Thursday, July 21, 2011

Why You Shouldn't "Invest" in Wardrobe Pieces

I hate articles like this one: 6 Work Wardrobe Staples to Invest In. Here's why:

1. Investment means to put money in an asset, ie, something whose value is going to increase. Clothing that you purchase to wear is not going to increase in value. There are very rare occasions where couture clothing, perfectly preserved, may increase in value, but that's not what's going to happen with clothing that you buy from department stores or designer stores that you plan to wear to work. Don't be fooled.

Obviously, the intended assumption here is that you're going to spend money on clothing that will help you project an image that will help you earn more money. That may or may not be the case, but I feel that you can get that job/keep that job/get that promotion while buying clothing that's not considered "investment" pieces, so why not save the money you would have spent, put it in the bank, and earn interest on it -- thereby, actually investing it.

2. I have a problem finding clothes that actually fit me really well. My weight is pretty stable. I'm an underbuyer, so I don't go shopping for fun - I go with a mission, a purpose, a list. I now have a defined style, color scheme and rules for clothing so I'm not buying willy-nilly while I'm in the store. And STILL. I will buy something that fits fine in the store, meets all my needs, and then realize after a few wearings that I hate that item. It's bad enough when I've spent tens of dollars on the item; it's even worse if it's hundreds or thousands of dollars.

And I don't believe that more expensive clothing will not have this problem. I've had it with items from all price levels; in fact, the most expensive piece of clothing I've ever owned was the worst about this - my wedding dress, which is supposed to be all sentimental and whatnot, was the most uncomfortable thing I've ever worn in my life and the moment I took it off, I knew I would get rid of it as soon as possible. Also, my favorite pair of work pants came from Kohls and probably cost $24.99 and have lasted me years, so price does not necessarily indicate how well fit will hold up for me. It seems like lately, "quality" is simply a selling point to up a price, not a real feature.

3. Upkeep costs are higher with more expensive clothes. Dry cleaning, tailoring, etc - I don't have those costs with cheaper items. Investments shouldn't cost anything additional to be maintained.

4. Styles come and go. Heel heights and widths, toe box styles, hardware on bags, silhouettes, skirt lengths. If you spend a lot of money on a piece, even one with "classic" lines, it will eventually go out of style - and then you're stuck with clutter in your closet or looking out of date.

5. Stuff you don't need. I don't need a suit. No, really - I don't need one. I haven't worn a suit on a job interview in eight years, and I get job offers just fine. I will never wear a suit to work, and I will never wear a suit to a conference or trade show or whatever. It's not appropriate for my industry, and no matter how good the quality or the deal, a suit is not a good investment for me. "Investment" pieces are frequently things you don't really need - suits (unless you're in law or finance), trench coats, cocktail dresses. Dressing it up as an "investment" is a way of selling you something you don't need.

My solutions
I shop infrequently. I'm really picky about what I buy, and I pay attention to the items I already have and try to mimic them where it makes sense (ie, silhouettes, draping, etc). I have a uniform of sorts and I have a color scheme. I always shop at discount stores, on the clearance racks. I haven't had a chance to check out thrift stores here (they were a bust in New York) but that would be an option as well. Once I find something I like (a cardigan, pants) I go back and buy multiples and rotate. By doing so, I extend my wardrobe more than I would buying one signature, expensive piece. (Hint: if you find something you love and it's no longer available in stores, check e-bay!)

What do you think? Are 'investment pieces' worth spending more on? Are the risks of finding actual quality pieces worth the costs of the duds?


  1. I absolutely hate that term, too. It's used all the time in fashion magazines to justify spending on clothing, shoes, etc. when in truth, 99% of clothes and purses don't hold or increase in value value due to wear and tear. (maybe it's different for jewelry and watches).

  2. Good point. Should be pieces to splurge on, not invest in.

    I think each person's work wardrobe needs are different, and so each person has a different list of things they could legitimately splurge on to get more life out of. I would say that article you linked to only covers ladies who work in the legal profession or for a politician, perhaps.

    I spent a little extra money on a suit jacket that I pull out every few months when I need to meet with someone who does wear suits to work (lawyers, bankers, etc). I've had that jacket for probably seven years, and it's still style appropriate. I've also spent a little more money on shoes that I wear to work most days. They're not heels, but I want them to be comfortable and not fall apart after a few months, so I don't mind spending a little extra.

  3. My advice is to ignore the articles and buy what suits your profession and lifestyle. I purschased a suit (jacket, trousers and skirt) three years ago for my work and about 85% of my work wardrobe is based around this and to me it was money well spent. As for out of work, my style is super sporty and casual, no classic cashmere sweaters for me.

  4. oh and yes I work in the legal/governmental profession.

  5. I agree- I think (aside from the word "investment") the biggest flaw here is assuming that everyone needs the same things. The fact is, work environments are so variable!

    I need to start buying multiples of items that fit very well and that I like, and same goes for shoes! I didn't do this before, because I didn't have the money...but it gets annoying trying to replace things when nothing fits right!

  6. You're right, the definition of "invest" as stated above is correct from a finance point of view. However, the fashion magazines are also correct. From an accounting point of view, you invest in assets to bring you future economic benefit, which in fashion terms, means that you will wear them for longer than the current season. So would I "invest" in wardrobe items? If I would wear them several times, then I wouldn't be afraid to spend a little more, but at the same time, if I could grab quality for a bargain, then why not.


Thanks for commenting!