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Cost-per-wear. Part 1: wardrobe treasures

Image: acelebritymag.com

How many items have you had in your wardrobe that you never or rarely wore? I must have sent literally thousands of dollars worth of clothes to charity shops over the last few decades. With this sobering realisation, plus the awareness that I am somewhat sartorially-challenged, I am always on the look out for strategies for better shopping.

One helpful tool is the cost-per-wear formula: you simply divide the cost of the item by the number of times that you are likely to wear it, and decide if that represents good value. That $200 party dress in a striking design? You might be lucky to wear it five times. That's $40 per wear. The $200 classic LBD that you can reinvent with different accessories every time you wear it? You'll probably wear it at least 10 times a year for the next 10 years. That's $2 per wear. The pants you bought on sale for $40, that you only wore twice because they didn't really fit? $20 per wear. Some bargain. Compare that to the perfect $300 pants that you wear 3 times a week for 5 years: at roughly 40c per wear they are outstanding value.

To put it another way, imagine that you actually had to rent your clothes: that your wardrobe was like a vending machine, and you had to pay to get things out. How much would you be prepared to pay to wear an item? 

There are two obvious ways to improve the cost-per-wear of an item. One is to reduce the cost, which we will explore in Part 2. The other is to increase the number of wears an item receives. Here are a few of the qualities that I have found increase the wearability of an item. 

It fits like a dream. The fit should be flattering and let you move freely and comfortably. (Either that, or it can be altered to fit well. Allow for the cost or effort of this in your calculations). I've often posed like a model in the change room, only to get home and discover that I can't sit/bend/lift my arms. Now I practically do a Sun Salute in the change room before I bring an item home. 

It makes you look and feel great. And it should be an instant response. You should look in the mirror and think 'Yes!' If you have to talk yourself into it, put it back. I use the Quick Glance approach; I put the item on, close my eyes, then open them to look in the mirror for just a few seconds. If I don't love it in that time, I know it's not for me. (Anyone peeking in my dressing room would fear for my sanity.)

It has a simple or classic cut. Avoid exaggerated features and fiddly trimmings. A classic style can be worn for decades, and simpler pieces can be more easily combined with a wide range of other clothes or accessories to achieve different looks.

It has great fabric. Natural fabrics tend to wear better and look more polished. Also if it feels great you will want to wear it more often.

It can be dressed up or down. Darker, richer colours or a pattern with a black base will be easier to dress up, while matte fabrics will transition to casual settings more comfortably. I have a black and white silk shirt that I wear with shorts to the beach, with black trousers to work, with jeans to the shops, and out to dinner with heels and a skirt. A simple formula I use is to think of four settings: a picnic, work, lunch with friends and a night out. I only buy items that could go to at least three out of the four. 

It leans towards modesty A slightly longer skirt or higher neckline can make an item appropriate for a wider-range of situations, especially those in which a professional or respectful look is desirable. 

It has lots of friends in your wardrobe. Only take home an item that can be combined with at least 4-5 items you already own. Don't cut off the labels until you have done the meet-and-greet at home. I recently returned a gorgeous skirt to the store after I discovered that none of my existing tops really looked good with it. Some were close, but I've learned the hard way that 'not quite right' = 'never worn'. So back it went.

It can be worn across a number of seasons. Darker colours and patterns including black can easily be combined with tights and jackets for colder weather. Matte fabrics and heavier fabrics will mix more comfortably with heavier winter boots and jumpers than floaty, summery fabrics. 

It has realistic care needs. Will you really dry-clean those trousers? Hand-wash that delicate dress? Iron those fiddly pleats? If the answer is no, don't bring it home. Clothes languishing in the laundry basket are not out earning their keep. 

It doesn't show marks. It's heart-breaking (and costly) to have your pristine clothes ruined by a wine spill or beetroot splash. I never spend much on pale clothes because I'm a klutz and know very well that they'll be lucky to survive half a dozen wears. Dark colours and patterns are much more forgiving.

Finally, and most importantly, you love it! An item can meet every criteria on this list and still leave you cold. If you love an item you will reach for it again and again, while other sensible-but-uninspiring pieces lie neglected in the drawer. When you are in the change room, think about some of your most-loved, most-worn items, and use these as your benchmark - if you don't love an item as much as that, put it back and keep looking. 

Wardrobe treasures will give you years of faithful service and joy. Here is a recent one of mine - a silk dress from Trenery, that ticks all the boxes. And, to make the cost-per-wear even more outstanding, I got it on sale for 70% off! I had a grin on my face for days (unlike the model in the photo, poor possum, but maybe she has her own wardrobe treasures to cheer her up.)

Here's another, from the gorgeous Australian label, Review. It looks equally lovely with flat sandals, strappy heels, pumps and a cardigan, or boots and a jacket. Hurrah!

Any tips I've missed?

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