Reconsidering Investment Pieces

The following items have long been viewed as investment pieces: Handbags, winter coats, classic shoes. Why? Because those three items get more use, wear, and abuse than other items. Even a favorite pair of jeans is unlikely to be worn every single day for the duration of a winter, and no dress or sweater will ever be worn as hard as a pair of shoes. Bras are occasionally added to this short list by style experts who recognize the importance of a good foundation, but everything else is up for grabs. You can invest in whatever you’d like, of course, but if you’re seeking expert advice, it’s generally bags, coats, and shoes.

And I’ve been thinking: If we based our level of investment on use patterns, wouldn’t we also want to plunk down the big bucks for pajamas? Gym clothes? Panties? PJs get worn and washed constantly, receiving more wear-time and abuse than many coats and bags. And what could be more important than bodily comfort during sleep? Many of the new-fangled workout gear vendors seem grossly overpriced, but is $90 really an outrageous price for a pair of comfy, flattering, wicking pants that will get worn several times per week for years on end? And panties! My gosh, if we’re investing in bras, why not knickers, too? There’s nothing quite as excrutiating as having your privates pinched or squeezed, and if top-quality panties eliminated discomfort and doubt, wouldn’t they be worth the dough?

It seems that the idea of an “investment piece” is linked to visibility and status as well as quality and use. After all, few people see our pajamas and even fewer our undies. We CAN invest in them, but those investments will only ever benefit our own bodies. Great bags, coats, and shoes help to construct our public sartorial personas, which adds value. At least, that seems to be how style experts are viewing things.

I am all for buying top-notch bags, coats, and shoes. It is good, sound advice that has endured because it makes sense, pretty much across the board. But I think that investing in items that get loads and loads of use, contribute to bodily comfort, and make us FEEL great is worthwhile, too. And that includes clothes that have little public exposure and virtually no glamorous appeal.

Image courtesy Gap.

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  • Fab

    I’m not much for spending on PJs, but am all for quality undergarments. If the foundation is wrong, that great bag and coat is going to be pretty useless. Basically, my motto is – for footwear and bras, get the best you can afford.

    • Definitely agree! The one time I bought a cheap Target bra it fit terribly and I wound up never wearing it. My favorite place to get bras now is Nordstrom Rack – you can get some high-quality brands for $20-30.

      • I’ll second (or is it third?) that sentiment. The Nordstrom Rack is ideal for affordable quality bras and panties. The cheapies end up either falling apart of being uncomfortable. No dice.

        Sleeping in pajamas makes me claustrophobic, so I end up using my PJs as “lounge wear”. My flannel bottoms and a tee shirt are by no means sophisiticated but they are the best “clothing hug” that I can put on after a long day out in the real world.

      • Kylara7

        Hmmmm…interesting contrast because all my bras come from Target, for the simple reason that they actually fit AND they carry my somewhat odd size. I suppose it’s just another example of how everyone’s tastes and bodies differ 🙂

  • I don’t know — I can get a comfy pair of cotton knit pajama pants at Target for $10, and they last for a long time. And Victoria’s Secret makes non-pinching, non-binding cotton undies which you can usually get 5/$25. Maybe no one thinks of them as investment pieces because you can get quite decent ones for super-cheap.

    With clothes, nothing’s REALLY an investment — clothes aren’t going to increase in value if you use them. However, some of them get used out of proportion to their cost. In almost every category of clothing I seem to get the most use out of items where I’ve been willing to spend a little more money. I discovered several years ago that more expensive bras are worth the money and I’m thankful that I can afford them for comfort’s sake. My unique, $39 t-shirts get more uses than my cheap Target t-shirts because they make better outfits. Dresses with more substantial material and better cuts that flatter me get worn more. Etc. I wish I could know with a certainty when I buy things what will get used out of proportion to cost. I’m getting better at picking but I’m not really good at it.

    • I agree, I really try my best to plan ahaead, but you never *really* know in advance how much you will wear something. I wrote about it here:

      http://www.oranges-and-apples.com/2012/01/on-valuing-clothes.html

      I have the cardigan I talk aboout in the post down to about £3 a wear now, but then I don’t know if that’s just because I wrote about it was in my head when planning outfits.

    • AK

      “With clothes, nothing’s REALLY an investment — clothes aren’t going to increase in value if you use them. However, some of them get used out of proportion to their cost.”

      Agreed! I actually really hate the use of the word “investment” to describe clothing — it’s a thin cover for asking you to buy something spendy. As Cynthia notes, these purchases may be worth it but they are not “investments” – there is no financial return, no notion of risk that increases or decreases that return. It actually makes the feminist in me squirm to see the media use these terms; it’s as though they don’t think their audience is smart enough to justify a simple purchase without couching it in more sophisticated — if irrelevant — terms.

      • Betsy

        The exception being a good suit. The interview suit is supposed to deliver on your investment.

  • A lot of what I buy is just about what I like but I do invest in nice running gear. As I started running longer distances I learned that lots of things that are OK for say 3 miles will rub you raw at 9 miles. I also always invest in bras.

  • Totally investment worthy! Especially workout clothes! I treat those harder than anything else in my wardrobe so I can’t buy cheapo stuff that falls apart in a month. As far as underpants go, I recently replaced all of mine with wool and silk underpants. It made such a huge difference in my life. I don’t care how expensive they were, that’s another thing I have to wear everyday.

