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Cost-per-wear. Part 2: spend less, look great

In Part 1 we looked at improving the cost-per-wear by choosing clothes that could be worn often, going to lots of places through many seasons. Now let's consider the other variable: lowering the cost of the item. There are several ways that we can reduce our outlay on an item, but there are a few common traps that we need to watch out for:


Being lured in by the price "It's only $20!", you think. That's still $20 you have thrown away if you never actually wear it. Do your cost-per-wear calculation even if the price is low. Or ask yourself “if this was twice the price, would I still buy it?" It's not about cost, it's about value.


Being seduced by the label Even the most rational of us can fall victim to a little aspirational fantasy now and then, and the prospect of sporting a designer label can be alluring. Ask yourself "if this was from Target, etc would I still buy it?” 


Being tricked by the relative price difference Our brains calculate value by comparison with an existing benchmark or expectation (there is a whole field of neuroscience that explores this, to understand and influence human decision-making.) Several times I've been drawn in by the ‘70% off!’ excitement, cooling down later to discover that I have spent $100 on something I’ll rarely wear. Ignore the markdown difference and do your cost-per-wear analysis on the sale price. Is it still a bargain?


Buying for less

1. Shopping the sales

These days it's easy to get on the mailing list for your favourite brands and get a heads-up on sales. Shopping the sales is always a gamble, though. I've picked up some amazing treasures, but it often means trawling though masses of clothes that have been passed over for good reasons.


Have you had much luck with internet shopping? My results have been very mixed, with at least ½ to ¾ of my purchases being a disappointment, when the colour, fabric or fit have not been what I hoped for. It’s a love-hate relationship – I get sucked back into it, then get let down, so I swear "never again!"…then a few months later I spy something that looks good, and around we go again.


Internet shopping only works for me when I stick to brands that I know suit my body shape, and look for clothes with a lower number of ‘friction points’ – skirts, stretch fabrics, looser blouses, scarves and so on. I’d love to hear your tips on this topic!


2. Thrift shops 

When dropping in with donations I can never resist a peek around, and I've found some of my favourite clothes in humble charity stores. As with shopping the sales, you have to resign yourself to hunting though a lot of dross, but there can be great treasures to be found. Some items will have been rarely worn (or even have the labels still on), but check carefully for stains, pulled threads, tears or dodgy zips. Some flaws can be easily remedied, like an undone seam or missing buttons, but be honest about whether you have the skills, time and inclination to undertake more serious repairs or modifications.


3. Buying cheap

Some of the clothes that win me the most compliments are ones that I've picked up in chain stores like Target, with people asking “Ooh, is that a (insert designer name)?” I've also found some fabulous items at markets. It is possible to buy cheap clothes, jewellery, shoes and bags that look expensive, if you look for the following qualities:


A good fit A perfect fit will immediately raise the tone of an outfit. Only buy clothes that fit well or can be easily adjusted. Factor alteration costs into your cost-per-wear calculations.


Simple design Shoddy workmanship will be much more apparent on a complicated design. With jewellery, simple beads will look less obviously cheap than a gaudy number with fake stones. 


Solid colours or simple patterns As a general rule a simple pattern with a few colours will look more elegant than a very busy, multi-coloured one. Avoid pictures, words and logos on clothes as they too easily look tacky.


Neutral, darker or muted colours These colours will be less obtrusive, fading into the background or letting you draw attention to another aspect of your outfit. Black and tan almost always look elegant together.


Natural fabrics These generally appear of a higher quality than synthetics, and tend to maintain their looks after repeated laundering. Plastic jewellery generally looks cheaper than glass, wood or shell, and leather handbags and shoes usually look and last better than synthetics. Don't even get me started on fake leather clothes. 


Matte finish Although the gentle sheen of silk can look polished and pricey, most other shiny fabrics look cheap and obviously synthetic. Patent leather shoes will show every scuff mark, and can't be touched up with shoe polish. Avoid 'bling' such as metal hardware on bags, as the cheaper versions of these will look tatty in no time. 


Minimal or changeable trimmings Low quality or fussy trimmings will quickly lower the tone of an item. Tacky plastic buttons, chains and sequins almost always look cheap. Only buy an item if the offending trimmings can be removed or changed. Good quality buttons or belts can quickly elevate a simple item. 


A little more coverage One way manufacturers lower the cost is by using less fabric. Choosing clothes that have a slightly longer skirt or sleeve, or a higher neckline can create a more elegant look, not least because they allow you move freely without worrying about revealing more than you wish. There is nothing elegant about continually tugging at your clothes to keep them in place.


Any other money-saving tips? I'd love to hear them!

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