Post 365

Fooling Yourself:
Reflections on Cost Per Wear

There is this one way of assessing the amount you spend on clothing called cost per wear. You already know how it works by the name: my sweater cost $27 and I have worn it 3 times, therefore I am paying $9 per wear. Ah, now I have worn it 9 times and now it costs $3 per wear. In order to figure this kind of thing out, you need to keep track of how much you paid for the item and how many times you have worn it so far.

Everyone thinks about the cost of clothing from time to time, usually when they’re considering making a purchase. Those who think in terms of cost per wear, however, think about it every day. Every time they wear an item, after all, its cost per wear goes down.

I don’t judge those who enjoy this kind of (new word alert:) sartorial calculation; I think it would be interesting for a while to generate and watch those kind of statistics. I can see how it would be popular. The advantage is that it does make you consider how much use you are making of the various items you have bought.

With this method though, I don’t know if there’s enough attention paid to the items which don’t work but raise the total expenditure. While you are calculating the cost per wear on the blue sweater and being happy that your price per wear is going down, do you remember that the red sweater isn’t getting worn at all? The focus, it seems, is all on the items that are being used.

Another problem is that this approach is used to justify exorbitant spending. There is a myth which seems to be gaining more steam these days that expensive pieces will be forever pieces. Did you know that an Hermès handbag can cost about $30,000? The idea is that if you buy an Hermès bag, especially certain versions, then you are buying ‘A Classic,’ and 1) it will always look good, and 2) you will always love it. The cost per wear rationale fits in here, and you are supposed to think, “Yes, it’s expensive, but I will get so much use out of it that the cost per wear will be just a few dollars a day!” There are many problems with this. First of all, the purse will not always look good. Don’t be fooled by the fact that certain versions of older Hermes bags are currently, in September of 2021, being celebrated. This will not always be the case. Soon a different version of the Hermès bag or the Chanel bag will be praised as the ‘classic’ bag. However, out of all the Hermes bags (consider all the colours, embellishments, sizes, materials) only a select few are being celebrated at any given time; you cannot predict which bag of the past will be the new darling of the future. At one time, people said that you cannot go wrong with black. Now people are more likely to say you can’t go wrong with white or tan. My point is that just because one older style is popular/respected today does not mean that it will be popular/respected in the future. The essence of fashion is change, and anyone who believes that there are some timeless sorts of fashion just hasn’t considered a wide enough time frame. How many women were told that such and such a fur coat is a classic and will never go out of style and could be worn forever? You know it’s true. $5,000 mink coats were the thing to have at one point, and now it’s difficult to sell them on eBay for $500. Nobody anticipated that fur would go out of style so suddenly. Fur is an easy example, but the same thing is happening with watches. Nowadays it’s so easy for people to check the time on their phones, and so many don’t bother with one at all. If they are going to wear something on their wrist, maybe an Apple Watch Nike is better, or an Apple Watch Hermès (people want to look like they are obsessed with fitness). The market for the watches that were called “classic” or “luxury” is shrinking. And really, it happens with everything. All the items which are called ‘classic’ become unfashionable eventually. Even the classic of the classics need to compete with new ideas of what looks good. Fewer people are wearing ‘classic’ khaki pants or chino pants nowadays, and even denim jeans are being ditched by women in favour of leggings. If you look at a store webpage from a few years ago, you would find that it just looks “off” — the model looks just as sullen as the models nowadays, but there’s something about the proportions and cuts that says, “Hi. I don’t quite know what I’m doing.” With each passing year, the clothing, hairstyles, eyewear, and makeup looks sillier and sillier. (Yes, even the giant eyebrows trend will die, and you will be mortified that in all your photos, you have massive, bushy, drawn, brushed, soaped, laminated eyebrows.)

I am not dismissing the idea of a classic altogether; some items do look good for longer than others. My point is just that we must be cautious about spending an excessive amount of money because it’s ‘a classic’ and will last such a long time. Even those items which take longer to look silly are still not worth ‘investing’ in (watch out for the word ‘investing,’ — if anyone tells you that retail spending is an investment it means you are about to be ripped off) because things wear out and things get damaged. More importantly, people are very changeable and we do get bored. We get bored of even the very best of things — just ask Seinfeld.

What I would propose instead of the cost per wear model is just checking the global figure you’re spending on clothing and accessories. It’s far easier than checking your cost per wear, because you can easily see what you’ve spent in the last three weeks and already get a good grasp of the situation as a whole — you don’t need to research how much you spent on the belt you bought in 2018. And if you want, you can calculate the clothing cost per day by dividing the monthly figure. It’s a more honest approach. After all, if you spent $4,500 on an YSL brand bag, then you’ve spent $7,500. Let that number, and no other, sink in. It’s false comfort to say, “I used it 10 times so now it’s only $750 per wear, and I am going to wear it every day for two years and so by then it will be only $10.75 per wear.” The calculation of the past is accurate, but it tricks the mind a little bit, don’t you see? It washes away the fact that you went a little wacko with your wallet. It sidesteps the fact that you overspent (no matter what your net worth is). As for the calculation of the future, well, that’s even more problematic. How can you predict how you will feel in the future? Not only do the world’s tastes change, but our own tastes change too. Are you absolutely sure that you won’t be tempted by that other bag, the one expected in the spring of 2022? There’s buzz about it already — it’ll be dropping on April 1st. Oh darling, by then your bag will be so — how can I put this? — 2021 . . .