  • I’ve always spent more on undergarments because I can’t stand uncomfortable underwear. 🙂 I learned to spend on purses because I was just buying essentially the same one over and over each season: I’ve had a high-end version of the same style now for seven years and it still looks like new. And I’ll invest in pricy jeans if the fit is perfect, because I will wear them out.

    I invest in good running shoes, but otherwise I go cheap on athletic gear (and still usually get a ton of wear out of it). I’m lucky that I don’t need highly engineered sports bras – the 2 for $8 Hanes ones work for me! PJs for me are just oversized t-shirts and baggy shorts — no investment needed there.

    • My high-end purse (handmade, bought on Etsy) is finally starting to wear out after years of use. I remember feeling really guilty and unsure when I bought it, because how could I spend THAT MUCH on a purse, but now I’m glad I did. Now to look for another one…

  • The problem with adding other categories to investment pieces is quality. I have tried to go the high end route for panties and they don’t last any longer than cheaper panties. If anything, they lasted less time because high end panties are made with more delicate fabrics and notions that can’t withstand daily use. If I knew the elastic on high end panties would make it past 6 months, I would gladly invest in high end panties. As it stands, a $5 package of Hanes briefs is something I can count on.

    • Sal

      Good point, Andrea. Panties might get the hardest wear of all of these potential investment pieces.

      • LinB

        Agreed. I think of panties as “wear parts” on a machine — designed to wear out with frequent use, and thus to need frequent replacement. Hanes brand lasts longer for me than Fruit of the Loom, so I usually buy Hanes. I find no problem in pitching them out and replacing them, several times a year. “Investment” pieces for me are those hand-made garments on which I spend not only money for quality fabrics, but also great chunks of my time. So, a pair of elastic-waist slacks in real linen are not as much an investment piece to me as is underlined-interlined-lined suit (jacket and skirt) out of a wool-rayon blend, although each cost me about the same amount of cash.

        • GingerR

          Not be be too graphic, but my panties need to be replaced long before the elastic is gone. It’s not that I’m not attentive to my personal care, but they get stained in ways that any amount of laundry can’t remove.

          Bras aren’t subject to the same monthly stresses as panties and are worth the extra quality.

          • nikole

            This is so true. Panties like bras have a shelf life and need to replaced ever so often. Especially the one that are worn in heavy rotation.
            While I may not invest in high quality panties, i will invest in high quality bras.
            People also have a way of treating under garments like a t-shirt.. they are not t-shirts and need to be handled with care when washing… I have some sexy lacey-things that will never see the inside of my washing machine like my heavy rotation cottons

          • M

            This is one of the main reasons I put a decent amount of effort into building up my black panty selection. It saves some money and hassle in the long run.

            Then again, I figure that every time I throw something away because of something that is not related to it’s function failing, that’s pretty much only a plus for the seller, not myself as a consumer. For me as a consumer, it drives my costs up in multiple ways (replacing the items, new store visits, the possibility of spending additional money simply because I am in the store and subject to temptations), it produces more trash (which might not affect us, but it affect future generations) and really, when it comes down to, I can usually change my panties before anyone else sees them or I could always just make them into “that-time-of-the-month” panties.

            • Kylara7

              I have a large collection of black panties too! They last longer and go with everything 🙂 I wash my bras and underwear in lingerie bags and hang them to dry and that has really extended the life of my underthings. The heat of the dryer is really tough on the fabrics, but especially damaging to the elastic.

    • Halo

      In my experience, underwear is absolutely an “investment” piece. I buy Shimera boyshorts (they’re modal) because they are comfier than any other undies I’ve ever found, and I don’t think they’re that expensive at 3/$30 or $13 each. I also find they do last longer than any other underwear I’ve tried. I wash them on permanent press and air dry them on a rack, and my oldest pairs are over a year old and are in perfect shape. This was not the case with any cheap underwear , plus they don’t have elastic to go out on me.

  • Emily

    I echo Cynthia–no clothing is actually an “investment,” and it’s self-deceptive to characterize buying stuff (even really good stuff, even stuff that’s worth it for you) as an “investment” in any sense. This piece at a personal finance blog was helpful:

    http://www.getrichslowly.org/blog/2011/04/27/the-investment-piece-one-investment-thats-no-investment-at-all/

    It’s not that I oppose buying nice bags, etc., just that it saddens me to see consumers and bloggers using the same language that retailers cooked up to trick us into spending more than we might otherwise feel comfortable doing.

    • Sal

      I certainly hope you don’t feel I’m trying to trick you into buying anything you don’t want to, Emily. Never my intent, in this piece or anywhere on this blog.

      Investment is relative, of course, especially in the context of clothing. But there are pieces that are worth spending more on than others. I agree that the phrase “investment piece” gets overused, but also feel that refusing to spend money on quality pieces for your wardrobe because those pieces will eventually age and expire can backfire. Your wardrobe contributes to your overall personal presentation, and purchasing good, versatile pieces for it is a kind of investment, in my opinion. Just not one that will yield dividends.

      • Emily

        Sal – Of course you’re not trying to trick anyone! You, the champion of thrifting. I did not mean for my cynicism bloggers adopting sellers’ language to imply that you (collectively) share their interests or goals, and apologize if it came across that way.

        • Sal

          Whew! I’m so glad. I never want anyone to feel like I’m a swindler!

          • GingerR

            I have to agree with Emily that the use of “investment” is a marketing ploy.

            I’m sure you don’t want to be running a blog that encourages consumption at the expense of needed savings and a debtless life, perhaps a better term could be found.

