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Friday, August 27, 2010

CPW and LBD: Some Thoughts

CPW=Cost Per Wear
LBD=Little Black Dress (LBD has just entered the dictionary, I read)

Sometimes I think the CPW concept just encourages overspending. All the experts--fashion mags, especially--counsel determining what's "worth it" by COST PER WEAR:if you buy a jacket for $1000.00 and wear it 1000 times, it only costs $1.00/wear, and hence is cheaper than the $3.00 yard sale sweater that languishes in your closet unworn. This seems to make sense.

I thought about a potential CPW fallacy when I was in a three-generation shopping excursion with my mother and daughter in Lenox Massachusetts. As a "resort" area, Lenox sports boutiques that tend to have very nice items and that tend not to have sales. I'm not too comfortable in these boutiques, but my mother likes the people who run one, and so buys a few things a year.

While we were there, Miss Em tried on a Michael Stars dress--just cotton, with some modal, and a bit of spandex--that was around $100.00. It was my fault, because I showed her the dress. Of course, being 19 years old, and extremely tall, Miss Em looks good in almost everything. I thought the price was too high for what was really an elongated tee shirt.

Miss Em exclaimed, "Think about cost per wear! I could wear this every week for a year!!" And, "I don't have an LBD!" And, "I need an LBD!"

I got all crabby and at the end everyone was mad at me: Miss Em and my mother, not to mention the store owner my mother likes so much. We did buy Miss Em a nice cotton gauze tunic, which she has worn a number of times.

I knew I had an argument, but I couldn't formulate it. Then, after a few days, it hit me! The CPW concept ONLY works if you have ONLY a few things.

If you have a closetful of stuff (all nice, by the way) as Miss Em does, by wearing the LBD once a week, you are displacing other items from your rotation. So, at one a week, the LBD would have a low CPW, but the other items would end up having a higher one.

Therefore, the CPW concept only works for those disciplined enough to have a very streamlined wardrobe. You can't stuff an expensive item into a full closet and talk about CPW, can you?

Interestingly, our next stop was Northern California, another very affluent area with a resort component. We were in Sonoma, where there is an excellent thrift store, The Church Mouse. There Miss Em found a Susana Monaco--you guessed it--LBD for $10.00. It was nicer than the first LBD.

Miss Em didn't want it, but I made her buy it. She recently thanked me for pushing it on her. The CPW is down to about $1.00!

What do you think of the CPW concept? Helpful? Or a marketing ploy?

If you're ever in Sonoma, stop by the wonderful thrift.


hostess of the humble bungalow said...

The CPW helps me rationalize the purchase...but I am now embracing minimalism with a vengance!

mette said...

I have never had a real LBD. I have had a black skirt suit, originally bought for attending a funeral. I wore it to three funerals in a period of a few years and finally got rid of it! Now I have a black dress, but it is not a LBD. I have a feeling that the whole LBD is a more serious thing in US, than over here in Finland. The CPW thinking is new to me too. My purchases are not cheap, but I am not buying all the time. I like to keep a small wardrobe, and am therefore forced to wear what I have. I aim to buy high quality everyday clothes, which can be dressed up if needed.

SewingLibrarian said...

You make an interesting and valid point. In some ways it's analogous to the concept of "opportunity cost" in economics. If you spend money or time to accomplish one thing, you are taking those resources away from the opportunity to do something else. At least, that's what I remember from my long-ago econ class.

Funny about Money said...

Yeah, I certainly do factor in the number of times an item is likely to be worn. As Hostess of the HB points out, it's a convenient way to rationalize a pricey purchase. And in fact, when I buy something I really like, I generally wear it a lot and keep it for a long time.

Cheaper stuff that either falls apart or that ultimately I don't care for much (doesn't fit, doesn't hold up to washing, chintzy manufacture) often just sits in the closet. So you could argue that a $50 top that gets worn 50 times only cost $1 per wearing, while an $8 top that gets worn three times and forgotten cost $2.66 per wearing and therefore is actually a worse buy than the pricier thing. Especially if the $8 top is soon replaced with, say, a $18 top.

FB @ said...

Exactly. The less you own, the more CPW makes sense

In my case, I just use it as an excuse because I like pretty things

With that in mind, I have clothes from 10 years ago I still wear.

Duchesse said...

CPW also works if you keep a clothing *category* small. For example, have only 2 cocktail dresses, not 16. CPW works best for me for jewelry- b/c it fits no matter what size you are currently!

