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Invest or Save?

How to decide when to spend or save on clothing and accessories.

Invest or Save? Deciding what to spend on clothes, accessories

"Should I invest or save on a piece of clothing, shoe or accessory?" This is the most common question I’m asked. When does it make sense to invest in wardrobe pieces, and when does it make sense to save? I have a few criteria I use to determine the answer for myself and my clients.

#1 Consider Cost Per Wear

Invest or Save Tip 1: Consider cost per wear

Many years ago, I decided to save a few pennies and opt for a faux leather jacket. It made sense at the time, saving the money. But after only a couple years of wearing this jacket on repeat (I'd say 2 times per week), it started to break down (literally!). I noticed that that faux leather coating was "flaking" off as I packed for my brand photo shoot. Yes, the exact jacket you see here in this brand photo! Not exactly the professional look I was going for.

Had I been more intentional at the time of purchase, I would have realized that a Moto jacket is something worth investing in, especially since it had become a staple in my wardrobe. So how exactly do you know something is worth investing in? I like to think about not just the total cost, but break it down to the cost per wear.

Let’s do the math:

FAUX leather moto jacket = $98

# of wears per week = 2 (I wear it year round!)

# of weeks in the year = 52 weeks

# of wears per year = 104

Cost per wear (Price divided by wear per year) = $0.94

REAL Leather moto jacket = $450

# of wears per week = 2 (I wear it year round!)

# of weeks in the year = 52 weeks

# of wears per year = 104

Cost per wear - $4.33

Yes, my cost per wear for the faux leather jacket was much less; under a dollar! But it also wore out after only 2 years. :/ So in essence, it ended up costing me more in the long run as I had to replace it so quickly! For me, the smarter decision was to invest in leather in the first place.

I used this same cost analysis several years ago when I decided to invest in quality denim for the first time. In my younger years (guys, this is more than 15 years ago), I would only spend $30-$40 on a pair of jeans, because I didn't believe I could afford more in my budget at the time.

The reality was that I hated these cheap jeans. They were poor quality, would stretch and bag out within an hour of wear, and I would wash them constantly to shrink them back to size. It was a ridiculous and frustrating process, and a constant distraction while wearing them. Plus, I never felt good in them. (I mean, no one looks good with saggy bottoms and knees, much less tugging and pulling constantly!)

I hate to even admit it, but I easily owned 20 + pairs of these cheap, low-quality jeans. (Funny how easy it is to buy so many when they are cheap. Am I right?!) I just kept buying them thinking that it would be different or better with the next pair. Nope. I was definitely wrong about that.

A little over ten years ago, I had my first child and my body had changed. I needed new jeans desperately. I went to a few stores to see what was working on my new "mom bod," and after a fit of frustration trying on my "usual" cheap pairs, I tried on a designer brand. Right then and there, I understood what all the hype was about. Without hesitation, I splurged on these designer pair of jeans.

At that time, dropping $150 on a pair of jeans felt insane! "I have a kid now, I can't be spending like this on clothes!" What I didn't know is that this one pair of jeans was about to change my world - and my entire perspective on investing in quality clothes.

I suddenly realized that even though spending more was out of my comfort zone, it was well worth the investment. No more tugging or sagging or washing after every wear. I just felt good in this pair of jeans every single time I wore them. And they stayed in place! Had I changed my mindset about these "expensive" jeans years ago, I could have saved myself so much more money!

Let's do the math to compare...

Cheap jeans:

Average of $30 per pair x 20 pairs = $600 (I hated every time I wore them, and most just sat untouched in my closet. I kept spending thinking another pair would be different. Boy, was I wrong.)

"Expensive" jeans:

Average of $150 per pair x 4 pair = $600 (I loved every time I wore them, and they lasted me for years)

I could have easily owned 4 expensive pairs that I loved wearing or even two pairs for half the cost, instead of wasting money on 20 pairs I hated. And again, while the cost per wear is much less for the cheaper jeans, they wore out quicker and were a bigger frustration and distraction than having a few expensive pairs.

So the next time you are considering a big purchase, do the math.

Fast forward to today, investing in a good pair of jeans or article of clothing that I know I will love, that fits every time, and will wear on repeat is a no brainer.

#2 Is it iconic to my style?

Invest or Save Tip 2: Is it iconic to my style?

One of my first questions to anyone who asks, "Should I invest in this or save?" is: "Does that represent your style?"

(I know, I know... it's infuriating that I answer a question with a question, isn't it?!)

You see, for one woman, investing in a blazer is a no-brainer if that piece is iconic to her style. (ahem, that's me!) For another woman with a different style, it would make zero sense. That's why I hate publishing lists about which specific pieces to invest in and which pieces to save on, because it's personal. Before you can even identify the right pieces to invest in, you have to know yourself, and your style.

