Cost per Wear: rethinking the price of clothing.

cost per wear

You’ve decided to create a sustainable wardrobe. Congrats! So you go online, start clicking around for a responsibly sourced and produced brand, and then – AHHH! – the prices…a little piece of you dies and gives up hope.

Start by taking a deep breath. This journey is about changing how you think about clothing.  Take it one baby step at a time.  Start with Cost per Wear.

What is Cost per Wear?

Simply, it is the total price you pay for an item divided by how many times you will wear it. This little bit of mental math is a great way to steer yourself towards that green lifestyle. 

Let’s practice!

You’re out shopping.  And that cocktail dress on the sales rack looks enticing.  $75 after discount? It must be a deal!  Leopard print.  Well, I’m sure I’ll wear it to at least 2 parties.  $75 divided by 1 wear = $37.50 per wear.

Maybe try again.

Here’s a shirt like one that you already wear, just a different color.  You wear it at least once a week, and have for about a year.  It’s not on sale, and costs $85.  $85 divided by 52 wears =  $1.63 per wear! Now that’s a bargain.

cost per wear

How many times are you going to wear that? Honestly?

The hardest part is being honest with ourselves. It’s so easy to lie about how many times wear those new shoes we had to have, or that cute top.  Never the less, we all do it.  It’s okay.

Start easy and think about clothes you have bought in the past.

The last time you bought a blouse, did you wear it twice, and now it hangs in your closet? Perhaps passed over every time for another one that fits better? Maybe it cost you $100.  $100 divided by 4 wears = $25 per wear. Ouch.

There’s those jeans you love. You wear them every Saturday.  You bought them at Buffalo exchange a year ago for $30.  $30 divided by 52 wears = $0.58 per wear.

You probably already have items like this that you can find a great cost per wear analysis for, and start identifying what kinds of clothes you actually gravitate towards.

Coffee photo created by freepik -

Invest in quality, not quantity.

In my post about the value of quality, I talk about how paying more for a higher quality item saves you money.  Seems counter intuitive, but better quality means each item lasts longer, which means less shopping over the long term.

Situation A.

Let’s say you go shopping twice a month.  You spend $300 on each trip, buying an average of 4 items on each trip. (These numbers may go up or down based on your own spending habits, but the concept remains the same.). Annual Expense: $7,200.

Each of those items is of low quality.  You get maybe 20 wears out of them and already they start falling apart (we’ve all had this happen!).  You paid $75 a piece.  $3.75 per wear per item. Not terrible. But not great either.  Then you have to get more clothes to replace the ones that wore out.  It’s a cycle of planned obsolescence, and it works.

Situation B.

Photo by Sayo Garcia on Unsplash

You go shopping once a month, and spend $200 on a single item.  That single item is high quality.  And you enjoy wearing it.  It’s going to last you years.  Let’s say you wear it 3 months of the years for even just 5  years.  $200 divided by 450 = $0.44 per wear.

Here is where the compounding happens.  You can wear only so many clothes.  There is a limited number of hours in a day; days in a week.  When your clothes last a long time, your closet builds a stock of items that fill up more of your life’s time, to the point when your schedule is full.  At that point, it doesn’t make sense to buy more clothes. Annual Expense: $2,400 to start.

Your $7,200 a year becomes $2,400 a year becomes $0 a year.

high quality clothing
Photo by Sayo Garcia on Unsplash

Making the most of most options.

Still not comfortable with the price of those hand knit socks or that fair trade scarf? You’ll get there.  Build up to it.

Part of my daily uniform at the writing of this post is a pair of Wrangler jeans that I bought at Target for $30.  I’m aware that modern denim is not one of the most eco-friendly materials.

But hey, I was on a tight budget when I bought them…10 months ago.  And I wear them 6 out of 7 days of the week.  Let’s see that’s about 257 wears. $30 divided by 257 wears = $0.12 per wear!

And they are still going strong. With proper care,  I only just patched the first hole with sashiko embroidery.  Who knows how many wears I will get out of them. How you wear something is just as important as where it comes from and how it is made.

Got Time? Make your own!

If you’re handy with knitting needles, a loom, or a sewing machine, consider making your own clothes.

You can find high quality materials much cheaper than the same materials in ready-to-wear form.  And while it can take more time, you end up with a finished product that is customized to your own tastes and fit.

The other part of my daily uniform at the writing of this post is a green sweater that I knit with using Blue Sky Fibers Woolstock yarn. 

I spent about $90 total, and it took me three months of on-again-off-again knitting.  I’ve been wearing it for four months at least part of every day.  $90 divided by 120 wears = $0.75 per wear.

green sweater
I just love this sweater.

You’ve got this!

You can start using cost-per-wear in your shopping decisions right now. I know you can do it!  This is a great easy step in changing how you think about clothes.  In the long term, buying quality really does save you money.  Even if you can’t afford those high quality pieces yet, how many times you wear something adds to its sustainability value.  And if you’ve got the skill, make your own clothes, really maximize on saving the planet by saving your wallet.

Leave a comment about a clothing item you have with crazy low cost per wear.  Share this post with your friends and see what they have to say about cost per wear. 

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