Northmoon said...

I use the cost per wear to justify expensive options when I'm considering things I will wear regularly. For example I spent a lot on a winter coat last fall, but I know it will be worn on an almost daily basis for several winters.

Also my glasses, I don't even try to save money here, they are on my face every day.

I bought a LBD a few years ago and never wore it! Didn't spend a lot on it but still, that fashion "must have" doesn't apply in my lifestyle!

Anonymous said...

I just have a budget and I don't go over. Within that budget (which also includes other non-essential expenditures), I can spend as much on a garment as I please. I don't try to justify the purchase.

I find that I tend to get in trouble when I try too hard to justify a purchase. Sometimes I buy things for "practical" reasons and end up hating them. So lately I've just been buying things that I really, really like.

Interestingly, ever since I implemented my strict budget, I've started buying more expensive clothes. I just hate spending my limited funds on cheap stuff. The only place I'm willing to spend money on average goods is at the thrift shop. I use thrift shopping to fill in the gaps in my wardrobe. I'd rather spend $20 at the thrift shop than at Target.

Shelley said...

I think you've hit the nail, actually. I don't know anyone with a pared down closet, a capsule wardrobe or whatever. I think we've been spoiled to having variety and so most of us have more clothes than we can ever wear sufficiently to get the CPW down to any sort of impressive level, at least not buying brand new. Also, it is very difficult to buy something so classic that it won't date before you get full number of wearings, especially if you don't go to LBD functions very often. If you look great in black, that's another matter, but most women don't, really. My favourite magazine, now out of print, used to have a regular feature about doing the fashion maths. Never mind the extravagant item they were justifying, by the time they put it together with other items and accessories to show how often one could wear it, the total price was fantasyland. I've never owned an LBD, only black or navy suits, for interviews or funerals, not coctail parties.

Katja said...

Interesting - I like the concept of factoring in the opportunity cost.

I don't think I've ever considered CPW at the point of purchase - I'm not good enough at this sort of thing to accurately estimate how often I'll wear a garment at the beginning.

CPW for me is something I realize only later - much later, after much wearing. And if it turns out to be low, then I feel like I accomplished something good.

Anonymous said...

This post will change a few of my shopping habits.

Cathy said...

I LOVE this post. I also could not formulate the words! I always have a closet FULL of beautiful finds from thrifting! It doesn't change the fact that the clothes originally cost a GREAT deal more that what I paid for them. Even when I look at something new with a larger price tag, my mind immediately reminds me there has never been a time that I couldn't find the PERFECT item I needed at my local thrift or Goodwill. Thanks! And I bet Ms. Em wears that dress and loves it!

Frugal Scholar said...

@hostess--I remember using this when I suggested it would be OK for you to buy the $$$ handbag. As I recall, you didn't do it...Minimalism would seem to promote a low CPW, right?

@Metscan--I think you are a good model for streamlining one's possessions. You don't have much, but all is exquisite. I lack the discipline, I'm afraid.

@SewingLibrarian--I've never taken economics, but I am interested in the subject. I'm glad that I am in line with economic theory. Thanks for pointing it out.

Frugal Scholar said...

@Funny--My problem is that I can never tell what I will wear a lot. If I knew in advance, I wouldn't make as many mistakes as I do.

@FB--Yes, it is mainly a way to rationalize. It turns out that it's a marketing term.

@Duchesse--And jewelry doesn't get ruined when you spill coffee on it! And it is fairly compact. And it is not subject--as much--to fashion.

@northmoon--Coats (and boots) are the items for which I can justify a large purchase price. I hadn't thought of glasses, but I see that those are also once-a-year purchases. Coats really do last almost forever.

Frugal Scholar said...

@MsM--Sounds like a good strategy. I love thrift stores too--esp. because it is so easy to get rid of mistakes. Also, because you can see what a garment looks like after it's been washed a few times.

@Oh Shelley--you are right. I think the capsule wardrobe is a dream--I've only seen it in magazines, now that I think of it. Fantasy-land!

@Katya--Me too. I can never predict how much wear something will get. It's hard to tell how comfortable something will be--ion all senses.

@Terri--Mine too! I'm not being facetious. I learned something while writing. Thanks.

@Cathy--To tell you the truth, I get stressed when I spend a lot on something, because I'm always worried about ruining it. The danger in thrift shopping is getting too too much. It's hard to stop. Miss Em DOES love the dress and thanked me for forcing her to buy it.