#3 Do I love it?

Invest or Save Tip 3: Do I love it?

I had a woman recently tell me that because she joined this elite group of executive women, she needed to invest in a designer bag. Admittedly, she said that owning a designer bag wasn't a desire she had for herself, it was more of a status symbol to feel a part of this new crowd.

It's easy to get swept up in the strong current of what's IN. I know, because I have many times! Case in point, a month or so ago I became obsessed with the Adidas samba sneakers, because guess what, I was seeing them on every single style blogger I followed and every single ad! Cleary this was the "IT" sneaker for Fall. I had to stop myself and ask, "Wait, do I really love these, or am I just tempted to follow the crowd?"

I’m all about ending the “shoulds,” expectations and rules related to your wardrobe. Just because you feel you “should” invest in a designer handbag or a black blazer as a professional woman doesn’t necessarily mean you have to. And just because all the cool people are sporting a new item doesn't mean you have to follow suit.

If you find yourself in a similar situation, caught up in the rush, you have to ask honestly: Are you obsessed with this item because your social or work peers have it? Do you like it because it will give you a certain social status? Do you want it because it's all the rage with the social influencers and you want to be a part of the cool crowd? Be honest about what you truly love, or what is only a means to an end.

#4 Is it trendy or a classic?

Invest or Save Tip 4: Is it a trend or classic?

This one can be tricky, because some trends come and go quickly, but others stay around for a while. In general, I advise not investing a lot of money in items you are just “trying out.” The other thing to consider is that a "trend" may be something that feels very aligned with your style and something that you could see yourself wearing for years to come.

Two great examples of "trends" that I was willing to invest in are wider leg jeans (flares, wide leg and beyond!), and high rise pant styles. Both are incredibly flattering on my body type, and a signature part of my style. So I have no problem investing knowing it’s aligned for me. And I also have zero plans to stop wearing them, trending or not.

On the other hand, classic items like trench coats, cashmere crew neck sweaters, tall riding boots, white button-up shirts, loafers, etc. are always going to be in style, and worth investing in. (assuming they reflect your personal style!)

What's on my Invest and Save lists

You're probably wondering, "Is she going to tell me what to invest in or not?! I need a list here, people!" As I mentioned above, I can't feel good about publishing a list of "must" invest in items and "must" save on items, because it's highly personal and related to your individual style and lifestyle. Instead, I'll share what I consistently spend on, and consistently save on.

What I consistently invest in:

  • quality denim

  • leather shoes and comfortable heels (I had to learn the really hard way on this one)

  • leather handbags (personally, I'm not into designer, but it can be)

  • leather moto jacket

  • Cashmere sweaters (although I've found great cashmere under $100 at places like Quince, or slightly over $100 with a sale at AQUA Brand at Bloomingdales and Everlane.

  • nicely tailored blazers (although, I have found some amazing ones at a lower cost!)

  • Nicely tailored trousers

  • wear every day jewelry (Gorjana is my fav daily wear brand at a great price)

  • undergarments (read this blog about getting a professional bra fitting and how it changed my life!)

  • leather belts

What I consistently save on:

  • sweaters (this can really depend, as some sweaters will stretch out or pill easily, but I have many sweaters that are under $100 and are great quality)

  • t-shirts

  • fashion sneakers (if they are for working out, then I NEVER pinch pennies!)

  • statement jewelry

  • dresses

  • shorts

What would you add to these two lists? What do you always invest in - or save on?

Need help knowing what's worth your money and what’s not?

I'd love to help you define your authentic personal style, and invest wisely in wardrobe pieces you’ll love and wear on repeat for years. And along with that, stop wasting your money on all the other shiny objects that catch your eye, then sit untouched. Learn more about my Style Brand VIP + Seasonal Wardrobe styling service package here.

About Me

Ellie Steinbrink, Expert Stylist & Personal Brand Coach, Style Decoded

Hi, I'm Ellie! I'm an Expert Stylist and Personal Brand Coach, and owner of Style Decoded, based in Omaha, NE. I'm a Midwest born fashion lover on a mission to help professional women show up with more authenticity and alignment at work and in their businesses through their style, and feel 100% confident in their own skin every day. Styling is my passion but it hasn't always been my job. I spent 20 years of my career in client service, advertising, developing brands, blogging, podcasting, and creating marketing and social strategies for my clients, ranging from Fortune 500 giants to individuals building their personal brands online. To say I know a thing or two about marketing and branding is an understatement! Now, I love teaching women how to define and own their unique personal brand through style. Oh, and I work exclusively virtual, so I can work with any woman, anywhere!

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