Investment Wardrobe: Is Buying Expensive Clothes Worth It?

April 9, 2015

investment-wardrobeI is for Investment Wardrobe.  If you aren’t familiar with the practice of buying expensive clothes because they will “last longer” we are going to tell you everything you need to know about this practice and then some. Get ready for a serious fashion eduction.

Investment Wardrobe: Buying high priced clothes (aka seasonless investment pieces) on the assumption their quality is better, they will last longer and they won’t go out of style.

“I like my money right where I can see it, hanging in my closet!” Carrie Bradshaw

As someone who manufactured luxury men’s dress shirts that sold at Saks Fifth Avenue for over $425, I can personally attest to the difference in quality between high end luxury goods and lower price alternatives. Having manufacturer goods in the U.S.A, Portugal, and China I know firsthand how different the quality of craftsmanship is for luxury goods.

What is so different between the craftsmanship of high versus low end apparel?

  • Fabric:

    bolts-of-luxury-fabricThere is no comparison to the fabric used on luxury goods, blindfold me and I’ll feel the imposter every time. The quality of lower price cotton from China pales in comparison to the weight and hand to a 100% cotton fabric from Austria. There is no close second to a hand printed Liberty of London fabric.

  • Construction:

    single-needle-stitchOn luxury goods there are more stitches per inch creating a garment that holds together over the years in a way that low price aren’t simply aren’t designed to do. The process of single needle tailoring allowed clothes to  gather at the seams more smoothly.

  • Pattern:

    shirt-patternsThe pattern on luxury goods cannot be matched by a low price alternative. For those $425 luxury shirts made in the U.S. we flew in a world renowned patterns maker and spent weeks coming up with the perfect patterns for our men’s shirts. Pattern making was this man’s art and really the pillar that luxury apparel stands on. Designs that make your body look as beautiful as possible. Ask your well dressed business man what he loves about his Brioni shirt and he will undoubtedly say fit.

  • Production:

    productionLuxury goods are produced in smaller quantities which generally lends to part of the increase in price. The production process between a legacy apparel manufacturer in the United States and cost conscious apparel production overseas is vastly different. When luxury apparel is manufactured the process is highly nurtured. When our first order was going to Saks I flew across the country and personally watched every shirt come down the line. I was quality control, I was packaging, and I was there side by side with the cutters, the sewers and the factory workers to make sure they knew exactly what I wanted the final product to look like. No language barrier, just a highly nurtured process from start to finish.

 

An Argument in Favor of an Investment Wardrobe

Cost Per Wear

cost per wear

The most common argument in favor of an investment wardrobe is “cost per wear”. What is cost per wear?

Cost per wear: Cost of the item / the number of times you will wear it

For example: My first Louis Vuitton was a Monogram Speedy that cost around $800. I was in college when I got it and proudly carried that bag day in and day out for easily 4 years until I got my next Louis Vuitton. The cost per wear of that bag (not even factoring that I still carry it sometimes and will for decades) is .54 cents.

$800 divided by (365 days in a year times 4 years )= .54 cents a day

Planned Obsolescence

fashion-planned-obsolescence

The lesser known argument I have in favor of an investment wardrobe is something called “planned obsolescence”. It’s a term you might not know but it’s consequence you pay for every day.

Planned Obsolescence: Planned obsolescence is a business strategy in which the obsolescence (the process of becoming obsolete—that is, unfashionable or no longer usable) of a product is planned and built into it from its conception. This is done so that in future the consumer feels a need to purchase new products and services that the manufacturer brings out as replacements for the old ones. (source: The Economist)

Let me put it in context for you. Have you ever thought about how cell phones plans never exceed two year contracts? And that your phone generally starts to act up around the third year? The phone was essentially designed to break. Software programs are made upwardly compatible so that there is a reduced value to consumers for the previous version.

The fashion industry, and women’s clothing in particular, by design is deeply committed to built-in obsolescence. Each year designers come out with two collections in the Spring and Fall. Things are in fashion or they aren’t and that ebb and flow is what drives the production and marketing of new styles. Hemlines are up, maxi skirts are in. This seasons color is green, and next season it is orange.

Knowing that consumers will tire of their trendy pieces by year’s end, apparel manufactures cut their costs and produce lower quality products. Quality fabrics get swapped for poly blends and stitching widens.

Clothes sold at a lower price point are less expensive for 3 reasons:

  1. Larger production batch
  2. Lower cost of materials
  3. Lower production cost

Knowing all this, an investment wardrobe of high quality pieces that won’t cycle out with the trend that are constructed with a level of quality and craftsmanship to be admired, might just be the right decision.

An Argument Against the Justification of an Investment Wardrobe

Are Your Clothes Really Investment?

dress-made-of-euros

Come on, who really sells their clothes for more than they paid for them. Investment applies that you are stashing your money for safe keeping and growth. Nobody’s worn in, stretched out, smelly Christian Louboutin’s are worth more than the day they bought them. There is no such thing as an investment when it comes to clothes.

Socially Irresponsible?

cher-rodeo-drive-shopping

Now, it’s obvious that investment dressing is fiscally irresponsible for those that don’t have massive amounts of disposable income. But is it socially irresponsible to continue to feed the message to young woman that they need these things they can’t afford? To give them a false illusion that this is an investment? Our financial literacy is lacking so adding a some smoke mirrors and pretty things, is not helping set young women up for a successful financial future.