            • Sal

              Oh, Ginger. I know you’ve been reading this blog for a while, so I ALSO know that you’re well aware I don’t encourage anyone to incur debt in the name of clothing! Come on, now …

              The point of using the term “investment” is to call to mind the pieces long referred to as “investment” wardrobe pieces – coats, bags, shoes – and compare them to other items that might be worth spending more on for different reasons.

      • Actually, some of the getrichslowly commenters point out that if you need high-quality clothes in order to look professional at your job (or get a better one), investment pieces very well can yield dividends–just not easily measured ones.

        Off topic, Sally, I just bought a version of your famous white dress on ideeli! (I got it in gray.) You were the person who linked me to ideeli AND the person who inspired me to buy the dress because of how great it looks on you, so thanks! 🙂

  • C

    Even though I don’t agree with their corporate policies or their labor practices, I do invest in workout clothes from LuluLemon. They’re more pricey, but I find that they last longer and hold their shape better than workout clothes I buy at Target or other cheaper stores – so many of my cheap workout pants have stretched out, lost their color or gotten tears or rips. What’s more, they’re cut in a much more flattering way, which adds a little bit more incentive to put them on and go to the gym. That in itself is worth the money!

    • Secret Squirrel

      *cannot* agree with you more, C. I replaced my tatty joggers with a really good quality well-fitting pair, and a matching top (ooh matchy-matchy Sal) that goes with the bright sports crop tops I wear. I feel special, and t makes me want to go to gym classes!

  • Miss T

    I think the actual *pace* of fashion has revved up to much, with things coming in and out of style rapidly, that this has an effect on the definition of investment dressing. When I was growing up (70s) and learning about style and fashion, an investment piece had a specific definition: it was anything that was extremely high-quality — perhaps even couture or custom made — that was constructed of luxury fabrics such as wool, cashmere, silk, leather, etc., and that had “classic” styling that ensured that the high price one paid was not wasted in 1 or 2 seasons of wear, but would be something that could be worn frequently over a 10+ year period. I don’t think anyone views clothing on a 10-year scale anymore: clothing shopping is now more akin to picking up groceries: all clothing is viewed as disposable, even expensive clothing. Most women today pick up one or two garments a month without any thought. Thirty years ago, clothing shopping was something that occurred maybe 3 or 4 times a year. So, I think shopping patterns have changed, the function of fashion in our lives has changed, garment quality expectations for both consumer and manufacturers have changed, price tolerance for clothing has shifted, with all of this making the definition of “investment” piece totally up for grabs.

    • Miss T

      And addendum to my comment above: Thirty years ago, if you paid $100 (which is probably like $300 today) for something — say shoes, or a coat — you KNEW you were getting quality, and you could relax and wear the piece with confidence for as long as you liked, maybe even “forever”. If you buy something today for $300 or even $500, that confidence is just not there: it could be a quality piece, or it could be junk. The onus is on the consumer to figure it out before she buys. Part of this I think is that 30 years ago, retailers cared about their reputation. Now, when people can buy stuff (and return it) at the click of a mouse, well, shopping is just an anonymous exchange of money for goods, and things like quality, retailer reputation, and value for price paid have been muted, making it harder than ever to make investment clothing purchases.

      • Sal

        Very true. And very frustrating.

      • stpetemom

        Both of your comments are right on, in my experience. Younger folk probably have not experienced that. I wonder if we will have any clothes to hand down that will become “antique” or “vintage”.

        • Lynn

          I absolutely agree. I mentioned to someone that I have some clothes that are 10+ years old, and the reaction was complete amazement. I don’t think many of my newer items will ever last that long even with careful care.

        • I have the same thought. I don’t see hardly anything you can buy in a store now as holding up long enough to become vintage, unless it’s worn once or twice and then put away for 20 years. I have a long-sleeved hooded J Crew t-shirt from the late 90s that has been washed thousands of times and is now relegated to being worn for cleaning or yardwork etc, but that t-shirt has never faded, and has no holes or rips. Contrast that to every single tee, hoodie, or cotton cardigan that I’ve bought in the past five years, none of which have lasted more than two seasons without falling apart.

          • I don’t know about that. I have some items (dresses, skirts, and shirts) from mid-level retailers such as Anthropologie, Urban Outfitters, and J Crew that have lasted me several years and seem like they’ll go for years more. Even some of my Old Navy tees have lasted several years of hard wear and are still in pretty good shape! I’ll agree that it’s hit-or-miss with places like Target, Forever 21, etc, but if you closely examine items for strong seams, durable fabric, etc before buying you can still get quality clothing.

      • This is my problem with investment pieces also! I agree with the idea in principle, but it’s really hard for me to figure out what kind of ‘investment’ one needs to make to get something worthy (by that I mean craftsmanship, longevity and style). And reading blogs doesn’t help me much because everyone seems to be operating at vastly different price points. On that note, people talk about “cost per wear” all the time, but what is considered a good cost per wear? A dollar? Less? I’m at a point where I want to spend more per piece and buy fewer pieces, but I noticed that I’ve been sort of paralyzed by uncertainty and so have not been buying anything at all! Which is good for my bank account, except there are literally holes now in some of my favorite things and I should replace them. Help!

        • My roommate asks herself how many hours of work she would have to do in order to pay for whatever item she is considering, and then asks herself if she would get that many hours of enjoyment out of it. I’m not sure if that really maps to clothing well (she uses it for things like a PlayStation, which costs a lot but will also give her a lot of enjoyment hours), but it’s something I’ve been thinking about lately in regards to things I want to buy.

