Why I Don’t Buy Into “Cost-Per-Wear”

“Cost-per-wear” is something I’m coming across more and more, and I’m not sure I buy into it.  Mostly, I think it’s just another roundabout way to justify spending money.  Here’s why…

What is “cost-per-wear”?

Basically, it works like this: You purchase an item of clothing (or an accessory), and each time you wear (or use) it, you divide the original purchase price by the total number of times you’ve worn it.  That dollar amount you come up with is your cost-per-wear.  Pretty simple, really.

So, for example, if you spent $100 on a pair of shoes, and you’ve worn them 20 times since buying them, you’ve spent $5 per wear.  Makes sense, right?  Of course it does, it’s basic math you can do on your cell phone’s calculator in your head.

You can also estimate your cost-per-wear for an item you’re looking at buying.  Key word: estimate.  You can look at the cost, divide it by the number of times you think you’ll wear the item, and come up with your estimated cost-per-wear.

Reality, or simply a justification?

Well, I suppose it’s both really. I mean, the more you wear something, the more value you’re getting out of it, both in terms of your purchase price, and the value of that piece to you personally.  If you carry the same purse every day for an entire year, and you spent $20 on it, the cost-per-wear is minimal, and you could use that knowledge to justify spending more than $20 on a purse you’re going to “wear” 365 times.

And right there is the justification aspect of it. Cost-per-wear is a reality, but you can also use it to justify spending more money on something you know you’re going to use or wear often.  And that kind of justification is actually a good one, because you know you’ve already gotten your money’s worth out of a similar item.

It’s certainly easier to justify having spent a lot of money on an article of clothing that you think you’re going to wear it often.  It’s also easier to think in terms of cost-per-wear when it comes to buying things you don’t need, especially when they’re on sale.  But that’s where it becomes pure justification.  When you’re looking at price tags and thinking, “well, if I buy this and wear it 5 times it’ll be just $22.50 per wear, which really isn’t that bad”, you’re using cost-per-wear to justify the purchase.  And that’s bad.

Of course, it’s hard to tell what the cost-per-wear is until you’ve actually purchased (and worn) the item. So really, I think you’re far better off looking at the actual item cost instead of justifying spending a lot (or even a little) money on something by saying, “well, but if I wear it just 5 times, the cost-per-wear is only $32.99.”  Seriously.   If you’re using cost-per-wear to justify spending any amount of money, chances are, you don’t need to be spending the money, and you don’t need whatever it is in your closet.

And this coming from someone who used to be able to justify nearly any purchase.

Here’s where it gets really screwy.

Some people take it as far to say that the $100 item actually becomes a $5 item once you’ve worn it 20 times. No joke, I’ve actually seen that sentiment before, followed by a smiley-faced note saying it’s “so cool” how “that” works.

Sorry, folks, but $100 spent is $100 spent no matter how many times you wear something.  I hate to break it to you, but you don’t get money back each time you wear something.  The money that left your bank account, stays out of your bank account.  An item doesn’t magically become cheaper the more you wear it.  Nope.  Chances are, it’ll lose monetary value, but the value to you might actually increase with wear.

But wearing your $625.00 Louboutin pumps 10 times doesn’t suddenly transform them into shoes that cost you $62.50 and put that $562.50 back into your bank account.  Nope.  Cost-per-wear doesn’t work that way.

Cost-per-wear is not an excuse to purchase something.

I know, I alluded to it before.  But I’m saying it flat out.  Right now. You shouldn’t be using your estimated cost-per-wear to justify spending any amount of money on something. That’s not the point of cost-per-wear, and all that using cost-per-wear as a justification is going to do for you is drain your bank account.

Cost=per-wear can be used to justify an expensive item, but it can also justify a cheap item just as easily (if not easier).  It’s one thing to say, “the cost-per-wear of this $100 pair of shoes is only $10 if I wear them 10 times”, but it’s far easier to say, “this dress doesn’t quite fit me right, but it’s only $3, and if I wear it twice, that’s just $1.50 per wear” and use that super-small number to justify the purchase.

Bottom line?  If you’re going to use cost-per-wear, you need to be smart about it.

How to evaluate cost-per-wear smartly.

