Cost-per-wear, and its happier alternative.

Cost-per-wear, and its happier alternative.

I’m a big believer in cost-per-wear. My mom taught me that the more often you’re able to wear something, the more you can justify paying for it.

This is why I’m willing to invest $100 in a fabulous pair of shoes, even though it hurts in the short run. They’re well-made, they’re comfortable, they match everything. I wear them 5 days a week for years. That CPW is tiny in the long run.

CPW can change your mind about what’s really a “deal.” If that $7 fast fashion tshirt is holey after two washes, it’s not a great value—especially not compared to your spendier ones that last for years.

I love CPW, and I always think about it before making a purchase. It appeals to my inner maximizer. (I’ve spent the last 5 years trying to beat her into submission, but she’s still most definitely pleased by the idea of paying $.15 per wear on her favorite shoes.)

Don’t think you get a free pass if you’re not into fashion! The concept applies to more than clothes: it’s the same reason I’m okay with owning a $280 Le Creuset dutch oven. (I’m especially okay with it because my parents gave it to me as an awesome Christmas gift, but I still cringed at the price tag. I am thrifty, people!)

But I’ve used that pot four times a week, six months a year, for five years. It’s well-made and built to last. If there comes a time when I don’t use it anymore, I’ll pass it down to my kids. It’s heirloom quality: I’ll be able to do that. My cost per use is tiny.

when cost-per-wear and love-per-wear converge: 2 1/2 years ago Stitch Fix sent me a sweater ($44) and scarf ($24) that I still wear all the time

I love the cost-per-wear idea so much that I forget about the big exception: love per wear. 

Some purchases have a terrible cost-per-wear, but make me very happy. I read about this recently on the Men’s Style Lab blog (where they also share more caveats about cost-per-wear).

I love this shirt, but I don’t wear it often. I have some great heels that I don’t wear much, but I love them when I do. I have more scarves than I need: my CPW is higher than it could be because I wear a different one every day. But they make me very happy.

The Men’s Style Lab blog says to break the CPW rules (as long as it doesn’t break your wallet) if a purchase makes you feel amazing, even if you don’t wear it very often. These items are investments, too—in your confidence and happiness.

The maximizer in me loves CPW, but I also want to open my closet and see clothes I love.

Love per wear: it’s a real thing.

Do you rely on CPW? What’s your favorite garment with a great love-per-wear ratio?

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75 comments

  1. Yes, CPW! It took me a few years to warm up to this, but now I am fully on board. For household items our sheets (http://www.comphy.com/) and double stroller were both a little spendy, but these are items that I will touch every day for a few years. They have definitely been worth it. For garments, my purse is at about $.15/day and still going strong and I have a black cashmere turtleneck that was an excellent long-term decision.

    • Anne says:

      Ohhh. I’m in the market for sheets but I have no idea what to get! I haven’t bought sheets for MY bed in years. Off to check out comphy. (Anything I should know?)

      • We discovered these a few years ago at a B&B that touted them. After ordering a set from the B&B, we were excited to discover you could order direct. Their luxury home line is great. The product background has to do with sheets that were developed for the spa, and the sheets are soft and a little slippery in a good way, if that makes sense. They have held up to a few years of washing without pilling. I know I sound like a walking advertisement, but I really can’t recommend these enough. I just like them.

      • K says:

        My recommendation for sheets would be to invest in a minimum of 600 thread count. I bought 2 sets of 1000-count sheets when Hubby and I first moved in together, and one set is still going strong after 6 years! (The fitted sheet tore on the other set about 6 months ago, I’m trying to get a replacement because the rest of the set is still fine).

  2. Lisa says:

    Absolutely. Also, I love love love consignment/thrift stores just for this purpose. Someone else may not have loved something as long as it could be loved and I’ll gladly pay way less to take it home. 🙂

  3. Kayris says:

    Depends on what it is. I wear scrubs to work and buy the cheaper ones because my job is physical and dirty and I can’t justify spending a lot on something that will have dog pee on it. Case in point…Katherine Heigl has a line of scrubs that are a little more flattering, but also more expensive. A friend gave me a pair that didn’t fit her and the very first day I wore them, we had a major emergency surgery and I ended up with blood all over my clothes and it didn’t come out.

