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Guest Post: Quality Clothes for Less than a Buck

This article was written by in Consumer, Saving, Shopping. 8 comments.

Sharon Harvey Rosenberg is a columnist for the Miami Herald. She writes about about saving money and the art of being frugal in her column as well as on her blog, The Frugal Duchess. In this guest post, Sharon writes about making the best choices in clothing through the concept of cost-per-wear.

It’s a cute black skirt from Ann Taylor Loft and it costs me about 53 cents every time I wear it. What’s more, as each week passes, the cost-per-wear declines.

I’m not delusional and my calculations are not a frugal fantasy. Here’s the bottom line: Quality garments are cheaper in the long run. Crafted from fine fabrics in classic cuts, most of my wardrobe pays me hidden dividends.

Here’s my closet matrix: The black skirt was originally priced at $60, then reduced to $34 (still too expensive for my budget). But I made my move to the cash register when the price dropped to $16. That was last fall and I have worn that skirt about 30 times (probably much more) since September. The current price-per-wear cost is 53 cents and by next September, I estimate that the price will drop down to 25 cents per wear. The skirt does not need dry-cleaning, an expensive process that dramatically inflates the total price and the price-per-wear figures.

I’m not the only one who makes this kind of calculations. In the book How to Say It For Women, author Phyllis Mindell also writes about price-per-wear calculations on page 175.

Here’s her example: One business woman buys a Liberty of London shawl in 1986 at Harrods for $100. She wears the shawl about 10 times annually, which translates into a “price per wear” value of under $1.

“Fine accessories represent a wise investment: They last, they say in style longer than clothing does, they offer the chance to exercise your individuality,” Mindell recommends in her book.

She advocates shopping for quality when it comes to briefcases, handbags, wallets and jewelry.That’s my model for shopping. And it’s a strategy that Flexo mentioned in an earlier post about being Pound-wise and Penny-foolish.

Of course, I’ve had my share of missteps. A few years ago, I was hired to fill in for a business reporter at the Herald, who was on maternity leave. She covered the retail (shopping beat), so I wanted to look especially spiffy while filling in for her.

That’s fine, but I made two shopping errors. I purchased two trendy shirts at a discount chain for teens. Who was I kidding? Big mistake. The shirts were low-quality garments made from a poorly made cotton/spandex fabric. Additionally, the trendy cut was a flavor-of-the-month variety that quickly melted out of style. Due to the inferior fabric, the shirts did not wash well. It was not my finest shopping moment.

The good news: I only spent $12 for each shirt The bad news: I only wore each shirt a few times and my cost per wear was about $4. Fortunately, I’m getting a lot of low-cost mileage from the rest of my closet.

But when is it best to splurge for an item and when is it best to pick-up the no-name brands? This guide from Real Simple magazine offers insights.

Tee shirts: Go for the super-saver, Real Simple says. Why? Tee-shirts are frequently worn and washed, which decreases the shelf life.

My experience: I prefer good quality tee shirts at low, low (end of season prices). The cheaper shirts don’t hold up well in the wash.

Hose: Save. Expensive or cheap, stockings run quickly, at least on my legs. Real Simple agrees.

Jeans: Shop for quality. Expensive jeans tend to fit better than cheaper counterparts.

To read more from Sharon Harvey Rosenberg, visit her blog, The Frugal Duchess.

Updated May 26, 2009 and originally published April 4, 2007.

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About the author

Luke Landes is the founder of Consumerism Commentary. He has been blogging and writing for the internet since 1995 and has been building online communities since 1991. Find out more about Luke Landes and follow him on Twitter. View all articles by .

avatar 1 Anonymous

I would say save on socks, the more expensive ones that I have don’t last any longer than the cheap ones.

avatar 2 Anonymous

It’s not just me! I have been doing this for years, and my husband thinks I am crazy.

avatar 3 Anonymous

Hah, I’ve never looked at it from a price-per-wear perspective before. I buy my clothes on sale and hold onto them for so long, I imagine my wife would say I’m down to fractions of a cent per wear :)

avatar 4 Anonymous

You call also apply, “the cost factor” to vehicles. I own a 21 year old car and a 16 year old car.

The 16 year old car I bought for $4400 10 years ago. I have probably put approx. $5000 into it … say total cost is $10,000 . This translates to approx. $140 / month for maintenance and initial cost assuming it is worth nothing. The car is reliable … where can you get a car for $140 / month ?? People think I am crazy … old cars are no reliable and breakdown … something auto manufacturers have brainwashed us with.