You can use cost-per-wear to make smart purchases. You can look at items you wear often and what you paid for them, figure out the cost-per-wear, and then use that to determine how you spend your money.  Items that are definitely you in terms of style might be worth looking at from a cost-per-wear standpoint.  And, if you come up with a number that makes sense to you in terms of cost-per-wear, then it might make purchases easier to make.

For example, I know that I’d wear the hell out of a studded motorcycle jacket–I have quite a few variations of moto jackets right now, and could easily replace 2 of my really cheap ones with a single high-quality one without feeling guilty.  So if I came across one that I loved I could look at the actual cost, and then think about my maximum cost-per-wear amount to see if it would be a smart purchase.

Classic wardrobe pieces are also often ones that looking at cost-per-wear makes sense.  Why?  Because those classic pieces are the ones that never go out of style, so usually purchasing items that will stand up to lots of wear over long periods of time makes sense.  And let’s face it, often, those long-wearing pieces often cost more money.  So making sure that you’re going to get a good value on your dollar makes sense, especially if you’re shelling out a lot of those dollars on one single item.

But don’t forget, you still have to take into account what you’re initially spending, and make sure you can afford that. Obviously.  Looking at my moto jacket example above, I might find the perfect jacket for me, but if it’s $3,000 it doesn’t matter that I’ll wear it 120 times (or more), making my cost-per-wear just $25.  I still can’t afford $3,000, perfect jacket or not.

But cost-per-wear doesn’t really matter.

Let’s face it, if price is something you’re concerned about, the cost-per-wear doesn’t really matter in the end.  If you’re shopping around for the best deals before you commit to buying something–comparison shopping, finding bargains, no impulse purchases, and using coupons–chances are, you’re already getting your money’s worth out of the things you buy because you’re being smart with your spending to begin with.

If you wear things in your closet “to death”, then (again) you’re also getting good bang for your buck, and cost-per-wear doesn’t matter much either.  If you’re able to wear items until they are no longer wearable, then the value you’re getting likely surpasses what you spent on the item.

And if you’re the type to splurge on items “just because”, chances are, you just aren’t concerned about cost-per-wear.  You want something, so you buy it, that’s it.  Cost-per-wear is more than likely insignificant to you, and won’t matter if you start looking at it.

The same goes for you folks who buy items and then just let them sit in your closet.  You’re not bothering to evaluate cost-per-wear as it is, so why does it matter?  It doesn’t.

What are your thoughts on cost-per-wear?

Had you heard of it before now? If not, it is something you think you’ll start looking at in terms of your closet and buying new things, or do you think it’s just another way to justify purchases?

Do you currently evaluate cost-per-wear? If so, are you finding it changes how you spend and/or what you buy?  What’s been your best buy to date in terms of cost-per-wear?

Either way, chime in here or over on the Suburban Style Challenge Facebook Page!



39 comments for “Why I Don’t Buy Into “Cost-Per-Wear”

  1. Christin
    August 24, 2012 at 2:15 PM

    I don’t really care about cost-per-wear. If I like something and don’t have something like it already and have the money to spend on it, I’ll buy it. If I don’t intend on wearing something multiple times, I wont buy it. I have never calculated how much something is and decided if it would be worth it based on cost-per-wear. That seems like a ridiculous way to justify anything. I hate it when “thrifty” shoppers do this. That’s not thrifty.

  2. August 24, 2012 at 2:27 PM

    Ah you bring up a good point I didn’t even touch on: buying something similar to something you already have because you’ve used cost-per-wear to justify the purchase. When you do that, you are probably cutting into the amount you’ll be wearing both items, which means your cost-per-wear of both go UP. Something else to think about.

  3. Jenna M Wood
    August 24, 2012 at 3:32 PM

    I don’t really pay much attention to pricing for that exact reason. I choose things that will be worn more than once, yes, but I also choose based on the comfort/how flattering it is/can it be worn through seasons, etc.

  4. Mel
    August 24, 2012 at 3:47 PM

    I never really thought about it to be quite honest. The way I look at it if I buy an expensive item and know I am going to get a lot of use out of it, it is worth it to me. For example, I spend a lot on jeans but I only buy two pairs of jeans instead of 5 cheaper ones.

