The Real Investment Pieces You Should Own

The following is a guest post from one of my blogger friends, Robert Wall of Untitled Minimalism.  Robert is a reformed packrat who writes witty and thought-provoking articles on the topics of consumerism, minimalism, simplicity, and frugality.  He also hosts a regular podcast dedicated to the practical aspects of living a deliberate life. I love his posts and I hope you will, too!

If you have an idea for a guest post on “Recovering Shopaholic,” please connect with me to share your thoughts.

Let me start by saying I’m not a believer in the idea of “investment pieces,” at least not in the conventional sense. I’ve read bloggers who talk about buying handbags, shoes, and other fancy stuff as if it was going to last them the rest of their lives:  “Invest in that designer piece you’ve had your eye on, but make sure it’s something you know you’ll love forever.”

Forever? Seriously?

Buying Investment Pieces

Will you really love that designer piece forever?

“These Pieces are Investments!”

And before you think I’m reading too many women’s fashion blogs, the men’s’ blogs do it, too. GQ, for example, thinks I need a $1600 trench coat, a $1550 briefcase, and a $350 pair of shoes. Same argument, i.e. “these pieces are investments!”

The problem is, these things aren’t investments.

Wardrobes are composed of consumables. Sure, they take longer to consume than, say, a hamburger (or a veggie pita, if that’s more your thing), but let’s face it – items get old, worn, stained, and disposed of. During the time you possess them, items in your wardrobe don’t generally go up in value. Your best case scenario is that you’ll have a given item until it finally goes out of style.

So no, I don’t believe in “investment pieces”. I do, however, believe in making investments in your wardrobe – let me explain.

A Love/Hate Relationship with Clothes

Ever since I was a kid, I’ve hated wearing dress clothes. Mostly because whoever figured out how to make blue jeans comfortable never talked to the people who make pleated-front dress pants – at least not the ones my mom was buying for me. They were uncomfortable. They were miserable. About the only thing you could do with any semblance of comfort was sit there and eat Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner. Good for my parents, I suppose, but bad for me.

I had this love/hate relationship with dress clothes up until my mid-twenties, when I decided to kill 30 minutes of time before work at the specialty menswear shop next door.

Dropping $20 vs. $50 Well Spent

I discovered that specialty clothing stores sell pants that have a bit more flexibility. There’s a couple extra inches of fabric sewn into the seat seam, so it can be let out. You don’t have to worry about the leg length, since most of their legs are 37″ long or so and they just hem them to whatever you need. Same with shirts, sport coats, and all manner of other clothing.

So instead of dropping $20 at WalMart last time I bought dress pants, I wound up spending $50 for a pair of dress pants that fit correctly. This means I spent over twice as much, but I discovered something interesting – they don’t sit at the back of the closet. They’re comfortable, so I actually wear them!

It’s Easy to Fall Back Into the Trap

Yet even knowing this, even having those pants in my closet, I’ve found that I can easily fall back into the trap of looking for “a few $20 pairs of pants” when I need to replace some wardrobe items – even though the price is the silliest criteria I could possibly pick. Sure, I get more pairs of pants for the money – but does that really matter when I hate them to the point I don’t want to wear them at all?

Rather than buying five pairs of $20 pants, I could (and should!) buy two pairs of $50 pants and actually feel good when I wear them.

The Value of Feeling Good in Our Clothes

After all, feeling good in your clothes isn’t to be underestimated. Feeling good means you do better work. It means you have more fun with your kids. It means you enjoy that movie date more. It means you enjoy life more.

Which means that I can appeal to my frugal side by reminding myself that I’m not spending $30 more on a pair of pants; I’m spending $30 extra so that my ill-fitting wardrobe isn’t making me miserable during a dozen future social functions.

It sounds like a much better deal when it’s put like that, doesn’t it?

I’ll Leave You with One Piece of Fashion Advice

If you’re still looking for that perfect “investment piece”, that piece that’ll be fashionable for the rest of your life, that you’ll never regret purchasing, I’d suggest black socks. In fact, if I could give you only one piece of fashion advice for the future, black socks would be it.

But if you’re looking for something to wear on your next date, to that work function, or even just to the office, skip the “investment pieces” and spend the time (and the little bit of extra money) to find some clothes that really fit you – even if it also involves making friends with a good tailor.

It’ll likely be the best wardrobe investment you’ll ever make!

The above is a guest post from Robert Wall of Untitled Minimalism, a blog dedicated to helping everyday people maximize life by minimizing the things that hold them back.

