Cost per wear – what we can learn from men

Back in the crap old 1980s, when clothes still cost actual money, ‘cost per wear’ was a phrase you often heard in relation to clothing.

I wonder if anyone takes any notice of this any more? In the UK, the cost of clothing has effectively halved in the past decade, and women now routinely cheer themselves up with new clothes on a weekly, even daily, basis. But it wasn’t always this way, and the truth is, it can’t continue.

China and India – the future world leaders – are at some point going to turn around and bite the West in the ass and bang will go our source of cheap clothes and cheaper labour. And right now, with the move to biofuels taking land away from food production, recent snow in China ruining the crops and a recession (or shall we pretend it’s a slowdown?) in the US, everything in the world is about to get more expensive – especially food and fuel, as China sucks hard at the world economy.

Clothes won’t be hit first, but they might be hit hard, because, when it comes down to it, clothes are still a luxury item and none of us actually needs new ones. They may be a luxury item we’ve gotten used to having, but having whatever we want whenever we want it might just be a habit we have to unlearn.

If we go back to only being able to afford a few items of clothing a year, cost-per-wear might once again reveal its usefulness in calculating how much you should really pay for something.

Take a posh frock, for instance. By posh, I mean really posh – ground-sweeping posh. Seriously, how often are you going to wear one of these? Even if you live this lifestyle, which most of us don’t, if a dress is a real show-stopper, everyone notices it the first time you wear it. How many times before it becomes old hat?

It is nearly always a better option to hire a posh frock for a black-tie ‘do’ than to buy one, otherwise the cost per wear works out at hundreds of pounds per evening. And when you calculate how often you could have worn that quiet little black dress, or ‘smoking’ suit for evening, or how useful that good winter coat would have been, or how many books you could have bought, or evenings out you could have had – all for the same money, the waste becomes truly apparent.

The problem is, women are romantic and we very often aren’t systematic in our approach to wardrobe planning. In this, we are often the opposite of men, who generally loathe clothes shopping and only buy something when absolutely necessary. For that reason, I hate to admit, they often make fewer mistakes. They buy incrementally and weigh every item for its usefulness.

Just before Christmas the DH came into some money unexpectedly and treated himself to a new bathrobe. It must be 15 years since the last time he bought one and he spent a small fortune on it. I was aghast. But boy, is this thing nice? I am so jealous, because he gets to wear this every day. Thick black velour with a silver stripe, lined in black towelling. He looks a million dollars in it, and he feels it too. And – as I pointed out – I have to look at him in the damn thing for half the day, so I don’t mind this little spend.

Spending more money on a bathrobe than on a jacket may seem like a real extravagance, but it’s not so on a cost-per-wear basis. It’ll be worn every day for the next decade, working out at about fivepence a day over time. Maybe, to tell the truth, spending half the national debt on a bathrobe is just what your wardrobe needs.

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