I didn’t intend to write this article when I sat down this morning. I was standing in front of my closet, trying to figure out what to wear, and realized that I don’t have anything. Or rather, I don’t have a wardrobe that works well together, and I’m tired of struggling to figure out what to wear each day. I’d just donated five (five!) bags of clothing, all items I had bought in the last two years, and I still have too many clothes and nothing to wear.
I still struggle with a shopping addiction. There, I said it. I’ve spent most of my 20-something years with the buy-more mindset, which has cost me in the long run. Feeling like I have to keep up with trends and other women has left me, and my closet, feeling unhappy and dysfunctional. It’s something I’m continuously working on.
The most common complaint women with shopping addictions make is that they have nothing to wear. This often comes from someone who buys pieces in the single-digits price tag, and scrolls through the New Arrivals sections of their favorite online stores during their lunch break.
With the emergence of affordable fashion, even women who can afford higher-priced pieces began mixing in items from stores such as H&M and Forever21, because why invest in something that will only last a season? With the rise of social media and fast fashion, it’s no wonder we’ve become addicted to new, new, new. Buying may benefit you in the moment: it may satisfy your craving for something new, or you’re convinced it will make you happier. We’ve come to the conclusion that the more you have and the newer it is, the more stylish you look. I know, I’ve fallen into this trap more times than I can count.
Your wardrobe should function like a system, and no system can function without a solid foundation. Mindlessly adding in cheap or impulse purchases is not an effective strategy to build and maintain a properly functioning wardrobe. In fact, it does the opposite. Pieces must be curated strategically, not at random.
But how can you stick to strategy when everything is cheap, on-trend, and everyone else has it? I’m not saying to throw everything in your wardrobe away or live with only a dozen pieces. But try embracing the concept of a well-curated, high-quality wardrobe that’s made to last: you’ll get more out of your wardrobe this way.
Fast fashion – clothing or accessories that aren’t meant to last- is surprisingly more expensive. While it doesn’t cost you much when you swipe your card, it does in the long term. Poor construction, cheaper fabrics, and the dysfunction it can add to your wardrobe leads to dissatisfaction and frustration.
But fast fashion is all I can afford! you may say. Or my favorite, I’m on a budget, so I have to buy cheap. More often than not, that’s simply not true. It comes down to old-school, common sense ideas like saving up for things you may want versus spending “only $30” on another sweater you’ll replace in a month. Trust me, that $30 adds up. Had you refrained from buying something for “only $30” over the course of a few months, you might be able to splurge on its pricier, better-quality counterpart. Now that’s budgeting!
Cost Per Wear (CPW)
The object of curating your closet, besides having a wardrobe full of clothes you love, is cost per wear, or CPW. The goal is for everything you buy to have a low CPW score. This is accomplished by wearing something in your wardrobe as much as possible, which results in a lower CPW.
Here’s an example:
You buy a high-quality, tailored blazer for $120. You wear it only once, which makes the cost per wear $120. Wear the blazer three times, and the CPW is $40. 10 times, and it’s only $12. This concept applies to an item of any price, including sale. Sales can be tricky- sometimes, we justify buying an item that was steeply discounted even though it may not really fit, or isn’t quite our style. Don’t convince yourself that because an item has a low potential CPW that it’s okay to buy, because oftentimes you won’t end up wearing it as often as you planned!
A trick to this is to look at the price tag last. I know, I know, this seems counterintuitive. After all, what happens if you fall for a piece and then realize you can’t afford it? Consider this:
Cost per wear, when misused, puts too much emphasis on cost, and not enough on wear. By the time you glance at the price tag, you should have considered several other factors: what kind of utility will this piece add to my closet? How can I wear this with what I already have? Is it versatile enough or cohesive enough? Does it fit and flatter my body and if not, is it worth getting tailored? How is the cut and texture of the fabric? Will I actually wear this?
Once you’ve given all of those a thought, look at the price tag. If you can afford it, great! If not, move on or wait for it to go on sale.
Here’s another a different scenario to consider: what is the difference between a pair of $120 pants that you wear 24 times, or a pair of $24 pants that you only wear 4 times? The CPW is the same ($5), but there is one major difference: the functionality of your wardrobe.
The obvious benefit of the $120 pair of pants over the cheap pants is that, with proper care, they shouldn’t have to be replaced, and its one pair of pants that will remain in constant rotation in your wardrobe. They’re reliable, they’re your go-to pair of pants, and they’re great quality; whereas the cheaper pants might only last about four wears before you have to replace them.
Buying articles of clothing that you’re constantly disposing of or replacing is stressful and time-consuming. Would you rather have to replace those pants every few months, or every few years?