    Shoes, however, are different. Well made shoes that last are worth every penny. I have a pair of leather boots my brother gave me in 2001 (and by that, I mean my mom picked them out and he paid her). I’ve had them resoled twice and wear them all the time. The CPW must be practically nonexistent.

  4. Ashley says:

    I want the details on your favorite shoes! And does anyone have jeans they love despite the cost? I’ve been searching…

    • Tiffany says:

      The jeans struggle is real. I have found a fantastic fit at Lucky Brands jeans (and the sales associates are pretty good with understanding body types and fit), Also every now and then I can find a pair at the GAP. Lately, I have been seeing/hearing great things about Paige Jeans $$$$ (bloggers) but I haven’t found them in store yet to test. Good Luck!

      • Anne says:

        Yes to the jeans struggle!

        About the Paige jeans: the last time I was pregnant I invested the $$$ in one good pair of Paige maternity jeans (but only about half the $$$ because I got them on ebay). I loved them so much, and I keep thinking about that these days as I’m noticing my go-to denim is starting to shred…

    • I’m very curvy and hardly any jeans fit me. If they are cut big enough, they gap at the waist or slide down. I’d almost given up on jeans altogether, but I discovered Jag Jeans and I love them. Pricey, but great CPW *and* LPW for me!

    • Barb says:

      I am petite and struggled with buying jeans that fit well for years. A saleswoman at Chicos brought me a pair of “Boyfriend” style jeans to try and it is not an exaggeration to say they are the best fitting jeans I’ve ever owned. I am relatively short waisted so keep that in mind…they might not fit the lean and lanky type! Full price is $89 but I often find them on some sale or the other and I think they are still a bargain at full price. I have five pair (2 dk wash, 2 light wash, 1in khaki) and I am going to buy a pair in the newly offered black denim.

      I’ve tried other styles at Chicos and don’t find the same fit so check out the boyfriend style.

  5. I have a rule that if I don’t absolutely LOVE it, I’m not allowed to buy it, no matter what the deal is. And I think getting a better cut, material, and quality are worth the price, when I can afford it. However, there are many brands that are expensive without being good quality, and some that make cute trendy wears for very little cost, that I can live with for awhile. I like the idea of cost per wear. It’s a great way of looking at it, but I’m glad you mentioned love per wear, because that definitely has value too.
    http://absolutelytara.com

    • Anne says:

      Yes to the “I have to love it” thing. I’ve only recently started standing firm on this and it makes such a difference!

      And you’re so right about how price and quality don’t necessarily correlate. My friend is a buyer for a major brand you’d recognize, and she’s always saying “If you know what to talk for, you can find great stuff anywhere.” Or almost anywhere. 🙂

  6. Beth says:

    Anne, I’m a CPW through and through. But, one area I really struggle here is with tops. I love simple, basic tees that I can accessorize with a cardigan, scarf or necklace to make work-appropriate. I love ones from Old Navy, but they simply don’t hold up past a few months of regular wear. Any suggestions?

    • Liza says:

      I wear a lot of basic tees, too. I usually stock up on tees at Target, but they don’t last long. I needed new long sleeve shirts and found some on clearance at Gap. I think I paid about $7 per tee…cheaper than Target. The fabric is twice as thick and holds it’s shape. As soon as I picked up the shirt, I knew it would be better and I was right.

      When shopping, I look at fabric thickness and stitching. Thicker fabrics and good stitching (no loose threads/gaps and straight, fully finished seams) point to better quality. Nowadays, it’s hard to find the thicker fabrics, but they’re out there. It takes time and patience, but you can find them. I don’t have time nor patience, hence my affinity for Target tee shirts.

    • liz n. says:

      Jones New York makes the best tees, and they are true to size. I wait until they go on sale online, and snatch them up when I find them at Marshall’s or Ross or TJ Maxx. The knit is good, heavyweight cotton jersey, the seams and hems lie beautifully, and it takes forever for the colors to fade. Every JNY tee I’ve owned has had a lifespan of at least five years. I adore them!

