Why I Don’t Calculate the Cost Per Wear of My Clothing

goblin shark essay

Hey guys, sorry for the delay on this week’s essay! I’m still working on my writing schedule for the new posting format, so thanks for bearing with me while I work out the kinks. Also, the pictures for this post were taken in my “new” photo spot (aka my in-laws’ dining room) with my handy dandy new tripod. I’m going to try to shoot in this space more often, especially for my product reviews, so I hope you like it!

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s dig in to cost per wear.

For someone who calls herself a wardrobe scientist, I don’t keep very much data on my closet. I sort of know how many pieces are in my capsule, how often I wear them, and what I add and subtract each month, but that’s about as exact as I feel like getting these days.

I first saw the concept of cost-per-wear pop up on Instagram (the birth place of all intensive wardrobe tracking trends, it seems), and basically, you take the dollar amount that you paid for your garment, divide it by the number of times you’ve worn it, and the number that you’re left with is the cost per wear (cpw). The obvious goal is to get the cpw for any individual item down to as small a number as possible – but when you do that, what exactly do you have?

I think most people who advocate for cpw calculations would say that they have a better idea of whether or not their purchases were worth it, if they’re wearing certain items in their closets often enough, and a metric for determining which items should stay and which can go. I don’t disagree that it can be helpful, but it’s not for me, and I don’t think it has to be the be-all-end-all of determining the value of your clothing. Here are a few reasons why:

ONE:  It’s time consuming

Ya’ll. I’m tired. I have BUSY days full of commuting, working, exercising, cooking, cleaning, writing, and so many other tasks, and all the while trying to maintain my relationships and set aside time for myself to read books and watch a little Masterpiece Classic (#selfcare). I do not have room for yet another chore in my life.

If data entry and analysis is fun for you, I’m not here to stand in your way, but there are a lot of other ways I’d rather be spending my own time, and one of the primary reasons I pursue a minimalist wardrobe in the first place is to spend less time thinking about my clothing overall.

goblin shark essay

TWO:  Competitive transactionalization is not healthy

I think that a cpw project can start innocently enough, but at the heart of the exercise, you’re turning every single wear of your clothing into a transaction. You think, wearing these boots right now is costing me $50, if I wear them again tomorrow it will cost me $33, and so on. I don’t think it’s good to frame so many of our daily activities as an exchange for money.

The cpw on my wedding dress, for example, is still at its original $400 (RIP J.Crew bridal), but I didn’t think about that when I bought it. I thought about how my mom was crying in the dressing room, how my partner was going to look at me when I walked down the aisle, and how it was the most perfect, beautiful thing I’d ever seen. The argument I can’t justify spending X amount of dollars on a dress I’m only going to wear once! has always bothered me for that reason. When you only think of wearing your wedding dress in terms of a monetary transaction, it sucks the joy right out of it. That’s an extreme example, buy you get what I’m saying.

Further, when you start transactionalizing competitively, with yourself or with strangers on Instagram, it can breed feelings of guilt or shame. Maybe you aren’t hitting your goal cpw for an item you paid a lot of money for, or maybe people on the internet are doing a much better job than you and you’re jealous of them. It’s a slippery slope to anxiety and regret if you aren’t careful.

goblin shark essay

THREE:  Value can (and should) be measured in a variety of ways

Going back to the wedding dress example, there are more ways to measure the value of something than its price in dollars. If I had a nickel for every annoying person who told me how many laptops or student loan payments or whatever they could buy instead of paying for a fancy wedding dress, well, maybe I wouldn’t have so much credit card debt left over from my wedding (ha ha it’s a joke but still sort of true…). But the value of my wedding dress was not based on the amount of money I paid for it. It’s based on something else. Something intangible but just as important.

We live in a system of capitalism, so of course we’re taught to believe that money is at the center of everything. It’s hard to uncouple money and value, especially when it comes to something like your closet. I’m not saying don’t budget for clothes and I’m certainly not encouraging you to spend more than you can afford on something, but I am saying that it’s okay to want things and value them just for their beauty or specialness in your life, regardless of the cost per wear you can calculate from them.

Do you calculate cost per wear? Why or why not?


9 thoughts on “Why I Don’t Calculate the Cost Per Wear of My Clothing

  1. I don’t either. Mostly because, like you, I don’t have the bandwidth to put in the time or effort. And secondly, I recognize too that anytime you quantify something and post it to the public, it immediately adds social pressure and anxiety; definitely don’t need more of that in life. Being thoughtful about one’s closet is important, but also giving oneself the room to enjoy and go with the flow is important too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Agreed. I think having numbers is fine so long as you take the Caroline Joy mentality of “how fascinating!” but not if trying to meet some arbitrary goal (or social standard) is stressing you out.


  2. I don’t, but then I gave up wardrobe tracking after three months because I just wore the clothes we’d forgot to put them in. Nothing new has entered it apart from two tank tops in the middle of a heat wave, and nothing has left either so it ended up being just another thing to spend valuable time and mental energy on.


  3. I don’t calculate cpw because it’s not the most important factor for me, and I don’t have a record of how much the clothes I’ve bought cost, anyway. I’m more concerned with developing a cohesive wardrobe that I enjoy wearing, so I do track wears in order to see which items I’m *really* wearing… I find that looking at data helps me get around my unsupported beliefs about my wardrobe and make realizations I couldn’t have otherwise. That said, there are definitely items I keep for their ineffable special-ness, not their everyday usefulness. You need some icing on the wardrobe cake!


  4. Lol I seem to be in the minority here because I calculate cpw and I love keeping track of how much I wear things in general. I use the stylebook app which keeps it easy and I can use internet photos to add pieces to it so I don’t have to take a pic of every single item I buy. I usually end up tracking what I wear while I wait and it takes about a minute. If it was any harder I probably wouldn’t do it. Also the app is great because it tracks your general number of wears. By using the app I’ve realised that I think most of us (or at least for me) we hugely overestimate our number of wears. I think “wow, I’ve worn this a ton. I must be at 100 wears by now” and then I look at the actual numbers and it’s like 32 wears. We tend to be biased to thinking we wear something a lot when we wear it often in a short time period but in general we all have so much clothes that the actual number of wears is pretty low per item. Anyway I would definitely say only do this if it brings you joy and if it doesn’t come naturally def don’t do it 🙂


    1. Elaine, I’m so glad you commented on this because I was actually thinking of your CPW posts while I was writing this (as a good example, I mean!). You are always so thoughtful in your wardrobe analyses and I think you’re such a great example of someone who can manage to do this in a way that’s healthy and helpful. Great idea about Stylebook, too. Neither Stylebook nor Cladwell make apps for Android, so I haven’t been able to explore those options yet.


  5. I loosely calculate cost per wear but I think I’m using as a justification for buying things more than anything else….


  6. Great point! When “What Not to Wear” was still airing, they showed examples of cost per wear and I remember being so confused by it. Why not just say, “Hey, I feel like I am not wearing this as much as I should and it isn’t worth it to me to keep it in my wardrobe” or “Dang I have to stop wearing this so much! I’ve worn it almost every day for the past two weeks” (@ my Everlane ReNew Fleece…). Seems better for the brain. You explained it wonderfully!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s