Invest in Quality Pieces
One of the main excuses I hear from people (and an argument I’ve made in the past) is that fast fashion is more affordable. With this mindset, its easier to get caught up and over-consume. It may not even be intentional: you wear something a few times, perhaps even once, and it falls apart or shrinks in the wash. Before you know it, you have to go out and spend more money on a replacement.
Back in college, I saved for months to buy my first designer bag, a pebbled leather tote from Tory Burch that cost me $500. While $500 is a lot of money, I knew I wanted to invest in a classic bag that I could use forever, because I was tired of spending $75 on a new one from Target every six months.
For the sake of this example, let’s say I only kept the Tory Burchbag for five years: that equates to only $100 a year spent on a good quality bag; already less than what I spent in a year on cheap bags. However, if I were to keep buying a new $75 handbag from Target twice a year because it broke, over five years I’d have ended up spending $750. The designer bag may have cost me more money upfront, but it was a smarter investment in the long run. (I still have that bag, and use it often – highly recommend!)
With all of the replacement and re-purchasing, you end up spending more money than if you had just purchased select, well-made, high quality pieces from brands that put thought and true craftsmanship into their pieces. Be careful though – just because an item costs more, don’t assume it’s better quality.
Do you see how cheap fashion actually adds up to more over time? Don’t use this reasoning to justify an expensive purchase either. You have to be able to actually afford the item; I am not an advocate for charging anything expensive on your credit card unless you have the funds to immediately pay it off. Never use price as a means to justify a purchase because it rarely ends well.
When you consider spending more on high quality garments, your standards are higher, and you buy less. You end up saving in the end, financially and mentally.
Help the Environment
When you are constantly buying and disposing, you will never end up with a closet that can function optimally. At best, you’ll end up with a random assortment of clothing that will make its way to donation bins or to landfills, which impacts the environment negatively. The fashion industry is the world’s second most polluting industry; that’s appalling. But it makes sense: the pieces aren’t made to last, the construction is poor. They are designed around trends or seasons, and disposed of after they’ve served their purpose. Buying fast fashion means you’ll have a hard time finding clothing and accessories in your closet that are cohesive, and you’ll constantly have the urge to purge your entire closet and start over from scratch, contributing to pollution.
Why Curating Matters
We tend to think the more we have, the better we will look and the better our wardrobe will function. But, to quote my mother “less is more.” “Quality over quantity” is an old theory that can be difficult to practice. The truth is, the more clothes and accessories you have, the more complicated it is to maintain a cohesive edit of clothing and the more stressful getting ready will be. However, having less clothes doesn’t automatically make getting dressed any easier; you need to take the time to invest in quality basics, and build your wardrobe carefully from there. Spend your time, energy, and money curating only the best pieces, while thoughtfully considering how each piece will work in your current wardrobe.
The problem with fast fashion is that there is constantly new inventory, and many of us feel like we need to keep up with all of the newest styles in order to ourselves feel stylish, especially if we see others doing it. How many times did you buy that sweater that all of the Instagram influencers are wearing, only to wear it once before forgetting about it?
Ethical Reasons to Stop Buying Fast Fashion
The cost of fast fashion isn’t just the price tag.
Clothes aren’t made in a factory with machines that churn out new garments all day long; it’s an industry that thrives off of forced childhood labor. If we want to buy a top for $10, the wages of these laborers is literal pennies in order for these brands to make a profit. These laborers work in extremely unsafe work environments, often in third-world countries, just for us to dispose of something after only a few wears. I’ve been guilty of this so many times, and I’m sure many of you have, too. None of us can be perfect and avoid these brands completely, but it’s possible to drastically cut down on the amount of fast fashion you consume. Remember, quality over quantity. Let go of the idea that you must be constantly shopping and adding to your wardrobe and instead, focus on building a high-quality, versatile collection of clothes and accessories that are made to last. If you’d like, consider contributing to brands such as American Apparel, who produce their clothing locally and ethically.
You Don’t Have to Conform
Sure, we all want to fit in. But constantly buying the new “it” pieces leaves us feeling unsatisfied and broke. Don’t sacrifice on fit and quality for the sake of having the same wardrobe as that social media influencer. They get paid to cycle through clothing and oftentimes many of them buy an item for the sake of a photo before returning it. They convince you to buy that sweater for only $30 and you do it because they have a million followers and they always look good, so you’re bound to look good too, right? Wrong.
Looking your best is something no one can steal from you. If feeling great means incorporating a few trendy pieces into your wardrobe each season, then do so. But don’t be a slave to trends. They’ll only exhaust you and your bank account, and leave you wanting for more. Plus, it’s a sure sign that you don’t really have style; you’re just really good at taking cues from fashion advertisements.
So before you go buying that cheap top you don’t need, try to remember the real costs of fast fashion, and what you are truly looking to get out of your wardrobe.
For more on curating a functional, stylish wardrobe, please read here.