Clothing too expensive? Think cost-per-wear

One of the big hurdles to overcome when shopping for more ethical fashion is the inevitable price increase – it's more expensive than most fast-fashion retailers. It can be a very hard pill to swallow, and many struggle to get past it. Ethically produced fashion typically represents a ‘true’ cost for that item of clothing. People and the environment haven’t been screwed along the way, but this is typically reflected by a more expensive price tag.

What’s important to realise is that there’s a difference between cost and value. You may pay just a few dollars for a dress in H&M, but the item is low value both in its quality and its moral journey. It’s important to recognise the higher value in many ethical fashion items, and the quality they carry.

When it comes to cost, it can also help to reframe the initial payment that you make for the item. Up-front payments can be a scary thing to deal with, but it’s often easier to look at things in terms of cost-per-wear.


As the name suggests, cost-per-wear is about understanding how much an item costs you each time you wear it. For example, if you see a pair of jeans for £100, and you wear them 100 times before getting a crotch blowout (seriously, that's a thing, and they suck) then you have got £1 per wear on them. Obviously, the more you wear them, the lower the cost-per-wear.

True Icon shirts  ain't even that expensive, but the value's even better when you think about cost-per-wear.

True Icon shirts ain't even that expensive, but the value's even better when you think about cost-per-wear.

You may want to set different cost-per-wear target for different categories of clothes. For example, I wear tshirts all the time. Sometimes, when I’m feeling lazy, I probably wear some tshirts 3 days straight (yes, even to bed. Haters gonna hate.), although I think it’s fair to call that 3, or even more wears. On the other hand, I own a couple of suit jackets. I wear a suit maybe twice a year. The suit jackets may be with me for a lot longer than the average tshirt, but their cost-per-wear is still going to work out higher. But I’m ok with that. It’s more of a luxury item, so I’m not concerned with getting insanely low cost-per-wear out of it.

There are two key ways of looking at cost per wear.

Cost-per-wear working forwards

Here, you work out the cost-per-wear you’d like to achieve on the item. From there you can work out how many times you’ll need to wear the item to achieve it. It’s as simple as just making sure you get all those wears in to ‘pay back’ for your initial upfront costs. This can help you make sure you get that return for your initial investment.

Cost-per-wear working backwards

The other method is to estimate roughly how many times you’d wear the item you’re looking at buying. This, obviously, isn’t an exact science, but a rough estimate. From here, you can get the cost-per-wear for the item at the outset. You can then make the decision as to whether or not to invest. Yes, this is prone to guesswork, but I prefer it – I don’t feel like I’m ticking off a ‘to-do’ list every time I wear an outfit.

Use cost-per-wear to rethink expensive clothes

So, there you have it. Cost-per-wear isn’t infallible – an item might tear early, and it’s still subject to some guesswork – but it can help reframe an expensive item in your mind. A winter jacket from Vaute Couture costing £300 that you’ll wear every day throughout winter for several years to come is fantastic value compared to a £6 sweater you buy from Primark that bobbles after the first wash (if it survives at all).

Understanding quality, value, and the long-term life of an item is essential when moving out of fast-fashion.

What items have you achieved the best cost-per-wear on? Let us know in the comments below.