    • Anne says:

      This is tough! I used to love Ann Taylor’s but haven’t bought any in a few years. My current ones are from Banana Republic, Popbasic, and Everlane. (I like Everlane v-necks but hate their popular u-neck.)

    • Barb says:

      Goodwill and Thrift Town are my primary source for t-shirts, cardigans and sweaters. I rarely pay more than $5.00 a top and brand new things show up all the time. My rule is that it has to fit me perfectly, be undamaged/lightly worn AND be in a color I wear. I am fortunate in that our thrift stores are pretty clean, organized and have dressing rooms. I won’t buy something without trying it on.

  7. Lisa says:

    Oh my goodness, all I have to say is AMEN to all of this. Especially the t-shirts and shoes…I’ve been through my share of holy t-shirts after only a wash or two. Paying for quality pays you back in the end.

  8. Emilee Land says:

    I love this! It’s hard for me to invest in nice things, but those are the things I always end up loving and using most. I splurged on some really nice red shoes for my wedding and I wear them to church all the time and they are SO comfortable. However I love to find nice things on ebay for an even lower price. It feels like the best of both worlds!

  9. Katia says:

    I’m all for CPW. For me, this applies to great leather jackets, winter coats, and footwear that I know I will wear for at least the next five years. When it comes to t-shirts and camisoles that I wear in the evenings and on weekends around the house or when we go to the park, I usually shop at stores like Old Navy for those. As for items that I love, that’s also a big one, but I usually try to buy CPW items with which I’m also in love. 😉 It’s a two-in-one deal, really! CPW and love-per-wear can also be combined with yoga clothing. I teach yoga and need to feel and look good when I’m at the studio. So, I look for the best quality yoga clothing, which can get quite pricey but will be worn for at least 3 years. After those years, when the clothing is too shabby to be worn outside the house, I wear it for my home workouts and yoga practice.

    Usually, the love-per-wear items for me are special occasion dresses. I don’t wear them often at all but when I do, I feel great.

    • Katia says:

      I should also mention that for kitchen appliances, my favourite one is my Kitchen Aid mixer. It was expensive, but I love the quality. It looks beautiful in my kitchen and its bright orange colour makes me smile every time I use it while baking, which is at least once every two weeks in the cold months of the year. I’m also a knitter and love to knit with luxury yarn. Now that I’m back at my 9-5, so to speak, I don’t have as much time to knit, so it turns out that I don’t spend too much money on yarn, but when I do, I buy luxurious cashmere, linen, angora, etc. I just signed up for a private writing class with a coach, which was a big financial investment, but it will keep bringing me closer and closer to completing my memoir.

      With most other items, I tend to be frugal and generally don’t buy anything unless I *need* it.

  10. I would pay an arm and a leg for stuff that holds up a long time, but I have not found many brands that meet that criteria. I welcome suggestions. There seems to be an issue with a lot of women’s wear that the companies assume we’ll want to replace items seasonally, and hence it doesn’t need to last all that long. While it’s true that some stuff needs to be updated, is it too much to ask for a really well cut, well-made lined pair of black dress trousers? I don’t need to update those every year.

    • liz n. says:

      Very true! I remember, several years ago, going back and forth over whether or not I should buy a couple of suits for work (J. Crew), because of the cost…and this was the sale price. I ended up buying the three pieces (skirt, trousers, blazer) in three colors each (black, navy, grey). It was a HUGE expense for me at the time. But they were one of my best wardrobe investments, and I still wear them. Well-made, classic styling, good fit, excellent material…and that is not easy to find when money is a concern.

    • Anne says:

      This drives me crazy! When I wore suits everyday, I would shred my pants in a year, while my husband’s would last for five. I like Ann Taylor, but think the quality within the brand varies wildly.