          As for being paralyzed by uncertainty, I made a list lately of things I was considering buying, and ordered it by priority. First priority were things that would replace something essential that was falling apart, second priority were things that would be useful to have, and third were things that I like but don’t need. It helps to refer back to that list whenever I’m wondering whether to click the Purchase button.

  • I fully believe in clothing “investment” in that I know if I wear something constantly, there are certain clothing pieces that I know have to be of greater value.

    Now, I am strange probably in that I buy TONS of socks and underwear – but there’s a balance between the cheap, wear these until they run out, etc. kind and the these are my nice ones that will last a long time ones. I go through clothing fast, but I find that some of the Soma underwear I have lasts a really long time compared to others (in large part because of no shrinkage and relative ease in washing).

    As far as PJs go, I have a lot of cheaper sets, but every so often I’ll splurge and get something super comfortable or super cute (as my husband sees me in my PJs all the time). Those pieces are great and take a lot of wear, instead of being the kind of clothes I go through fast.

    My general criteria for something I’ll spend a little money on is: Is it something I will wear more than 5+ times a month? Is there a difference in quality from the cheap to the pricey versions? What do I get out of having a higher quality version of this item?

  • I totally see what you are saying, it makes sense.

    I do think it’s really important to get good quality stuff if you are going to wash it loads (esp. important for gym clothes), but I would just echo what people above have said, high cost in no way guarantees quality. I love my marks and spencers multipack simple black pants (i.e. knickers!). Though I am willing to spend a bit more for good things, I have these two silk tshirts I bought when I was 17 (I’m 30 now), which I sleep in and only just now one of them is starting to disintegrate. I am currently scouring the internet looking for a replacement because I love wearing silk in bed, it’s so luxurious.

    Oh and another ‘private’ thing I’ve spent loads on recently: Woolen leggings. spendy but totally worth it!

  • Lobbyist

    I wonder if the difference is perceived quality versus cost. For example, my favorite workout running skirt is LuLuLemon and was about $75. My second favorite is Champion from Target and was about $20. The LuLu one is cuter, but it’s not four times cuter. But my Kate Spade purse bought on sale for $200 is more than four times cuter than a similar $50 one from Target. So I’ll save up for the purses and won’t for my workout wear.

  • bubu

    I really like this idea, Sal. One thing i think you are hinting at is “why would we care to spend more on just the parts of us people see than just for ourselves and our own worth?” To only focus on these parts suggests we are more concerned about what others think. I have come to realize recently that that is not a position I like. I recently bought myself some nice yoga gear from Athleta. Before that I got the cheap stuff at Target too, but I found as I was getting more into yoga and harder workouts, that the clothes got in the way. So the Athleta gear was both to address this workout issue, but also to sort of reward myself for how much I was committing to my workouts, and to add to their pleasure. And whenever I put them on I have a brief “i’m worth it” realization….

    • Sal

      Indeed! And glad to hear that investing in some higher-end yoga gear had the intended effect.

  • Katharine

    I’ll spend the money if it seems to be worth it to me. But I can get “investment quality” running gear from Winners at Zellers prices, so I do. I don’t actually prefer the expensive underpants; I’m an all-cotton girl, so the Joe Fresh boyshorts at 3 for $10 are exactly what I want (well, I wish they came in bright solid colours, but I’ll live) — I just don’t see expensive underwear other than “seam free invisible!” microfibre things, and I care more about my parts being able to breathe than somebody MAYBE seeing a cheap seam across my buttocks.

    As for pyjamas, my favourite night things right now are a few cotton jersey dresses that I got on sale at Old Navy and (again) Joe Fresh. They’re lasting just fine; they’re very comfortable. They’re not quite flattering enough to be worn out as dresses, but for pyjamas, they work very well. And again, “more expensive” in the pyjama world generally translates as more designy bits, more lace, more ornament, more microfibre rather than cotton — more things I do not in fact love.

    I agree with Miss T — it’s more about being choosy about actual quality. If I’m honest, I can perfectly well tell the difference between something serviceable, and something that has either structural or design flaws that will make it less durable or less comfortable. I’ve occasionally allowed a name or an alluring product description to blind me to those features (hello, expensive Talula silk-blend long-sleeve t-shirts that twisted horribly the first time they got washed) but when I don’t, actual price doesn’t matter. ANY piece of clothing I buy, to my thinking, should be an investment, and I expect it to be functional and lasting in its chosen purpose whether it costs $10 or $500.

  • Becky

    I am a Southerner and find myself living in rural Maine. Life is worth living again since I “invested” in a merino wool base layer. They were crazy expensive for my budget. Nobody sees them but me – but everybody sees the smile on my face!

  • Elizabeth

    I think underwear is a good place to spend a little more, and I think so more and more now that I’m older and out of the “La Senza” phase of my life. I’m all about jockey panties and Wonderbra bras: they cost a little more, are rarely on mega-sale, but last and last, and feel great all day long.

    This post and my comment reminds me of a great Shel Silverstein poem called “Outside or Underneath” – I sincerely hope posting it here isn’t a breach of copyright or anything:
    OUTSIDE OR UNDERNEATH?-Shel Silverstein
    Bob bought a hundred-dollar suit
    But couldn’t afford any underwear.
    Says he “If your outside looks real good
    No one will know what’s under there”
    Jack bought some hundred-dollar shorts
    But wore a suit with rips and tears.
    Says he, “It won’t matter what people see
    As long as I know what’s under there”
    Tom bought a flute and a box of crayons,
    Some bread and cheese and a golden pear.
    And as for his suit or his underwear
    He doesn’t think about them much….or care

    I love Shel Silverstein – I have all his books. Have a great day, everyone!

