Thursday, July 18, 2013

Lessons from 4-H: Cost Per Wear

Sometimes, even a lady has to do some math.
Yes, this involves math. I don't like math all, but I promise that this is worth it.

4-H is an organization that promotes many things, but one of the biggest things that it promotes is budgeting. Every project requires you to calculate how much you spent and how much use you are getting out of the money that you spent.

Lolita is a fashion of expensive items. All that fabric and lace, along with custom-printed designs, costs a fair bit of money. Even if you buy secondhand or stick to offbrand and handmade items, it's still going to cost money and/or construction time. There really isn't another way around it.

One of the ways that these two things collide and actually start to play nice with each other is when you calculate cost per wear. Cost per wear is required information where the 4-H Clothing and Textiles project area is concerned, and it's a relatively simple thing to figure out. To calculate it:

How Much I Spent on the Item ÷ How Many Times I Wore It = Cost Per Wear

See? Easy as that.

Once you've figured out cost per wear, you can figure out if the items in your closet are really pulling their weight. For example, if you paid full retail price for a brand lolita dress but then wore it a few times before letting it languish in your closet, you're not getting the most out of that dress. And, if you bought something offbrand for thirty dollars and never wore it, that's just as much of a waste of money even if it didn't cost much to begin with.

One easy way to keep track of cost per wear is by keeping a tally. If you've already done a wardrobe inventory, that's easy. Just tally the number of times you wear a thing on your inventory. Don't worry about messing up the work you did; it's your inventory and you can do what you want with it. This is extra easy if you've done your inventory on the computer in a spreadsheet. In fact, here's a bit from mine:

Item Brand New/Used Cost Times Worn CPW
High Waisted Black Skirt w/ Rose Print Bodyline New 53 35 1.51
Black Velveteen Skirt w/ Chandelier Embroidery HMHM Used 40 25 1.6
Black Royal Seal Skirt w/ Gold Screen Print Princess Pearl Used 35 28 1.25

I can't tell you, though, what cost per wear should be for you. My usual rule is that an item needs to be versatile enough that, within a year or two, I can bring CPW below five dollars for items purchased new and below two dollars for items purchased secondhand. I know that sounds like a pretty tall order, but it's well within my reach if I am careful about what I spend my money on.

Personally, I impulse buy more than I would like. Most of my impulse buys are tights and jewelry, but occasionally I will make an impulsive decision while browsing comm sales. Keeping cost per wear in mind keeps me from buying something I won't actually use.

So, why is all of this important?

Most of all, keeping track of cost per wear makes sure that you build your wardrobe with things you use. If you're thinking of purchases as an investment rather than as something you wear once then sell on comm sales, you are going to get a lot more out of your wardrobe. That is not to say that you can't or shouldn't resell; obviously, if an item doesn't fit, doesn't suit your style, or if you' have exhausted the item's possibilities, go ahead and sell it. But if you are thinking about each purchase in terms of its value to you, you'll get a lot more use out of your wardrobe as a whole.


  1. Wow, again you amaze me by all the logical and practicality involved in buying your own Lolita wardrobe. I haven't started my "wardrobe spreadsheet" yet, but I think I should especially when I get around to actually buying Lolita clothes.

    Do you think they're should be a section on homemade clothes? Maybe the cost could be the amount the fabric and other notions cost to make it?


    1. :) Thank you. I'm glad you're getting some use out of the information.

      Yes, handmade clothes should be included. The cost would include fabric, notions, and the pattern (if you're using one).

      It's a little harder to calculate handmade clothing, though, because there is effort involved in making the items. Even with cheap fabric, some projects take much more time to make and that increases their "cost" to you. You might want to keep track of how much time you spent working on the item. This could give you an idea of which handmade items are worth the time and effort it takes to make them.