The #1 Question I Ask Myself Before Making a Clothing Purchase

The #1 Question I Ask Myself Before Making a Clothing Purchase

The other day I stood in front of my closet and accepted the fact that two things I had recently bought were utter failures. A pair of pants started sagging after wearing them for just a few hours. And unlike how I had imagined in my head, a shirt I ordered online didn’t look good with anything else in my closet. Oops. These were pieces that I bought within the last six months, and for a brief moment, I thought, Wow, I’m really bad at making decent shopping decisions. And then: Ugh, now I have to admit this on the blog. UGHHH.

But I cut myself a break.

Because when deciding what to buy, you can do everything right…

-Only buy things that “spark joy”
-Wait 72 hours before pulling the trigger
-Make sure it’s your style and fits perfectly
-Come up with three existing outfits that the new item will match with

…and STILL get it wrong.

Mistakes buys are a part of life, because no one makes perfect decisions 100% of the time.

And the truth is, I could sit here and find a way to justify any purchase to myself in a million different ways. Here’s a classic one: “Oh, that $5,000 watch? Yeah, that’s an investment.

But in the past couple years, I’ve found there’s one question that literally cuts through my BS, no fail:

Does this have resale value?

You know that feeling you get when you bring a bag of your old clothes to Plato’s Closet or Crossroads or Beacon’s Closet and you get told your stuff is worth approximately thirty-five cents? That very un-fun feeling? Yeah, I make myself go through that possibility every time I’m thinking of buying something.

It’s been such a magical question for both my NYC-sized closet and my bank account. And I bet you didn’t see it coming. When I Google ‘consider resale value’ I get a bunch of hits about houses and cars, but not one about clothes. Even though clothes have a lot in common with cars–like cars that lose value the second they’re driven off the lot, clothes depreciate the second you cut off the tags.

So we think about how we feel when we see an item for the first time, how we think we’ll feel when we wear it, but how many of us think about what will happen once we stop liking said item/it doesn’t fit anymore/stops being trendy?

In a world where we’re encouraged to think “more is better,” thinking through the full life cycle of owning something sounds counterproductive. Wait, why am I already thinking about getting rid of something before I’ve even bought it? But asking myself this one question has done wonders for my closet. Let me explain.

Forever Purchases Aren’t Always Forever

I don’t believe in investment purchases. I know that buying things for “forever” isn’t necessarily how it’s going to play out. When I was in college, I thought long johns under shorts was a good look (if I can find a picture, I’ll show you sometime). But as we get older, our tastes change, our bodies change, and our lifestyles do, too. Plus, since fashion is inherently trend-driven and seasonal, “forever” is kind of a silly concept.

It’s a Good Business Decision

Sometimes you don’t make the perfect purchase, so you want to hedge your bets against losing out on money. Factoring in resale value is playing the long game.

While most people balk at buying a Chanel bag, when I see someone buying one, I think it’s a smart move from a business perspective. These bags hold some of the highest resale values out of all the brands. So, some of these “frivolous” ladies might actually be way more shrewd than you think.

Considering resale value is also rooted in reality. I have a tendency to buy vintage because I like owning bits of history, not for wearing. If I decide I need to clear space in my closet, if I buy with resale in mind it’s so much easier to recoup my losses later.

It Makes Shopping a Million Times Easier

I’m not equal opportunity when it comes to brands. There are some brands I just won’t touch, because I know they aren’t worth much. Instead of getting overwhelmed by the number of options out there, I can easily filter out the brands that I don’t think will hold their value.

For example, I always wary of buying brands that are too new to have a fanbase, even if I really like them. Or if I’m OK with saying, “That’s $180 I’m never going to see again.”

You Get to Enjoy Expensive Stuff for Less

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And now for my favorite reason: the lower cost of ownership! I basically get to enjoy higher-quality items for much less. Here’s an example:

I bought a pair of Common Project sneakers in June 2013 for $283 (on sale). I wore them regularly, then decided to sell them over two years later for $210.

If you look on The Real Real, you’ll see even pre-owned pairs are selling for over $200. Since the shoes retail for $410, I got about 50% of the retail value and 75% of the $283 that I originally paid. Now I could have bought a pair of black Adidas for $80, but I would have been settling. If you thought you could buy a nicer, designer item for the same price as an affordable alternative, why wouldn’t you?

The Things I Passed On, and Past Mistakes

Using this strategy means there are lots of things I pass on that I actually really like. For example, one newer designer whose aesthetic I like is Simon Miller. Their mini bucket bags are adorable, and a few months ago, I was considering buying this teal bomber jacket. But priced in the several hundred dollar range, the stuff isn’t cheap, and the risk of regretting the purchases is high. On top of that, the brand is too new for me to know whether or not the resale value is there, and I’m not attached to the brand story yet.

My current closet is also a reminder of when I really should have considered resale value. A long time ago when I worked a job where I needed to dress up I bought a pair of Giada Forte wool pants for $180. Then a few months later I got a new job where I could wear whatever I wanted. So the pants are still in my closet with the tags attached, and I won’t sell them because I know I wouldn’t get much for them.

I also used to buy a lot of 3.1 Phillip Lim when I was younger, but I’ve learned that the resale value is usually disappointing, so I rarely look at what he’s got for sale anymore. Sorry, Phillip!

Tools to Help You Calculate Resale Value

Unless you’re some kind of reselling guru, figuring out resale value can feel impossible. But I found two tools that can help estimate how much you could get back for your clothes (you need an account to access both):

For mass-market brands: Thredup’s Payout Calculator
For designer brands: Vestiaire Collective’s Calculator

I also have future post planned where I’ll talk specifically about how to determine resale value yourself, and which brands I think are a good bet.

Sometimes It Really Doesn’t Matter

When it comes to less expensive items, sometimes I don’t care. I bought a $14 Uniqlo top that I know no one will want later, but I’ve already worn it twice in a week.

And the more often I wear something, the less important resale value becomes. But since so many of us don’t wear the majority of what’s hanging in our closets, then maybe resale value is just the radical idea we need.

Thinking about resale value has changed how I shop and has stopped me from buying things that I probably shouldn’t have been buying anyway. If you struggle with over-shopping, next time you’re out and about and are thinking of buying something, ask yourself, “What will I do when I stop liking this?” Or, “This is $40 I might not ever see again. Am I OK with that?” It might just change how you buy things.

What about you? Do you consider resale value when deciding what to buy? Or do you see clothing as a commodity?

Feature Image: The Luxe Strategist

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