    • Anneesha

      Love this! Some bread and cheese and a golden pear …

  • Brenda Marks

    I’ve been making most of my own clothes for the past two years. In my instance, one of the things investment means to me is taking the time to work out fit and learning how to handle different fabrics. To the point of Sal’s post, I’ve recently been making panties. It’s a big challenge, but now I have a pattern and fabric and elastic pairing that fits. This project was important because my favorite undies (Lands End from probably 3 years ago) were finally starting to wear out!

    I never would have guessed that I’d spend the amount I currently pay for bras that fit. However, it’s a critical garment that has to be right.

    I’ve come to the point were if something is worth putting in my closet, it’s pretty much an investment piece – it should be built to last in a style I will want to wear for several years.

  • LK

    I agree with many of the people above. I’ve found Target to hold up better than places like Express or H & M who are more expensive and the quality has gone downhill in the last couple years. I do believe in expensive handbags. Although I don’t look at it as an investment, I look at it as “cost per wear”. If its a $200 handbag and I use it 200 times in a year its paid for itself. That means its worth the price, providing it is good quality.

  • Anne

    What a great topic. It struck a cord with me as obviously it did with many of your readers. Right as I was turning 40 ( and returned to work after 2 kids) I bought into this notion of what I call “Big girl clothes.” I can thank Oprah and More magazines for that. The idea they were putting forth was that at this point in my life my clothes should say I’ve arrived, that I can afford to invest in quality. I invested in several pair of dress slacks, a couple of LBDs, a few better quality handbags, and some blazers. The painful truth is that here I am, six years later these clothes don’t get much wear; not nearly as much as the more pedestrian items like jeans, tee shirts, cozy sweaters, and flat shoes.

    This year I took a long hard look at what was hanging in my closet and decided that I had to figure out which items of clothing really suited my lifestyle the best and shift my clothing dollars to match. I also decided that if I wanted to keep those “Big girl clothes” in my wardrobe, I had better start wearing them. I did my first 30×30 remix this winter and it was very telling. I plan to do one every season from now on.

    I was very much in agreement with Miss T’s posts. You can find quality items anywhere if you look hard enough, you can find junky ones too. The other thought that struck me is that clothing and shopping have moved from a utilitarian activity to entertainment. I know this isn’t exactly a new phenomenon but it seems to have picked up in pace. I used to look forward to wearing my new clothes. Now people seem more interested in buying clothes than how they’re going to use them. Also, we get more of our fashion cues from blogs and other ‘net sites. We’re not waiting for those twice a year fashion weeks to decide what to wear. I think this idea of immediacy has dealt a blow to the competing idea of hanging on to things and making them work for years. Just my rambling thoughts:)

    • Anne, I think you and I – and a lot of gals – have the kind of lifestyle where spending a lot of money on jeans would make sense. When I read Sal’s original post that’s the first thing that came to mind. Many women nowadays have a lifestyle where they could wear jeans 7 days a week most weeks and the traditional “big girl clothes” just aren’t necessary very often, if at all. Talk about investment dressing – if I wear jeans 4 days a week and each pair lasts a year or so, my cost-per-wear is down to a very low amount. Much more than the prototypical LBD which I wear a couple times a year.

      As it happens, I *don’t* spend $$$ on jeans, because I’m a plus-size who likes to thrift and bargain shop, so premium denim has never been a good choice for me. But I’m not morally opposed to it if I found a line that fits and is good quality.

      Sal, I think your point that it may be worth spending more money on items that you use a lot but aren’t the “stars of the show” is a great one. But here’s my thing: quality doesn’t always correlate with brand name or with price. I’ll continue to buy the bras that fit and are comfy and last – they’re not the most expensive, they’re not the least. Ditto for panties. I usually make most of my PJs, but if I don’t I can get a comfy pair from Target that’ll last for several years at a reasonable price – why would I spend more? Price is a factor in my buying decisions, but not the only one.

      • Anne

        Absolutely true Laura. I currently have 3 pair of “premium jeans” two of them are from consignment shops (I’m hard to fit so I buy them to fit my thighs and have them altered) the other pair I found on the clearance rack and “couponed” them into my price range. (two of them get constant wear and are holding up well) I buy the best underwear I can find for what I view is a reasonable price. For most of my purchases I have what I call a “Line in the sand price.” I find what ever I need in the best quality I can find at that particular price. I’ve allowed the price to go up for shoes and coats but I’ve drawn it down for dresses and blouses and blazers. I am just too hard on handbags to spend much on them.

        I will say my biggest splurge items are clothes and shoes for sports and training. I have taught everything from swimming to dance to skiing and more. I always told my students take care of your feet first. Your first investment should always be in decent shoes (or boots) Get fit by a professional not some hack at the local mall. Also get a good sports bra and replace it every six months or ten pounds, which ever comes first!

        • Love the ‘line in the sand’ idea – I probably have one in my head but haven’t really articulated what it is.

          I agree about shoes – I don’t have fussy feet so can get away with cheaper options sometimes, but uncomfortable shoes at any price point are out! There are certain styles I just can’t wear or that always annoy me, so they’re out.

  • Heather

    While I do love love love Natori panties, it just doesn’t make sense to invest alot of money in them unless I get them on clearance. Panties are designed to protect your other clothing from YOU- they get ruined too quickly to spend alot of money on them!

    Workout gear is another story- as a dancer I spend more time in workout gear of one form or another than other types of clothing, so it HAS to be good quality!