      • liz n. says:

        I’ve noticed this with Ann Taylor pants, no matter the style, and, oddly, suit pants. The last suit I purchased was from Jones New York (hooray for off-season clearance sales!) and I even commented to the saleslady that the quality of the JNY suit, which was still much less expensive at full retail than a very similar Ann Taylor suit, was superior to Ann Taylor. I think Ann Taylor’s quality with dresses and skirts is pretty consistent, but I’ve been really disappointed with how easily their jewelry falls apart. 🙁

  11. Jeanne says:

    I really enjoy your wardrobe/dressing/clothing posts – I’ve been reading some of your older posts on the topic(s) too. I’ve classified myself as a classic/creative dresser, and almost everything I wear scores high on the love-per-wear scale. My best cpw buy: a Banana Republic (not a brand readily available in South Africa) angora/silk blend 3/4 sleeved sweater, which I bough at a London thrift shop. Also my engagement and wedding rings. 🙂

  12. I so agree with looking for both CPW and love-per-wear. My size has gone up and down quite a bit since I became a mom and I often fall into that horrible no-one-makes-clothes-to-fit borderland between normal sizing and plus sizing. So when I do find something that fits, I want to feel great in it and I want it to last. I recently did a drastic overhaul of my wardrobe (like a capsule closet, though I didn’t read about that until later) and all the clothes that were left standing have low CPW and high love-per-wear.

  13. Debbie says:

    Ok so there was a season in my life when I was just scraping by and I felt I had no choice than to buy what I could afford. But now, so many clothes later that got holes in them/fit weirdly after being washed and shoes that died after 2 times wearing them and hurt to walk in, I realize that I should’ve just invested in a few things and built my wardrobe over time. I would’ve saved a lot, for sure. But you live and learn. I still struggle to pay more than $20 for a shirt/a pair of pants/jeans/shoes because it was like ingrained in me not to as a kid. But after having purchased a basically-new wardrobe of better quality basics now that we have the money to, I’m realizing it’s so worth it to make the investment for not only my wallet but also my self-esteem, knowing I REALLY like and look good in what I bought since I had to be in order to pay the price.

  14. Laura says:

    I agree! Cost per wear is important but not everything. I could buy $3 shirts at Walmart and wear them three times each and the CPW would be low. But I wouldn’t love them. And it would still seem wasteful, even if my CPW would be higher for, say, a $60 blouse I really like but never wear 60 times.

  15. Lauren B says:

    I totally agree with this, but everyone has a budget and mine is teeny tiny. 🙂 Thankfully with the internet, I can find great items that I love in my budget. For instance, two years ago I found a pair of Paige jeans on clearance at Marshall’s for $40. Love those jeans. They never stretch out, they look brand new and I always get tons of compliments. But no way can I afford the cost upfront – over $200? Yeah right. I barely spend that per year on clothes. I do use ThredUp. I’ve made several orders and love the quality of the clothes. For me and my budget, I’d much rather spend a long time hunting down a deal on a quality item than running to a cheaper store first thing. But I totally agree with the premise of your post: I’ll still spend relatively more on jeans (stay at home mama) than on dress pants or something more obscure in my closet that gets much less use.

    • Anne says:

      If you know what to look for, you can find great stuff anywhere. I wish you could hunt down my deals for me. 🙂 I don’t enjoy “the thrill of the hunt”—that’s what my mom calls it, and she loves it—but I wish I did!

  16. Amanda says:

    Well, i don’t know. I personally have a lot of issues with the CPW concept. I mean, I get it, in principle, but it just rarely works for me.

    I can’t predict how long something will last, whether it will be unavoidably ruined, and if I’m going to love in in 10 years. Buying something expensive is no guarantee, for me anyway, that it’ll end up being a good purchase. And buying something cheap isn’t always a loss down the road. I have a five dollar jacket from 10 years ago that I wear three days a week for four months of the year, and I still like it. I also have $50 shirts that have long since been given away. Some people really do seem to be able to predict what will wear well and that they’ll love, but I lack the skill. I suspect practice (very expensive practice) would be the only way to learn. If someone wants to fill me in, I’m all ears!