  5. August 24, 2012 at 4:14 PM

    Makes perfect sense. No point in buying something just because it has a good estimated cost-per-wear if it’s not something that fits your or is comfortable!

  6. August 24, 2012 at 4:15 PM

    Makes perfect sense! That’s the same reason I invested in a pair of classic black leather pumps when I graduated college. They still look like new and I’ve worn them a ton of times. A cheaper pair would have had to be replaced already at least once, no doubt.

  7. August 24, 2012 at 5:02 PM

    I think it makes sense if you’re buying something that you’re going to wear a lot of times and you’re not buying more of the same item, like if you’re buying a coat, a basic black leather jacket or something like that. I don’t mind spending a little more to have more quality because I’ll buy only one and I’ll wear it a lot of times! But it’s just a little more 😉

  8. Teresha
    August 24, 2012 at 5:03 PM

    It’s been so long since I bought myself some new fun clothes (besides underwear) that I can’t really comment. But I get the gist. Next time I see a new Coach bag, I’m going to explain to my hubby that I’m going to get tons of mileage wear out of it!

  9. August 24, 2012 at 6:38 PM

    Wow, are you sure that you didn’t go to the U of Chicago for your degree in Economics. You got this concept NAILED! I love your explanation taking someone throught the exact logic. You make it so easy.

  10. August 24, 2012 at 7:33 PM

    I like to justify the length of time it might be in my closet. So I buy high quailty on somethings to ensure they last a long time, and go el cheapo on the trendy this season only stuff.

  11. August 25, 2012 at 11:08 AM

    I buy items smartly and only purchase items I know that i will wear. To me, that is an investment and I’m not going to break it down into a dollar figure for each time I wear it – it just seems like a silly justification. If you know you want something and are going to wear it, make the investment. If you aren’t sure, don’t use justification methods just to feel better…

  12. August 27, 2012 at 10:26 AM

    I agree that spending more for quality on an item you’re going to wear often makes sense, but I still don’t break it down on a CPW basis (or estimated CPW) to justify the purchase. Quality is quality, and sometimes it means paying a little more for it.

  13. August 27, 2012 at 10:26 AM

    Let me know how that goes 😉

  14. August 27, 2012 at 11:43 AM

    Haha thanks Shelley! <3

  15. August 27, 2012 at 11:44 AM

    Makes perfect sense! I tend to do the same.

  16. August 27, 2012 at 11:44 AM


  17. September 3, 2012 at 5:50 PM

    Smart post. I think you nailed it when you said it comes down to if you’re using Cost Per Wear to justify spending money “just because”. I can appreciate Cost per Wear some reasons though- for example, spending more for jeans that really fit me well or for a nice leather purse that I know will last forever vs. spending on a cheaper item that will wear out faster/doesn’t fit me as well. But all that that really helps me do is decide NOT to spend money on cheap items and to save for quality items. Loved this post!

  18. September 4, 2012 at 10:03 AM

    Thanks! I agree with you as well. Sometimes, more expensive things make sense, as does figuring out CPW. But more often than not, it just doesn’t make sense and ends up being an excuse.

  19. Nicole
    November 26, 2012 at 10:40 AM

    I think CPW is over-simplifying the process of shopping (which is one of my most hated activities). I know there are somethings I am going to have to pay more for, because the cheap stuff just doesn’t last. When I barely get a month of wear from the $10 shoes and get a little over a year from the $50 shoes, I’ll give in and pay the extra, because in the end, it IS cheaper. It’s really about weighing costs, quality, and necessity. The one shopping rule I like is the 30 day rule. If you just HAVE to have it, put it on a wish list and wait 30 days before you let yourself purchase the item. A lot of times, you find that as the days progress, you really didn’t need it or want it.

  20. November 26, 2012 at 11:11 AM

    I love the wishlist idea, and it’s something I’ve been doing as well (yay Pinterest!). It makes things so much easier, and totally cuts down on impulse buys! And quite often, it results in getting things cheaper, either because they’ve gone on sale, or you’ve gotten a good discount code.

  21. September 5, 2013 at 2:20 PM

    “And, if you come up with a number that makes sense to you in terms of cost-per-wear, then it might make purchases easier to make.”