    • Anneesha

      My thoughts exactly about panties …

  • Nebraskim

    I find I spend more money on quality work-out gear than I do on other items. I enjoy how I feel in good running pants, technical running socks, sports bras, etc. I spend a lot on high-quality running shoes after learning the hard way that cheap shoes are no bargain if you have to spend money on physical therapy to deal with preventable injuries.

    I have gotten into wearing sports bras all the time. I know….shoot me. But they are way more comfortable for me than “fashion” bras and also easier to find in my odd size of “38-almost a B on really good day.” Plus they can double as camisoles. I love the racer back because there are no straps to show.

  • Ame

    personally I think that shoes, handbags and coats are the most sensible investment pieces because they can still be worn regardless of body weight fluctuations, which comes back to cost per wear (coats to a lesser degree than handbags or shoes, of course). If we’re really talking investment pieces for sleep, for example, I would much rather invest my money in expensive, high quality sheets and pillows. For the gym, I would rather drop more money on shoes than workout clothes, because even though I’m in workout clothes a few days a week, it really only adds up to like 6 hours a week whereas depending on what one does for work or how one commutes (bike, for example) the sneakers would get much more wear. Just a few thoughts.

  • Mar

    Like other posters already said above, I think it makes sense to spend money on items that get a lot of wear, and/or that boost your motivation or confidence in certain situations. For some, it indeed might be classic shoes or a designer purse, but not for others. I spend a lot of time climbing (outdoors and indoors), running outside, and hiking, and have been slowly upgrading my workout gear to things that fit and flatter, replacing the ill-fitting race t-shirts or hand-me-downs from a friend that I had settled on since my budget is limited. It’s a mixed motivation of wanting to be in fabrics and fits that I find very comfortable, and of wanting to be in clothes that I visually really like and that I think flatter, since I spend hours (or days in case of multi-day backcountry trips) in them. Plus I wanted to add some cheerful color items that help me get out the door for a run when it’s raining cats and dogs. What I’m saying is that it’s not just about whether I think these a bit more expensive clothes will wear longer, it’s also about boosting my confidence in situations where I know I could be emotionally vulnerable (I sometimes get discouraged and shy in an indoor climbing gym) or when I need the extra little nudge to get dressed and get going (cold morning runs or long trail runs where I’ve found having gear I really like helps me get amped up).

  • I absolutely invest in high-quality bras. I usually spend between $70 and $100 on a bra, and up to $20 on a single pair of panties. Bras are expensive for unusual sizes, and it’s simply not worth it to save $50 on a bra if it’s the wrong size and makes me uncomfortable day after day. I’m also a total convert to expensive panties. I bought one really nice lacey thong, and it was more comfortable than any panties of any style I’d worn before. I take very good care of my undergarments, though. I never wear a bra two days in a row (and rarely more than once a week), I wash my panties by hand, etc. My things last me a very long time, and for me, it’s totally worth it to invest in good-quality undergarments, for the comfort and for the extra boost of confidence they give. Pajamas, on the other hand, I don’t spend money on at all. I wear old tanks and boxer shorts because they’re the most comfortable things I’ve tried, and they’re one of the few sets of pjs that don’t end up bunched around my waist or my thighs by the end of the night. 🙂

  • Jennifer Pierce

    I absolutely agree about panties. I wear Patagonia, which run $20 per pair. They are so comfortable, I feel like I’m not even wearing them. Never pull, rub, etc. And they are part of the Common Threads Initiative – when they are ‘all done’, I can bring them to the store (WASHED of course) and place them in their clothing recycling bin where they will be recycled instead of adding to the landfills.

  • Totally agree!
    Any clothing item I invest in has to be comfortable, and there are some I’m willing to pay more for: running shoes, bras, winter coats, and rain boots. It doesn’t matter who sees them, I want to feel good wearing them!

    Being a full-time student forces me to be extremely thrifty, and I do most of my clothes shopping second-hand. I’ve tried some of the less expensive retail stores, but the quality tends to be very low and/or it’s near impossible to find items that flatter my body and fit my style. For things like bras and running shoes, I find the brand I love and try to find the best deals online. Those are usually one-time purchases anyway, as the items last for years.

    For everything else, I go to second-hand stores. They’re really fun to explore and I’ve found some true wardrobe staples for under $15!

  • I love this! I haven’t worked full-time in an office in over SIX years… but until very recently, I still shopped like I did. I “invested” in Anthropologie dresses, expensive boots, coats, etc. and bought cheap-o yoga pants, jeans, tank tops, which fell apart every season. After I did a couple of those fashion challenges (Six Items or Less, 30 in 30), I started to connect the dots: I LIVE in yoga pants, jeans and tank tops. I wear dresses and boots maybe once a week. Turns out, the $70 yoga pants really do hold up better and look way cuter than the $15 version. And last fall, I splurged (seriously) on a pair of Quoddy shearling boots — I couldn’t believe I was “investing” in a wardrobe item I’d never had been able to wear in my NYC magazine editor days, but as a Hudson Valley writer, I lived in them for the past six months.

    Long story short: Those “must have” lists only work if they actually apply to your life. As a serious fashion girl, it has taken me awhile to appreciate this (buying high quality panties and yoga pants also just feels less FUN than buying pretty dresses…) but it is definitely improving my quality of life day to day.