    Also, I don’t think people always do the CPW math. Not really. A $30 faux leather jacket that I can wear for 3 years has an equivalent CPW of a nice leather jacket, for say, $200 (is that about right?), I’d have to wear it for 20 years. Possible, sure, but no guarantee, and if I make all my purchases like this, I’ll end up with a number of expensive duds with astronomical CPW. The duds are just easier to forget, because they’re not sitting in the closet, staring at me.

    Of course there are other reasons to buy the expensive jacket. You don’t want to generate six jackets worth of trash during that 20 years, for instance 🙂 Or you hate shopping, or you love the nice jacket and have birthday money, etc. You mentioned many of these. I just suspect that what really happens (with some people; absolutely not all) is more like, “Ooh, I really want that. It’s too expensive. Well, I’ll wear it a lot. CPW and all. Sold.” You know?

    Man, I sound cranky today. Maybe I’m just jealous of all the competent shoppers out there! 🙂

    • Ana says:

      I think I get what you’re saying, and its a trap I admit if fallen into because, exactly as you stated, its often impossible to know up front what the CPW of the item will be. You can estimate, based on prior purchases, and your general style/dressing habits, but you can’t really predict whether you’ll wear that $200 leather jacket three times a week every fall/spring for 3 years or if you will wear it for one season and just not reach for it anymore. Sometimes things are just OFF, in a way you can’t tell even by trying it on and wearing it at home. Or something you thought was a classic timeless piece will go out of style (or you get tired of it yourself, regardless of style).
      I don’t think anyone is 100% perfect at this, but if you spend some time thinking through your lifestyle, your current wardrobe, your experiences with past purchases, and even your goals for how you want to dress, costly mistakes will be less frequent. And of course, the less you buy and have overall, the better the CPW will be, by default.

    • Anne says:

      I get it: even if those boots work out to $1 per wearing, if you drop $600 on boots, your wallet is still out $600. (Not that I know where one would even BUY $600 boots, but still … 🙂 )

      Maybe I’m being cranky now, but I also think knowing CPW in advance is harder for women. I may think something is going to be in style for forever, but it doesn’t always work out that way. Women’s fashion is more fickle than men’s.

  17. Tim says:

    I rely on CPW especially for work shoes. I bought the ones I have on now many years ago, but they are probably down to about $15 a year when you figure in original cost plus resoling occasionally.

  18. Rebecca says:

    I have a hard time spending money on clothes because my mom shopped at thrift stores when I was a kid (for fun). Now that I’ve finally! found my style, however, I have spent actual money on clothes (at actual stores!). I love Buckle for jeans (they bring the jeans to me, hem them, and they don’t stretch out) and I will never ever buy a bra at Walmart or Target again. I will note that my Danskin tees have lasted for YEARS and they cost maybe $8? You can get them at Walmart still. And shoes I’ve always spent money on. I’m a runner and former retail worker and it just wasn’t worth it to have sub par shoes. So I guess I’m doing the whole CPW thing:)

  19. Bethany V. says:

    I have a favorite shirt that Lands Ends sells. I love this shirt. I own it in elbow sleeve, and short sleeve, multiple colors and a couple of patterns. I wish I didn’t love it so much (because I’ve been trying to transition to more ethical fashion) but it looks great on me and I feel great in it. The first two years I discovered this shirt I waited for it to be on sale and had a hard time getting my size and was limited in colors. Now I buy as soon as they come out in any color I don’t already own. Plus they have a great return policy so if I think it’s falling apart too soon, I can return it. I think LLBean has lifetime returns too. I agree CPW can be a trap, but if it’s an item you already own and wear all the time, it’s safe to assume that another one will be loved as well.

  20. Carol says:

    While I never used the letters CPW in my head, I have pretty much thought along those lines quite often. I have certainly learned through the years that the things I spend more money on DO last longer- it’s usually much better quality and I usually like it more, so I definitely wear it more; thus, yes, I get more CPW 🙂 I’m trying to declutter a lot in my life and clothes is one of those things. I find myself glancing into my closet and really thinking about what I really wear a lot and what I really don’t wear enough to hold onto any longer. The thing is- those things I wear a lot and need to keep? Those are the things I spent more on and am getting more CPW. The other things really need to go!!!

