Sunday, August 12, 2012

Stacy and Clinton's Cost-Per-Wear Theory

Of all my fashion shows, "What Not to Wear" is one of my most consistent favorites. Stacy London and Clinton Kelly's infamously quirky program brings fashion back to what it's intended for in the first place, REAL PEOPLE.  In honor of my new job, I'd like to praise pair's the "Cost-Per-Wear" theory and what it means to me.

Here are the problems: I've always loved to go shopping, to a fault, but my current wardrobe plain and simple wasn't built for an office. So my brain quickly does the math that I need a TON of new clothes and my bank account has a decent amount more money in it. All lights say go, TIME TO SHOP!!!  But thankfully, the Learning Channel's re-run's have made me think twice and plan ahead.

Checking Out the Place

Of course with any new job or interview, you want to put your best foot forward, so you do need two-three standard business professional looks in the back of your closet regardless of your work situation. However, every office culture is different, so I made sure to check mine out first before I hit the mall.  Usually the definers are the age of your coworkers and how often clients come in.  At my internship 2 years ago, I noticed about 4-6 people wear jeans every day to a 30-person office, so I wore my dark jeans most days. Mistake! Not that I saw any specific hindrances to my work, but Stacy and Clinton remind us always: Dress for the job you want, not the job you have! Besides, I admit it does feel better to be overdressed constantly than to be underdressed even once. Yes, this means more money, but that's where the budget-crunching theory comes in.

Quantity Vs. Quality

I went to a predominantly upper middle class public high school back in the day, and I must have spent an ungodly amount of money on clothes.  The whole point back then was to have enough tops that you hardly ever repeated an outfit. While many of us still have that "never-repeat" concept ingrained in us, it's important to look at it in dollars. A pair of jeans in college would probably get about a minimum of 144 wears, and a trendy graphic tee would probably get worn at most 12 times. Spending $30 on the jeans and $25 on the top doesn't make as much sense now, as the cheap jeans would probably wear out quickly and the t-shirt comes out to being more than a dollar per wear, and it's a t-shirt!  My gym clothes should cost more than that! That's the thing about applying the cost-per-wear ratio, you start to learn what things you SHOULD be spending money on and not feeling guilty about versus the things that are marked up past its use value.  The biggest mistake Stacy and Clinton talk about on the show: Buying tons of cheap things you never wear, bad clothes that were gifts, failing to return things that don't fit, etc. My mother does this!  She goes to a particular outlet store and buys shoes/clothes/bedding/accessories that you cannot return, and when she sees your look of disappointment, she responds with "They were ONLY 7 dollars" or "they were marked down from X amount!" That's the trap we all fall for, that's 7 dollars you're never getting back, and money is money. 

The Minimal Approach

The most repetitive part of "What Not To Wear" is how adamant they are with their recipients about buying their wardrobe staples: suits, pants, blazers, dresses, skirts, and jackets.  It would appear that it really leaves very little room for creativity. However, when you really look at it, the show is handing you $5000 dollars, they know you're probably going to do more shopping when you get home, so get the expensive stuff, i.e. the stuff with higher Costs-Per-Wear with the WhatNotToWear Card. By the end of the show there's usually only 20-25 items hanging on that rack (they toss out everything in their old closet for the first half) and I used to think, "Well, that's not a lot of clothes."  So let's compare: Assuming that all contestants buy about the same amount of staple pieces and that all of these can be work appropriate in one way or another, let's see how Bailey's work wardrobe matches up to what I have so far.

Work appropriate tops: Bailey...10 Me...21
Work appropriate dresses: Bailey...3 Me...3
Work full-length pants: Bailey...3 Me...2
Work appropriate bags: Bailey...4 Me...3
Cardigans: Bailey...3 Cardigans...6
Blazers/Jackets: Bailey...3 Me...0
Work appropriate skirts: Bailey...2 Me...1
Monday-Thursday Work Shoes: Bailey...8 Me...5

There's a lot more factors to consider, like that they had only a 2 day window to shop or the quality of the pieces, but for the most part, every episode shows a good minimal wardrobe we could all use.  Even though I have tons of clothes in my closet, comparing to the "What Not To Wear" shopping lists highlights very simply what I'm missing staple-wise. 

Since I landed my job I purchased 1 new pair of work shoes, 3 work tops in various sleeve lengths, and a printed cardigan.  Comparing the minimal list above, I see I could use about 2 more pairs of work appropriate shoes, 1 more pair of work trousers, and make it a suit with a matching blazer and an additional white one for fun, plus I'll need 1-2 more work appropriate skirts. That's only 7 items, but they're items I'm obviously not gravitating instantly to in the stores and will vastly expand the versatility of my work wear. 

What Not to SPEND

I'm no accounting major, but I know I've made some mistakes budget-wise filling what I thought were the empty holes in my closet. Now that you know the basics you're missing, you can calculate how much you really need to spend. Even though I still will wear my jeans and casual tops, I'm now getting dressed in business-wear 4 out of 7 days of the week, so this needs to be the priority. Printed seasonal tops I love, but this season I'll probably wear one about 3 times to work and 7 times outside of work. So if it goes out of style, the bare minimum cost per wear says I should've only paid 10 dollars for it. Oy Vay! If only that were the truth. I guess it's worse if you go out every season and buy many of these tops. It's tough love, but these purchase mistakes drive the fashion industry. Even if CPW is a hard pill to swallow, at least think of it in terms of what you currently spend on items that you do get the use out of.  If you have no problem paying $120 for a work appropriate pencil skirt, wear it 40 times, then it's generally ok to spend 1/3 of that money on something else, like a bold necklace, you'll wear 1/3 of that time. The bare bones of this lesson is to spend LESS on what you'll wear LESS, and don't buy things you don't have a reason yet to wear!

The Good News

The good news about the CPW theory is that you can now justify some of those expensive designer purchases if they are a basic wardrobe staple. And, because the skirts at the store hang right next to the tops at the store, the price doesn't move up quite to the CPW ratio, which means you're saving money. However, it is important still to pay attention to the materials, customer reviews, etc for what will truly last the long haul. Does this mean I can afford black Manolos?  No, but a solid colored pair of classic pumps does usually have a cost-per-wear around 144 and up, which is a decent chunk of change to shop with.  Also, it's important to just pay attention to YOU.  What do you wear every day?  What clothes look best on your body shape? What article of clothing do you get the most compliments wearing? This all can alter what staples you need, how many you need, and what you should save and splurge on.

The over all London-Kelly message is to A. Stop spending money on CRAP, B. start spending money on quality items that will last you years, and C. pay attention to how often you will wear clothes.  Even if it seems stupid to spend more on work-out pants than a stylish top for work, think about everything in dollars.  

I'll post again on my completed shopping soon!

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