  • Great topic. Don’t want to rehash the excellent points made here, other than that regarding clothes, “investment piece” is generally a misnomer these days and the idea mostly boils down to a marketing tactic. There is a pretty low tipping point on the quality vs. cost scale where you can get what you need and want for a reasonable price across virtually all categories, even if your economic status might allow (or even create pressure) for a greater expenditure. I suppose I’d find more “investment” value in brands and shopping practices that are ethical and environmentally conscious, if ever I could truly figure out what I think they are! That’s a much tougher conundrum.

  • I invest in both ways. I always spend as well as I can on quality undergarments, but I also buy good coats. I buy high quality socks, but also cheapie fun pairs. My only thing is I sleep in “freebie” shirts. Honestly? that’s most comfortable for me. I’ve done the matching pajama sets, worn everything from silk, satin, and cottons… but my shirts that Hubs got as freebies? My favorite.

  • Several years ago, I spent/went to some trouble to get two attractive, warm sets of pajamas. I’m still wearing them and they still look good. Definitely in agreement on this one!

  • Courtney

    My grandmother always advised me to invest in good bras and good shoes. Her reasoning for the bras is pretty much what you stated in your post, but her reasoning on the shoes was that cheaply made shoes are more likely to be uncomfortable and tear up your feet. I took the heart of her shoe advice and search for shoes that are comfortable and require little to no breaking in, but I’m terribly hard on shoes (regardless of price point), so I have a hard time spending big wads of cash on shoes.

  • K

    I hate to say this Sal, but I think your argument misses one of the most important criteria for the true investment piece: utility. One should look at spending more on a winter coat, not just due to issues of status or number of wears, but because the function it serves is so essential. I know that I am willing to drop an extra couple of hundred of dollars if I know that I won’t freeze in a Canadian cold snap. The same goes for shoes. We should take more care to invest the money into quality shoes because we spend our days walking on our feet. The health of our joints, back, feet all depend on shoes that fit well and are well constructed for how we use them. Bras as well. No one wants to be stabbed with stray underwires, or have the back problems that can result for some in need of good support for the girls.

    Contrast that with panties, socks, etc. Yes, comfort is important. But there are a multitude of options at all price points that will satisfy the necessary criteria of comfort, breathability and necessary discretion we look for. Why would I spend $40 or $80 on something when I can find something that works just as well in my life for $5? Now you are talking luxury for luxury sake.

    I think the “investment piece” reflects the idea that I am required to spend more on an item of my clothing in order for it to simply fill the task I need it to fill. This may be different for everyone, but certain things fall into that category for many people, like my trusty winter jacket.

    • Sal

      I understand where you’re coming from, but I am not talking luxury for luxury’s sake. On the contrary, I am arguing that we should all be able to spend more where we deem it most beneficial. And that can mean more private pieces like pajamas or gym gear as opposed to pieces that are traditionally associated with status, or a public sartorial persona.

      Also, several years ago I spent $300+ on a North Face down coat, assuming it would be top-notch. My $150 Land’s End down coat is WORLDS better in every possible way. 😉

      • K

        I agree with you that cost doesn’t always yield quality (personally, I like brands that give an actual temperature rating on winter outerwear as I have suffered my fair share of frostbite this way). And certainly, because the expense has been easier to justify, for reasons such as utility or frequency of use, these very public items have become an indication of status since they become a better barometer for the means available to a person to invest in the things they put on their body as opposed to the rest of the regular wardrobe. This may or may not be a good thing. I think another factor is that these were items where traditionally, one had fewer multiples in their closet.

        Overall, I agree that one should allocate their wardrobe funds as best suit their needs.

        I just think that there are a few more factors in play behind the tradition of the investment piece (with the exception of the handbag – I think that one really has way more to do with status than any other factor). I think that it would be a good idea to constantly re-evaluate the factors behind the tradition to discover whether they still hold true. If the reasons for the tradition are no longer accurate, then it is time to create a different notion for the investment piece that would reflect a better use of limited funds.

  • I definitely agree when it comes to underwear and base layers – I just bought two $70 slips, which is way more than I would normally spend. But I wear slips under my dresses and skirts several times a week – these slips fit like a dream (as opposed to riding up my hips constantly), the material is silky but not polyester and not dry clean only. No one else will ever see them, but for me, they were worth every penny.

  • Yula

    Interesting idea. I don’t really see myself investing in PJs since my face washing stuff has benzoyl peroxide, which tends to stain things. (Even when I think I’m being careful, it will sneakily drip on my shirt) I’ve found inexpensive underwear works just as well for me and isn’t really any less comfortable, at least for everyday stuff. I tend to spend more on workout clothes, though. There are so many fun colors and designs and they make me look forward to working out.

    The only area where my cheapness is starting to backfire in the sweater department…a lot of my favorites are pilling or have holes. >_> They don’t really cost too much to replace, but it’s kind of a bummer when you’ve built so many outfits around them. So I can certainly see the value in finding better quality items, but sometimes they are rather hard to find at a reasonable price.

  • M

    This is a very personal topic. Some people have issues fitting certain items, so for them, plunking down good money for something is more valuable than for someone else who can walk into any store and grab what they want at any price point they are willing to spend at.

    Personally, I rarely wear PJ’s, so there’s no use in me spending any decent money on them (sorry if that’s TMI.) I rarely carry a purse, so again, not really worth dumping money on anything expensive. I love my army surplus bags that generally run between $10-$20 and are super durable and practical and I’m a big fan of the army-green color they usually come in, when I do need a purse-like object.

