You May Be Doing This Whole CPW Thing Wrong

All that glitters ain't gold. And everything with a potential low cost-per-wear score doesn't belong in your closet.

By: Amber

If this term is new to you, here’s the deal: CPW stands for cost-per-wear. The object of the game is for everything you buy to have the lowest CPW score as possible. How do you achieve this? You wear an item in your wardrobe as much as possible, that way every time you wear a purchase you are paying less per wear. Here’s a quick example: You buy a pair of jeans for $120. You wear them once and you paid $120, or the full price, to wear them. Wear them three times and you pay $40. Six times, just $20 each time. Sounds good, right? Essentially, every time you wear something, the CPW dwindles.

But why is how much you pay for an item each time you wear it so important? It doesn’t change the price you paid for it originally, does it? Time to talk some simple economics, guys.

Never use CPW to justify a purchase

This is the first rule. Our biggest qualm of CPW is that it leads you to using the price of something to justify adding it to your wardrobe, whether we’re talking about something that’s out of your price range or a major steal. So let’s say instead of paying $120 for a pair of high-end designer denim, you grab a pair from a big box store or get a pair heavily discounted and only end up paying $20 for them. Same math applies. Wear them once and your CPW is the full price you paid, $20. Wear them 20 times and it’s a measly $1 per wear! But come on, how often are you going to find a $20 pair of jeans that is durable enough to survive 20 wears, and let’s say 5-10 washes?

Okay, maybe for you it’s the second scenario and they are high-quality pair of jeans that you found discounted 75% on a sale rack. Major. Score. But this is also the circumstance where you’ll make concessions. Come on, you know what we mean; we’ve all been there. We find something at an incredible discount, and even though they don’t fit perfectly, it’s cool — they’re a fraction of the retail price.

Personally, in the past we’ve justified buying things that were steeply discounted even though it wasn’t really our style. They were cute for sure, but not anything we would have been attracted to if said items were full price. Don’t do this. Don’t convenience yourself that because an item has a potential low CPW that it’s okay to sacrifice, because you know what happens? You won’t end up wearing it as much as you planned! And then your CPW is totally shot because in order to decrease CPW you have to increase the actual number of wears.

Consider price last

We always advise looking at the price tag last when contemplating a piece to add to your wardrobe. Why? This seems backwards? Counterintuitive? Less than smart because what if you fall for a piece and then look at the price tag and realize you can’t afford it?

Here’s the thing: when misused, the CPW theory puts too much emphasis on the price of something. Yes, you have to be able to actually afford it; we’re certainly not advocates for charging expensive shit on your credit card that you know you’re not going to be able to make (timely) payments on. But you should never use the price, whether it’s over your price range or way beneath it, to justify buying something because it rarely ends pretty. You make sacrifices in important areas that should never be sacrificed.

By the time you consider cost, you should have already weighed every other factor like the utility it will add to your current closet (versatility and cohesiveness), how well it will fit and flatter your body, the overall comfort level of the cut and fabric, how appropriate it will be for the daily activities of your life, and how aesthetically pleasing it is in terms of the style. Once all those things on your checklist are a go, then go ahead and see if you can afford it. If you can, perfect. If not, move on or wait for it to go on sale. It’s just clothes/shoes/a bag/whatever, not health insurance.

Why CPW is a valuable tool

Okay, so what’s really the difference between buying a pair of $120 jeans that you’ll wear 24 times and buying a pair of $20 that you wear 4 times? You end up with the same CPW, which is $5. Right, but there is one major difference: the function of your wardrobe

One will be beneficial to the utility of your wardrobe and one will be equally as harmful to the utility of your wardrobe. The prime benefit that the $120 jeans has over the $20 pair is that (with proper care, obviously) they don’t have to be replaced. So the CPW takes much longer to dwindle down to $5, but that’s one pair of jeans that have remained on constant rotation in your closet. They’re tried and true, they’re reliable, and they’re amazing quality, whereas the cheaper version only lasted four wears before you had to run out and get a replacement. So essentially, you have to start over every four wears.

Buying pieces that you’re constantly disposing of and replacing is stressful and time-consuming. How many times in the year that the $120 pair of jeans lasted will you have to replace your $20 jeans? Simple math. Don’t worry. No need to switch over to your phone’s calculator. It’s six pairs. Would you rather have to replace your jeans every two months or invest in a quality pair that will last you years?

