… it would also be good to hear your thoughts on price point versus value explored more. I wouldn’t buy a £14 dress from Primark, but I would buy a £40 dress from American Apparel. One has a better price point, but the other has a better value. Complex subject!
Samantha followed up with a related request:
I was wondering if you could do a post on how quality and price interact. I feel like I automatically assume that a $150 skirt from somewhere nice in retail-land is amazing quality. I feel like it’s drummed into our minds that higher price = higher quality, but this is not always the case. Could you write about how to scout out higher-quality clothes, still keeping price in mind?
So Samantha’s last request is best answered by this post about shopping for quality and longevity. But both women were curious about the price/value link and, like many of us, assume that more expensive clothes are better made and, therefore, better buys. As Elly points out, this is an incredibly complex topic and one that will be different for everyone. What seems like a good value to one person working for one set wage may seem outrageous to another person working for a different set wage. And aside from finances, the concept of “value” is entirely fluid.
Actually, let’s start there.
The value of a wardrobe item is incredibly personal, but a typical benchmark is use: Items that are worn frequently and stand up to near-constant use are generally considered to have been wise purchases, regardless of their price points. Now if you’re like me, you’re more apt to feel a little swell of pride if you spent big on something and it eventually becomes a wardrobe staple. I think, “Ah HA! I was right to invest! That whatchamacalit has turned out to be a pillar of my personal style. I am so wise.” And if you’re like me, the reason that you do this is because it feels incredibly difficult to predict which items actually WILL become wardrobe workhorses. If my old black pants wore out and my replacement black pants are the same style and fit just as well, that’s a pretty safe bet. But otherwise? Anyone’s guess. Items that are quintessentially “me” and seem quite versatile can go unworn, and total oddball impulse buys can end up getting regular wear. I certainly couldn’t have predicted that my dusty pink tulle skirt would get so much airtime, and I was so darned sure that this scarf would be in constant rotation but it has proven difficult to style. Anyone who grapples with this problem – predicting which items will be worn the most often – will find spotting good values to be challenging.
If you are in the fortunate position of being able to accurately spot and procure wardrobe staples from the get-go, you may feel well positioned to invest wisely in your clothing and accessories. But you may still fall into the trap of believing that higher priced items from higher end stores are automatically better values. As an avid thrifter, I must say that this is not the case. Not universally. I’ve tried on blazers at Ann Taylor that felt cheap and were awkwardly lined yet retailed for $100+. I’ve tried on used blazers made 30 years ago that were sturdy, beautifully constructed, and held up to decades of wear and tear and sold for $5. And! I spent ages looking for my perfect olive green skirt and broke one of my own thrifting rules by buying a Target one secondhand. It is durable, washes beautifully, fits like a dream, and is so sturdy I’m certain it’ll still be going strong in 10 years. On its own, price is not an indication of inherent value.
Finally, value is not tied exclusively to use OR price. Some items purchased while traveling or to commemorate occasions may have been wildly expensive or ridiculously cheap, and yet their value is magnified by their emotional significance. Some items would be great values and get constant wear due to their construction, color, or fit but since they are fussy or expensive to clean may go mostly unworn. Some items are only trotted out on special occasions, but make us feel so fabulous when they emerge that their price tags are virtually irrelevant.
Again, if you’re looking for some ways to determine if a purchase will last a while and hold up to use, consider the factors outlined in this post: Seams, lining and reinforcement, material, weight, care instructions, and – to a somewhat lesser extent – brand. Learning to spot quality construction and great fabrics is a great way to sift value from price, and evaluating a garment apart from its price tag can help you make more informed purchasing decisions. But each person will have different ideas around how price and value interact.
What are yours? What makes a purchase a good value, in your opinion? Do you feel like the more expensive something is, the better it is likely to be made? If you buy secondhand, does that impact your views?
Image courtesy Joseph Brent.