Summary

Now that I’ve infused a whole new element of economic practices into my little niche of fashion love, I hope that if you made it all the way down here to the bottom you at least learned something new about the business of fashion. And at the end of the day, whether you are advocate for “investment wardrobes” or not, there are a handful of good arguments in your corner regardless of which side of the closet you are standing on.

Share your perspective on this discussion! Who is an investment shopper and has curated a collection of timeless pieces that you will have till the end of time? Tell us what those pieces are! Are you an investment wardrobe neigh sayer? Give us your reasons!

 

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15 Comments

  • Reply Marian April 9, 2015 at 1:38 pm

    When I came across this post I was surprised to find it on a fashion website. I didn’t know there were many fashion sites that do more than just show pretty people telling readers where to buy their things. Bravo for breaking out of the mold.

    I remember decades ago when I would take almost every extra penny I had and then some to buy more and more clothes for work. I was convinced that if I looked the party of the job I wanted I would land it. Short of it is that I did land that promotion and then the next one and the one after that. However, being in the infancy of my career what I didn’t see at the time was I was getting the promotion for my expertise not because of what I wore.

    I think young women today are better off investing in themselves instead of their wardrobes.

    • Reply Legos in my Louis April 9, 2015 at 2:19 pm

      Marian thanks so much for contributing to the conversation with your comments! I’m glad you liked this post and I am hoping to create more of a dialogue and guide to fashion and style instead of just a bunch of shopping links. I hope readers also see your comment of personal experience. I agree that young women more easily fall into the trap of thinking that an outlier thing is their fix or the answer rather that looking at the issue or challenge objectively. Thank you so much for reading and commenting!

      • Reply Bridgett June 6, 2016 at 4:25 pm

        Hi! I wanted to know if you went to college for fashion? I’ve been wanting to take classes to learn more about the business side of fashion. Etc

        • Reply Legos in my Louis June 7, 2016 at 7:39 am

          Hi Bridgett! I didn’t go to college for fashion by do have a fairly long career with fashion. I’ve done everything from expand brick and mortar stores, to run ecommerce, to even creating and manufacturing a menswear line that sold at Saks. I think the business of fashion is business first and fashion second. With some exceptions I think it’s more valuable to have a good business acumen than traditional fashion training; and then having good taste, good style, and independent study can quickly get you up to speed on the fashion side. Hope that advice helps guide you!

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  • Reply Drusilla Barron January 8, 2016 at 9:15 pm

    Actually, investment shopping is more environmentally sound and socially conscious than buying cheap garments that don’t last. “Impulse buys” and “disposable” were the terms used when I worked in fashion. Our clothing was made of cheap fabrics (most of it in the form of non-biodegradable plastics) using cheap construction. Today, those garments are mostly in landfills and will not biodegrade for many, many generations. The labour that made them came from sweat shops or, at the very least, from those who were paid a tiny amount for their work. Those workers exercised no creativity, just hours and hours of repeating one task.

    Real clothing made of real fabrics that is properly cared for is worth keeping. I have jackets from the 1950s that are in better condition than those I bought new a year ago. I also have haute couture pieces (mostly samples) that will always be fashion forward. Most of the wardrobe I’ve collected came from sales, thrift and consignment shops, and vintage vendors; one can collect an investment wardrobe and not spend a great deal of money. A few of my things are new, some are of my own design and making. My wardrobe is an investment because it will last me a lifetime. When I need to direct funds to some purpose other than clothing, I still have an abundance of appropriate outfits that I love. And as Autumn approaches each year, when I find myself thinking, ‘I’d really love a red jacket this year,’ I open my storage boxes and find my favourite red jacket waiting for me. It’s so lovely to rediscover favourites or to give some pieces a break and then feel as if I’m wearing new clothes after a year or two.

    Such wardrobes are a real investment even though clothing usually can’t be sold for more than was paid. But the 1950s red jacket that cost $25 at a vintage vendor in 2006 would cost $400 today. That’s eight times the original price. As far as I’m concerned, saving money in the future is a great investment and great for the environment. It also doesn’t use slave labour and leaves me with funds to invest in micro-loans and other forms of aid that preserve and support the dignity of the poor.

    PS: I plan to reblog with my comment in edited form on http://glamofgod.com. Thanks for this excellent piece.

    • Reply Legos in my Louis January 8, 2016 at 9:21 pm

      Very well said. It’s hard to pitch clothing as a viable investment but you are right the true issue should revolve around environmentally sound garments. Vintage items are the best – they truly don’t make clothes like they used to!

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  • Reply Amy April 21, 2016 at 8:43 am

    What are some of your favorite clothing brands that are well made?

    • Reply Legos in my Louis April 21, 2016 at 2:32 pm

      So I actually used to manufacture menswear and the collection sold at Saks for several years. One of the things in learned in making very expensive men’s shirts was that quality really comes down to two things 1. Fabric 2. Stitching. I could write a whole separate post about quality apparel manufacturing and double needle felling but to instead give you a quick short cut I would say, always check the fabric to see what it’s made of and then turn the piece inside out and make sure the stitches per inch are high.

    • Reply Legos in my Louis June 6, 2016 at 4:09 pm

      Hi Amy! Looks like I missed this comment. So I don’t have a brand in particular because I’m buying pieces not labels if that makes sense. But across the board I would say focus on 1. fabric 2. stitching You want things that aren’t a blend and stitches that are close together and tight or even double stitched. Hope that helps!

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