“Cost-Per-Wear” Analysis Re-imagined

Wardrobe consultants have long endorsed the value of establishing a cost-per-wear calculation to assess the true value of an item.  Divide the price you paid by the number of times you wore the garment over its useful life.  The result = CPW.

Problem is, with this season’s crazy clearance price, a low CPW isn’t an adequate filter.  And it’s speculative anyway. Who knows how many times you’ll actually wear a new item?  Here’s a new way to think about value:  CPO.

Cost Per Outfit.  Before swiping your credit card, think about how many outfits you can build by pairing the new purchase with items already in your closet. I set a personal minimum of 3 ways to wear any new addition, and as my closet gets more crowded I’m inching that up to 4 or 5.
Divide the price by that number to find CPO.  Here’s an example:

I recently purchased a red lightweight linen-blend cardigan from Ann Taylor. Before finalizing the order, I looked in my closet for possible coordinates. Here’s what I found:

  • It’s great right now with dark-wash jeans & navy/red/pink print cami.  Can substitute navy ponte skirt, navy dress pants or jean skirt.
  • Or with the same jeans, off-white ruched tank and patchwork crinkle scarf.
  • Works with black/gray/red paisley shell over black or charcoal skirt or pant or jeans
  • Or gray skin print sweater shell and all those same bottoms.  Leather  “flower”              repeats the gray of the shell.
  • Or multi-color tropical print shell and all those same bottoms.  Well, maybe not so much the gray.

  • Not pictured: Works with black leggings, black top & red/silver necklace (hot red sandal optional)
  • Hey, that mix also works over black pant or black skirt!
  • And it will be great fun with black/white tweed trousers, black shell and this whimsical Cabi scarf of a very similar tweed.  (If you’re a Cabi buyer, don’t miss your Stylist’s sample sale this month!)

  • I can wear the cardigan into spring/summer with off-white denim and the tropical print shell.
  • Or off-white denim, turquoise tank & sailboat print scarf (Note how both the print and the scarf repeat the lighter pant color in the upper part of the outfit for balance.)

That’s 29 outfits covering at least 9 months of the year.  Even if I paid full price (which I didn’t because – you know – COVID markdowns) that would be $2.50 CPO – a bargain by any standard.

Of course not every item will yield that many options.  The red family is extremely versatile. And having 3 bottom options in each of my basic neutrals – skirt, pant and jeans – lets me wear a combo for casual or dressier situations.

If I can find 3 or 4 potential outfits from a new purchase, I consider it a win — whether in my own closet or for a client.  And hopefully this method will make it easier for you to make wise choices as you take advantage of the current price reductions. .

TIP:  Looking at my print garments and scarves for bits of the cardigan’s color gave me the roadmap to some color mixes I might not have thought of.  Try that in your own closet and then share what surprises you discover.

About Nancy Nix Rice

I help other women feel confident about how they look every day - regardless of their age, budget, lifestyle or the size tag in their pants - so they put wardrobe concerns on the back burner and go share their gifts with the world.


  1. Carla on January 2, 2021 at 9:00 am

    Your posts are so helpful: “I set a personal minimum of 3 ways to wear any new addition, and as my closet gets more crowded I’m inching that up to 4 or 5”

    That feels so freeing and refreshing.

    For me, this will help getting RID of some of the things I have sewn — and want to part with….but am having trouble letting go. Thanks for these ideas!

    • Nancy Nix Rice on January 2, 2021 at 12:55 pm

      It sure can be harder to get rid of something we made ourselves, but I try to think of somebody else really enjoying it. Last year I made a top in gorgeous royal/turquoise dots – a favorite color mix – and it looked awful on me. I donated it to my favorite resale store and the very next day saw another woman wearing it and looking lie a million bucks!

  2. Terri Tipps on January 2, 2021 at 9:41 am

    Really like this advice!! Thank you!!

    • Nancy Nix Rice on January 2, 2021 at 1:07 pm

      I’m betting you’ll like it even more when you start applying it. Happy shopping!

  3. PAMELA NEWMAN on January 4, 2021 at 2:19 pm

    Thanks Nancy. I have a red sweater and red jacket. I also have two of the Cabi tops you show, so you have given me more ideas I didn’t even think of.

  4. Mary on January 5, 2021 at 6:46 pm

    That’s a great new perspective. The financial mom part of me still wants to factor in cost per wear. To me, a red cardigan is memorable and I probably wouldn’t wear it to the office more than twice a month. Of course, you showed how it can be dressed up or down so I need to remember that too.

    I think if you are talking about a piece in a neutral color (or maybe less memorable is a better way to say it) than CPO knocks it out of the park.

    Such a great idea – thank you!

    • Nancy Nix Rice on January 5, 2021 at 7:59 pm

      You make some good points too. Bottom line is that it’s not an eiher/or, but a both/and — two related ways of evaluating a purchase.

    • Cassie on January 24, 2021 at 1:42 am

      I think you’ll find that even if it’s memorable, it’s not a problem to wear it to the office more than twice a month as long as you’re wearing it in different combinations as shown here. I’ve worked with ladies who did that in the past – and rather than seeming odd, six weeks into wearing it once a week we would finally notice, and just thought, ah, her favorite cardigan! It always looks so nice!

      There was one woman that wore her bright blue cardigan so often that I only was in twice a week and still saw it on her regularly, and it wasn’t a problem at all. Since she paired so many tops and bottoms with it, it looked natural, and when she went several weeks without wearing it we all took a bit to put our finger on what was bothering us… and when I asked her about it, she had left it at her mom’s house on a visit and would be getting it back the following week! Her wardrobe looked so drab without that cardigan cycling in and out over the course of the week, even though she still had all her other options. Obviously it still looked put together, but we were accustomed to something a bit more colorful from her at that point.

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