Quit your buying and tossing habit

When you create a habit of buying and disposing, buying and disposing, you are not curating a wardrobe that can function optimally. At best, you will end up with a hodgepodge of randomness that together makes no sense, not even if you squint and angle your face. You’ll end up with frustrated mornings where nothing seems to go with anything and will constantly be running in and out of fast fashion shops or hitting up the sale rack to buy more bargains that will have the same fleeting presence in your closet.

You never develop a cohesive edit of clothing and accessories that make you feel confident and inspires you on the daily. You’ll go through hating-everything-in-your-closet spells and constantly have the urge to purge your entire wardrobe and start over from scratch. It’s an endless circle of frustration.

See it’s not always about the number when calculating your final CPW; it’s about not having to replace your stuff so often. And let’s keep in mind that the more you dispose, the more you contribute to landfills. If you care at all about the environment (it’s actually a big deal!), an easy way to help is to be more conscious about what you waste.

The correct way to use CPW

When you’re contemplating a purchase, instead of focusing on how much something costs, focus on how much you’re going to wear it. You might be thinking, “Um, isn’t that the whole point of calculating the CPW before purchasing something?” Well, yeah, it is. But the theory is often abused and instead used as a justification tool, as a way to bargain with yourself why you should buy something despite its apparent flaws. SO here’s what you do: when calculating the CPW, focus on the (high) number of wears and NOT the (low) number of the final calculation.

And rule of thumb: if you have to use an estimated low CPW for something to justify buying it (which you shouldn’t even consider after reading point 1 of this post), it’s probably because it doesn’t hit all the necessary things that a piece should. Of course, this is estimated and there’s no way to tell exactly how much wear you’re going to get out of something.

For the most accurate guesstimate, some key ways to measure its wearability potential is how much it fits into your lifestyle, how often you’ve worn similar pieces in the past, how much you love it aesthetically, how well it fits, how comfortable it is, how easy it is to clean (throw in wash or dry clean), how versatile it will be in your closet (consider color, fabric, and fit), and of course how good the quality is, how well-made/durable it is.

What about pieces with no CPW?

Okay, so we know that CPW is calculated by dividing the price paid for something by the number of times you’ve worn it. But what if you’ve never worn something. Well, easy math: then the price you paid is the price you paid and that’s it. But let’s look at this another way. The stuff that you never get around to wearing…why is it that you never reach for it and add it to your regular rotation? We’ll take a few wild guesses: because it’s ill-fitting, it’s not really your style, you didn’t have anything else to pair with it, or you never found anywhere to actually wear it. Right?

Well, why would you buy a piece that fit any of the bills above? One of them could have very well been because you justified a potential low CPW. This is why you should instead focus on how much wear you’re actually going to get and not how cheap the CPW might be. It might seem insignificant to blow $20 on a pair of jeans that you never end up wearing. And yeah, that’s not a whole lot of of money. But compounded over time, you bet it adds up. If you don’t change this habit of using an estimated CPW as a bargaining tool, you could end up throwing a lot of money down the drain over time.

Best thing about the CPW theory

The reason why CPW has always been viewed as a positive is because aside from how much something costs, the focus is primarily on how often your going to wear something. This is actually paramount and something we totally support.

These days it’s so common for people to shop season by season. You don’t care if a piece doesn’t last longer than three months because you are planning on shopping again then anyway. This results in a closet full of trendy pieces and usually is extremely dysfunctional, not to mention horrible for the environment. You’re constantly shopping to add to your closet because things go out as fast as they come in. Some people are even convinced that dressing trendy is tantamount to being stylish. (It’s the opposite, but that’s an entire other post.)

We need to turn this attitude and approach to wardrobe building around because it’s drenched in gross consumerism. You buy, buy, buy but are building nothing. It’s the equivalent of leasing for years instead of owning. Regardless of the amount you will have paid each time you wear something, you should thoughtfully consider how useful a purchase will be to your current wardrobe (or future wardrobe if you’re building from scratch). The more useful it will be to create outfits and the higher the quality it should be because you will get more wear out of it.

The takeaway: Instead of basing a purchase off of the potential CPW, the smarter way thing to consider is simple: how long it’s going to last in your wardrobe. This includes considering versatility, cohesiveness, and especially quality/durability.


Isn’t it crazy how the CPW theory often gets misused? What was your main takeaway now that you can see the side of CPW that not everyone talks about? Do you see how much more important it is to focus on buying pieces that you’re going wear to death because you absolutely love the way they make you feel (confident + inspired) versus pieces that have a potential low CPW to justify the price, whether it’s something out of your price range or something cheap and won’t last more than a season or two? The difference is subtle, but powerful. Sound off in the comments below!

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