    This is how I’ve been making CPW work for me, and the number stays low. I stay well aware of initial cost, actual value (is this well-made? timeless?) and how much use I think I’ll get out of it. Reduced the number of novelties in my closet rather nicely. Everything has been worn at least once, and one item I haven’t been enthusiastic about may get an alteration to make it more useful. (Unfortunate side slits? Turn them into gores!)

  22. September 6, 2013 at 12:06 AM

    Awesome! I definitely know what you’re talking about.

  23. Robyn
    October 14, 2013 at 1:24 PM

    Here is the other side: I was exposed to CPW in a discsussion about cheap (not necessarily inexpensive) clothing.
    Someone could not believe that a second hand wardrobed person such as myself would spend, gasp, $95 on one pair of shoes.
    That was in 1998. I’ve had them resoled three or four times, new straps once. I’m still wearing them. Let’s say they have taken $250 to purchase and maintain. I wear them 300 days out of the year. CPW is one half cent.

  24. October 14, 2013 at 3:25 PM

    That’s a perfect example of using CPW smartly, and not simply to justify a purchase!

  25. Judy Thomas
    October 9, 2014 at 6:04 AM

    I think that no matter how many times you wear something, if you love the item and feel that you look good and feel comfortable wearing it, then it pays for itself 🙂

  26. Stephanie
    January 15, 2015 at 12:16 AM

    I use cost per wear to determine what types of items are worth buying in a higher quality. I can see which items I have used well by looking at both CPW and the total times the item was worn. Then when it comes time to replace an item, I can decide to use the same/similar quality brand, or if I need to find something of better quality that will last longer. I can also see trends of which items I wear less often and may not want to put any more money into. This works well for me because I only have a few high-quality basics that last a long time. For example: I purchased a pair of summer shoes 1.5 years ago for $41.50. They now have an irreparable hole in the toe, and need replacing. At $0.16 per wear, they’ve been a great value monetarily. However, they are retiring at only ~259 wears they have needed repair more than once. Considering that I do not want to replace my summer shoes every 1.5 years, and that I did receive what I consider a good value at that price point, I have decided to find a higher quality/longer lasting shoe and spend more money on the replacement pair. Hopefully I will have chosen a brand that delivers a longer lasting shoe, which will balance the extra expense. If this next pair does not last as long for the money, this should be apparent in my CPW calculations.

  27. January 15, 2015 at 2:03 PM

    Yea, that makes sense.

  28. January 25, 2015 at 11:01 AM

    I like your take, in your entry on CPW, where you look at another option for spending the money. Very interesting, and very smart. Thanks for stopping by!

  29. vrkelley
    February 15, 2015 at 1:26 PM

    Great Blog! When I started monitoring CPW about 7yrs ago people thought I was nuts.

    Now, instead of buying 4, I buy one item that I absolutely love. My clothing cost are about half as much…even though prices went up!

  30. vrkelley
    February 15, 2015 at 1:28 PM

    …and the clothes I buy are actually worn…not just stuffed into the closet and forgotten.

  31. February 16, 2015 at 3:24 PM

    Very interesting!

  32. February 16, 2015 at 3:24 PM

    And that’s the key!

  33. Melodie
    June 11, 2015 at 10:21 AM

    I track my purchases and how many times I wear them – by doing that over the past 2 years, I can see what my target price should be for many items – ie, I know now never to spend more than $20 on a top – I ruin them before they are “amortized.” I also will not spend over $90 for a pair of shoes – same reason. I also learned that spending $40 on a great pair of jeans really works for me, since I can wear them so many times before they are worn or I am sick of them. I shop second-hand, so tracking my cost per wear really does make sense for me – it needs to be cheap if I plan on rotating it out quickly, but I can also justify grabbing that Diane von Furstenburg dress for $40 since I will wear it to death!

  34. June 22, 2015 at 2:35 PM

    That makes sense, and I kind of do the same thing. Years ago I had a pair of boots I’d bought at Payless for $11. I wore them for years, and they were my go-to black boots for everything from work to going out. It was a hard pill to swallow when it came time to replace them, because I knew I wasn’t going to be able to find something that was such a good deal, both in terms of initial investment and longer-term cost.

    However, I still don’t consider CPW when making new purchases, and don’t agree that “if you wear a $100 item 10 times it’s like it cost you $10”, because that’s just silly.

Comments are closed.