    My criteria for spending really has nothing to do with whether someone else will see it or not. I generally try to spend as little as possible (training from years of not having much money and a habit I find difficult to break when being realistic with the fact that I will likely not have the same income as I have now to spend on myself for the rest of my life), but I know there are limits to the sales and various discounts I can get on some items I’ve found to be comfortable, practical for me, and durable, so I will spend the money for them. I wear skirts almost every day, so spending a little more on a skirt that I could wear nearly every day is practical. I love my feet and the places they take me, I’ve seen my mom’s feet after years of wearing high heels and so I put some money into my shoes to help save myself pain, mobility and surgery and other doctor expenditures in the future.

  • i JUST invested today in a nice swimsuit. i love to swim and just moved to a place near a beach. and swimsuits are so important! is there a garment a woman feels more vulnerable in? so while i felt sort of guilty shelling out, i’m really excited to feel comfortable and cute while nearly naked.

  • I love the idea of pyjamas as an investment:).

  • I haven’t had pyjamas since I was about six & refused to wear them. There’s no point investing any money into something completed unsuited to the hot, humid climate I live in.

    I’ve discovered that the Bonds “Made To Be Seen” Tube Bra is the comfiest thing ever & bought about ten of them since they were released a year & a half ago. They’re $27-35 per bra, & that’s a lot more than my usual $10-15, two bras a year.

  • Angela

    Between all the “free panties” coupons that Victoria’s Secret mails out, and their $3.99 cotton skivvies that I stock up on during their Semi-Annual sales, I am set for panties, and hardly spend anything on them. I have to “invest” in my bras not by choice, but because I’m an unusual size–30D–and it’s nigh impossible to find that size in general, let alone in a budget version or on sale. (If anyone has a recommendation for a good, inexpensive 30D, I’m all ears!)

    High-end workout gear is definitely something I “invest” in. I first discovered Lululemon in 2007, and even with my first purchase began my love affair with their technical pieces. The clothes I bought even back then are still in regular rotation in my workout wardrobe, and still look and fit great. I have yet to ever throw out a piece of Lululemon clothing for damage or wear. I’m at dance rehearsals and dance or fitness classes several times a week. I wear my workout clothes a lot, and I sweat in them a lot. Ever since discovering moisture-wicking technical fabrics, working out in plain cotton feels like being smothered by wet towels. Even when exercising, I think that “look good, feel good” applies, and I do think I dance better / work out harder when I look in the mirror and can see my body, when I see pretty colors, and when I feel like I look cute. All the extra bells and whistles that they put into their pieces really are worth the extra expense because they make my workouts easier/more enjoyable–strategically-placed mesh ventilation, iPod pockets, hidden key pockets, drawstrings, gussets, flatlocked seams, removable bra cups… I insist on these features!

    I don’t usually wear pajamas, so that’s something I’ve never really splurged on. Nowadays, when I do sleep in PJs, I actually sleep in my Lululemon gear. The wide-leg yoga pants and Cool Racerback tops feel so soft and nice against my skin. And if I get warm and sweat when I sleep, it’s no big deal. 🙂

  • Fruitful

    Well, I’m still in the Oonagh by Nanette Lepore jersey dress I slept in last night (it got relegated to sleepwear because the fragile thing got a hole while wearing as it was intended, an actual dress).

    I have to say it’s a dream to sleep in and I look forward to it every night! I’m certainly getting better CPW. So maybe I should stop trying to spend $0 on sleepwear and “invest” in more good stuff…

  • Mollie

    I love a great pair of wool socks. The smartwool ones I get are soft and pretty and make my feet happy and that really adds a lot to my life.

  • Victoria

    I’d love to be able to spend $20 on a bra, but that seems like it’s never going to happen.

    26 inch ribcage and a 34 inch bust measurement?

    …yeah. I have to go to Intimacy, and they *STILL* have to alter them. As a result? I have 1 matching set of undergarments, as paying over $120 each per set just isn’t in my price range, so Target for pants it is.

    My life is thrift budget, but there’s no way it’ll work for bras. I don’t view them as investments, though – simply the cost (the incredibly annoying, makes me want to go stabby-stabby cost) of my body shape.

    I’d love recommendations, if you’ve got any, Sal, for places that can clothe a 5’1″ 34-25-34 with no alterations needed, who’s one a budget; because I’m at a loss…

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  • Hi Victoria! learn how to alter your own bras. i’ve sewn for years, it ain’t rocket science to take in a band and you can re-alter as the elastic gets looser if you like. also, shop e-bay for huge discounts on brand name bras in exotic sizes – just be sure to scrutinize the seller’s history and terms before buying.

    re: PJ’s and panties. i think ‘investment’ is code for ‘expensive’ the way most ‘experts’ use the word. i’ve found that once you get to ten or twenty bucks for pj’s or panties you’re not going to get any additional comfort, ‘performance’, or durability. You will get fancier brands, beautiful lace, etc. but these can actually inhibit durability and comfort……just my two cents on why certain items don’t get tagged as ‘investment-worthy’. You can spend and spend but it’s not buying you anything more vis a vis those criteria than what you get at lower prices…….steph

    • Victoria

      @tiny junco
      How would one even go about figuring out wich bras would be best/easiest to alter? Straps on pretty much everything I’m an old pro at, but I confess to being baffled by the elastic band part (probably because everyone says elastic is so difficult to sew).

      Is it just trial an error to figure out which RTW sizes will fit after alteration? So intriguing, and yet terrifying at the same time…

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  • gina

    It certainly makes sense to be discriminating about these items. I have always been pretty lucky to be able to find sale priced good pjs and underwear. I will spend more for comfortable flattering bras and yoga clothes.