with great visuals and charts to support the message. Thank you for helping us reduce clutter and carbon emissions while staying stylish!

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