I’ve been in this business my whole life. When I was three, I was here at the store sleeping under racks while my parent’s worked late into the night re-modelling. I started working at the store when I was thirteen, and worked my way up the chain from the stock room to now being co-owner. Over the years, much has changed in the clothing industry. One of the most significant changes is the “throw away” clothing epidemic. Does the word “epidemic” hit you as too harsh? I’m not sure it is, and let me explain why.
I have customers tell me stories about how their mothers and grandmothers shopped at our store when having at least one “good” dress was expected. It was their Sunday best, and they knew they would have to spend a little more, but that dress would have them looking their best when they wanted to “put on the dog,” so to speak. The ideology was that when you wanted to look your best, you never settled for inexpensive or poorly made clothing.
Those generations calculated the value of an item of clothing on cost per wear. This term provides you with the amount of money it costs you each time you wear the item, and it is a great tool for demonstrating why it isn’t always better to buy inexpensive clothing that you know you will have to replace in a year or less. For example, let’s say you spend $60 on a blouse that is from a good brand that has a reputation for quality. Any quality item of clothing will last you at least 3 years if you care for it according to the manufacturer’s instructions. If you wear it 2 times per month and expect it to last 3 years, then the cost per wear is $2.50. Here is how I came to that number: 2 wears a month X 12 months in a year = 24 wears in a year. If the top lasts for three years, you will have 72 wears. $60 divided by 72 wears = 81 cents per wear. Now, conversely, let’s say you spend $20 on a top that is cheaply made that will likely only last about 6 months if you wash it in cold water and hang it to dry. Using the same formula, that top will cost you $1.67 per wear (12 wears in 6 months / $20 divided by 12 = $1.67). So you can see that it actually costs you more to wear the cheaply made top than the more expensive one.
There is a false perception that when you spend more money on clothing, you are just paying for the name brand. The reason certain brands cost more is because they have earned a reputation for quality. That reputation comes from a consistent use of better quality fabrics and better construction. These two together translate into clothing that stands the test of time.
I was fortunate to watch how this mindset transformed one of my employees. When she first came to work for us, she was in her late twenties and had completely bought into the throw away clothing mentality. She told us, “I never spend a lot on clothes, and I don’t expect them to last. When they fall apart, I don’t feel badly because I didn’t spend that much to buy them in the first place.” Over time, she began buying our brands. She started to see how better quality fabrics and construction really do make a difference in the way an item looks and feels on the body and in how it holds up to repeated washing and drying. Being financially savvy, she also started to see that she was actually spending less money on clothes by buying better quality. It was the cost per wear epiphany. After working for us for the last several years, she has come to understand that there is a reason some clothing is more expensive and that that expense is not arbitrary but directly tied to quality.
Our grandmothers knew what they were doing. They understood that a good dress made them look their best because it fit properly and had quality workmanship. They also knew that spending a little more was necessary to accomplish this end. Have some fun calculating the cost per wear on some pieces in your closet. It is really eye opening. It is also a great buying tool.
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