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Cost-Per-Wear Theory: Maximizing the Value of Each Piece of Clothing in Your Wardrobe

Ellen Zacarias

Justify spending on these luxe clothes.

How to Get the Most Out of Your Clothes

Is your closet littered with clothes that you bought on sale but have only worn once? Or maybe you’ve been eyeing that Prada bag but have no idea how to justify the cost. Well, cost-per-theory is here to help with that.

Who Benefits from Using the Cost-Per-Wear Theory

  • Anyone with limited storage. Sure, maybe you like that hat because it’s stayed with you for so long, but it’s just not pragmatic to keep that space-hogger around for 364 days of the year. 
  • A less discriminating bargain-holic. Your home is filled with odd finds from sales bins and thrift stores. You have tons of clothes that you’ve only worn once, but you got them for cheap! How much value are you really getting out of them?
  • People with expensive tastes, brand-holics. The cost-per-wear theory will help you justify spending extra for that bag, which you swear to tote around for the rest of your life. You make a deal with the fashion devil to have a tiny, but super-expensive wardrobe consisting of five Dior tops, designer jeans (and nothing else!) that you’ll circulate consistently for five years, while eating ramen for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

How the Cost-Per-Wear Theory Works

If you buy a dress on sale for $10 and wear it once before forgetting about it, then the dress’s cost-per-wear is $10.

If you splurge on a $60 dress and wear it twice a week for two months, then by the end of these two months you will have worn it 18 times. $60/18 wears = $3.75 per wear. Ultimately, despite its heavier initial cost, you received more value out of that $60 dress than you did for the $10 dress. But you had to wear the heck out of it first!

Many fashion guides recommend getting it down to $3 per wear, but I think that your ideal wear depends on your own budget and preferences.

Take a look at your clothes (and jewelry) and their initial costs, and then estimate how many times you’ve worn those items. Then you can figure out your own ideal cost-per-wear.

Flaws of the Cost-Per-Wear Theory

  • strong>It may not be enough justification for splurging on that Prada bag, after all. Sure, you were able to get that $60 dress down to $3.75 per wear. But what if you had worn that $10 dress eighteen times? You would have taken it down to 55 cents per wear!
  • strong>The theory assumes that higher costs go with better quality, but that isn’t always the case. What if your $60 dress breaks down after only two wears? That would leave you at $30 per wear, which is a bad investment and a far cry from $3 a wear.
  • strong>There are other factors involved in determining an item’s value outside of cost-per-wear, such as its sentimental value. Maybe you don’t wear that necklace often, but your grandmother gave it to you. So while its cost-per-wear might be higher than your other items, it makes up for it in terms of sentimental value.


Despite its flaws, the cost-per-wear theory is something to keep in mind the next time you go shopping. It’ll come in handy in determining whether you can (or are willing to) wear an item often enough to get its cost-per-wear down to your ideal level.

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