  21. K says:

    I love CPW – it’s how my Mum taught me to work stuff out too 🙂
    I spent $100 each on 3 pairs of jeans, and they’re still going strong after 3 years! (for 6mths of the year, I basically always have 1 pair clean, 1 pair being worn, and 1 in the wash) In the meanwhile, I’ve managed to score 4 other pairs of coloured jeans as hand-me-downs (so FREE! YAY!). I have a heap of clothes, but the CPW is still pretty low because at least 3/4 of my clothes were hand-me-downs or bought on sale.

  22. Jeni says:

    Okay, I’m delurking here, Anne. CPW is a great concept and it’s making me wish I had asked for that pair of Old Gringo boots I reeeeeeeeally wanted for Christmas instead of a gift card to Lowe’s.

    Clothing is another story for me right now, b/c I’m nursing an infant and am at my largest size ever. Do I stay in maternity clothes until I’m done nursing…a year from now? Do I buy something to make me feel good NOW and go for a lower CPW but maybe a higher LPW? Because these Old Navy stretch linen pants are good and all, but after literally 300+ days of wearing them, I’m kind of over them…but I’m not sure I’m mentally prepared for shopping for double-digit, non-maternity sized clothes, either.

    …hmn, I’m sensing that this is more of a mental crisis than I realized! 🙂

  23. Totally! I love your blog, by the way, and couldn’t agree more on the CPW. My mom always says, “buy cheap, buy twice” and it’s so true on a number of big ticket & small ticket items that have survived into my thirties with me.

    Keep on keeping on!

  24. Marcy says:

    In the “The concept applies to more than clothes” department, BOOKS! Totally a “love per read” item for me. 🙂 I try to check out books from the library if I haven’t read them before and I’m not sure I’m going to like them, but when I love a book, I care more about that love than whether or not I’m actually going to re-read it much. Just good to have good books around, you know?

    Yay, now I know this is totally justifiable. 😀

  25. Kira says:

    This is a really good way to look at fashion purchases, although I thrift a lot so the scale would be different for me. Sometimes $3.50 for a shirt seems like nothing, but suddenly seems like a LOT when I only wear it a few times before it “goes bad” for whatever reason. I’ve started looking for higher-quality brands as well as styles that I like when I go to Goodwill and Salvation Army; I’ve found this helps a lot.

  26. Catherine says:

    I’m a minimalist so I do buy $200 jeans but I only have 2 pairs which last me about 18mo until they shred. I try to find the perfect fit rather by brand since cuts vary even within the expensive lines. Casual tops I tend to go cheaper as I have small children but pants, jackets and shoes tend to be on the spendier side but I rarely go shopping unless there is a need. Keeping out of stores or online saves a lot of money too:)

  27. Becca says:

    Honestly, I just can’t find enough consistency to rely on CPW!

    I bought a pair of Louboutins a few years ago in a colour suitable for both my wedding day and numerous occasions afterwards, but the red sole scraped away, revealing cardboard-y material, and the heels broke in no time – and they were uncomfortable too! I bought them thinking “okay, so some of the cost is for the name, but the name can’t have acquired such importance without them being good quality, surely?” Oh how wrong I was!

    At the same time, my £15 ballet pumps from New Look took five times as many steps to wear out to the same extent.

    I’m so terrified of buying expensive things because I just can’t assess quality unless I’ve tried a product out for a while.

    Oh, and the Le Creuset? I have equal numbers of the real deal and supermarket own brand cast iron cookware, and haven’t yet found a difference in quality.

  28. Hannah Beth Reid says:

    I am warming up to the CPW and love per wear. It goes against my garage sale shopping ways, but I am seeing the benefits. I have a semi-dressy dress I bought for my husband’s graduation 4 years ago and while it certainly isn’t in everyday rotation, when I need something nice, it almost always fits the bill. Because of the style, it has fit me at my skinniest and when a few months pregnant (without looking ridiculous), it has a pattern which hides stains from little people, and doesn’t wrinkle. And I love the color! Thanks for introducing me to this concept!

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