Does cost-per-wear shopping really stack up?

It’s the classic fashion formula, but does cost-per-wear shopping really work and how do we do it? Frankie Graddon explains

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By Frankie Graddon on

It’s simple fashion maths: price of item / how many times you’ll wear it (which tends to increase the pricier the purchase) = cost per wear. Or, CPW for short. It is this formula that, in theory, determines the true value of something and it has been used the world over to buy a thousand handbags, acquire millions of pairs of shoes and procure more midi dresses than imaginable.

Traditionally, CPW is a justification technique employed when buying something spendy – “Yes, this glorious cross-body bag costs more than three month’s food shopping, BUT I’ll wear it every day for the next 200 years, meaning that, actually, it only costs 00000000000.1p. I can’t afford NOT to buy it.” However, aside from just enabling, there is some real substance behind the theory. Not only does it a) make you stop and question whether you really, really want the thing, it b) makes you think about where and how you’re going to wear it. (Side note: a high-profile stylist once told me that before she buys anything new, she makes sure it goes with at least three other things in her wardrobe. I can’t say I’m quite as disciplined as that, but it’s not a terrible idea.)

Although I am sure many of us are already familiar with the CWP theory, of late there has been a wider consumer shift towards that way of thinking. “Consumers are increasingly looking to streamline their wardrobes, favouring higher quality and sustainable credentials over quantity of items,” Emily Gordon-Smith, head of fashion at research company Stylus tells Drapers magazine. With it being estimated that we have, on average, £200 worth of unworn stuff in our wardrobes, it’s perhaps not a massive surprise that we’re homing in on pieces that we are going to get good wear out of.

“Customers are looking for pieces with longevity,” echos Lisa Aiken, fashion director of Net-a-Porter. The shopping site has seen huge growth in their contemporary sector, which consists of good-quality, fairly priced brands, including Ganni, which is among their top 20 bestselling brands across the entire site.

John Lewis has also noticed this shift, particularly in accessories, and has responded by re-fashioning all of their own-brand bags in leather, with a closer eye on detailing (such as brushed gold clasps and buckles and suede lining) and additional pockets and compartments inside. “Sales in John Lewis bags are up 69 per cent from last year, so there is definitely an appetite for high-quality, longer-lasting items,” says Claire Brereton, junior handbag buyer.

Over the past few years, I’ve definitely come round to the cost-per-wear way of shopping –  after all, it’s based on making sure you are getting your money’s worth out of something, which makes perfect sense. Of course, I don’t stick to it all the time – from time to time, there’s something quite liberating about an impulse shop. But you can’t beat really loving something and wearing the heck out of it. As Pool contrib Kat Farmer explains: “I think there is something hugely satisfying about regularly using an item that simply makes your day that bit better by using it – things you love.”

The trick to cost-per-wear shopping is identifying the things that you’ll wear and choosing the brands that focus on quality at fair prices, of which there are plenty

But shopping on a cost-per-wear basis doesn’t mean spending mega bucks. One of my most successful CWP buys is a pair of gold-coloured hoops from & Other Stories. They were £13 and I have honestly worn them every day since I bought them over a year ago. Similarly, Pool ed Sam Baker’s CWP triumphs include the khaki M&S x Alexa Chung trench (which I also have – we’ve both worn it to death), her Converse pumps and a pair of boyfriend jeans from And/Or. None of which are over £100.

The trick to cost-per-wear shopping is identifying the things that you’ll wear (back to the stylist’s tip from earlier) and choosing the brands that focus on quality at fair prices, of which there are plenty.

Brands like Madewell, which can be found online but have also just expanded into the UK via John Lewis (it is currently available in the new John Lewis Westfield store and will be available on in the autumn). As the name implies, their pieces – particularly the jeans – are thoughtfully designed and made from great fabrics that are responsibly sourced. I have the Cali Demi-Boot jeans, which have a secret “magic pocket” at the front to suck everything in.  

Me + Em focuses on high-quality, reasonably priced clothes. The brand claims that the fit process on each piece is 15 times longer than the average retailer – having tried on a lot of their stuff, I can confirm that it hangs beautifully. Everything is made from non-crease fabric and pieces are wear-tested by the staff before they go on sale. I’ve got the incredible “stitch detail” emerald maxi dress, which, granted, is pricey, but I’ll wear it to one of the weddings I have this summer, a big family birthday and I’ll take it on my hols. Plus, I can stick a plain white T-shirt underneath it and wear it into work. See? Cost per wear.

Launched just last year, Studio B has become popular among the fashion lot as an online destination for cool, quality brands. Founded by ex-fashion buyer Bethany Rowntree, the site’s ethos is all about buying less but better and providing pieces that will stand the test of time. Head there for Rixo London (the brand behind all of those gorgeous, printed dresses on your Instagram feed), Danish label Gestuz and Milk Tooth LDN jewellery. Also, have a look at the recently re-launched Hambledon website for Danish brands Lollys Laundry and Baum und Pferdgarten.

And, finally, not forgetting my personal wardrobe favourites Hush, Kitri, The Outnet (great for getting designer brands at a lower price point) and Scandi shoe brand Swedish Hasbeens, who hand-make all of their shoes with hard-wearing, vegetable-tanned, chrome-free leather. As I’ve said many times before, I literally live in my Hasbeens over the summer – cost per wear, I must be in the minuses.

Rather than looking at the price of something, cost-per-wear shopping is all about looking at the value of it. But whether that’s attached to a £500 leather bag or a £25 cotton T-shirt is totally up to you and what wear you’ll get out of it. Ultimately, the most important thing is to love and look after the clothes we’ve got and have a thoroughly good time wearing them.

Click here for Frankie's cost-per-wear outfit edit

This is part of our Wear Your Clothes week, an editorial series discussing sustainability and transparency within the fashion industry and looking at what we can do to love, treasure and make the most of the clothes that we enjoy wearing


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