19 thoughts on “The Real Investment Pieces You Should Own

  1. There are very few clothing items that retain their value. I have resold a few J Crew items (that have cult-like status) for more than what I paid for them. Otherwise, designer or not, nothing sells for close to original price. I agree that buying the less of the best quality is the way to go. I also have an amazing tailor that perfects all the things I do buy. Fit is the most important detail!


    • Hi Leah!

      I think we’re of a similar mind. I almost never focus on resale value with anything I purchase, mostly because it’s almost impossible to know in advance which items will resell well and which won’t.

      Designer stuff will always sell for more, but spending $30 extra on a shirt so it’ll resell for $10 more seems like a waste of a perfectly good $20 bill to me. 😀

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts Leah!

  2. Bravo to Robert for talking about this! I have discovered the same 20/50 thing myself in my recent clothing journey.

    I used to shop at places like Target for some of my clothes: their stuff is on-trend and inexpensive. But the downside is that a lot of clothing of this ilk is made substantially of polyester (which doesn’t breathe well or is ecologically friendly) or rayon (which pills easily and gets tired-looking too quickly). However, in all fairness, every so often you can come across a gem of a garment that is an “8”.

    Like Robert, I didn’t wear my uncomfortable bargain garments–because they were hot and generally did not fit as well as they ought. In recent “clothing herstory”, I had a summer collection of polyester jersey knee length “swing skirts” in fun patterns from various inexpensive retailers. Seemingly perfect for casual warm days with a variety of tops, but I seldom wore them! Why? Because they were like wearing a plastic bag; and because they were skimpily made, they did not fit right (the waistbands rolled up and clung unbecomingly)–so in reality they looked cheap–and most importantly, they made me FEEL like I looked like a cheap dresser!

    So, this summer as I sought to implement (my version of) Project 333, I woke up and replaced these items with fewer but better quality/fitting separates in natural fibers. As a result, I am a whole lot happier with my clothing even though I don’t have the quantity. But I don’t miss the variety because I’m not uncomfortable with how I look or feel. An added bonus is when I find myself going into these stores now to shop for other items, I am no longer drawn to their clothing sections and seduced by their low prices as I once was.

    I think everyone, no matter what their size or shape, can find a sublime marriage between fit and comfort that we should strive for in finding our “8’s+”, so we feel happy and look good in our clothing–with seeming effortlessness–which is the true hallmark of style! Think of all the famous women (and men as well!) throughout history who have become style icons. No matter what their era, many of them were not conventionally beautiful, but they knew how to capitalize on their assets and downplay their unfortunate features–and they wore their clothes with an easy nonchalance that is enviable today, so that their clothing became intrinsic to their image.

    • Deborah, I’m with you on polyester. 50/50 blends are okay with me, but if I wanted to wear a plastic bag I could just wear a plastic bag – and I’d save a ton of money by going that route. 😉

      Regarding the bargain stores and such, I still appreciate a bargain on clothes, of course – but I only appreciate a bargain on clothes that are a good fit for me. That rules out about 90% of the stuff on the average store shelf. 😀

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts Deborah!

  3. I totally fell into the ‘investment pieces’ trap and wasted A LOT of money from 2010-2012. At the time, I was really still experimenting with different styles and wish I had some foresight that the so called classic items are not my thing. Where are they now? Sold, given away and donated. I think investment pieces are fine if you don’t care about clothes. You stick to a uniform of a few outfits that lasts for years. My husband would benefit from investment pieces, since he really wears the same few things year after year and his style never changes.
    For me though, it was just an expensive lesson. My style changes often and there is only one piece of clothing that I love enough and still wear that I kept since 2008. 85% of my current wardrobe was purchased starting from fall of 2012, so that tells you how well investment pieces work me..

    • Wendy, I think that there’s a huge difference between “investment pieces” and “clothing you’ll be wearing in several years”.

      Either way, you have a nice, durable garment – but referring to something as an “investment piece” seems to be a tactic almost tailor-made (pardon the pun 🙂 ) by the fashion industry to help shoppers justify paying huge prices for rather ordinarily-made clothing.

      If you buy what fits your body, fits your style, and is well-made, I don’t think there’s usually a need to pay the amount of money commanded by “investment pieces”.

      Just my thoughts, of course. 🙂 Thanks for sharing, Wendy!

  4. I agree. I think the “investment piece” phrase can definitely be an excuse to overspend on something you think you’ll use forever. Now and 6 months from now, you may have a different opinion on what is a classic. I do however think things can be a smart purchase when they have a low CPW (cost pet wear). I personally have a pair of dark j brand jeans and a pair of patent nude tory burch ballet flats that I wear at least 4 times a week. I guess the common denominator for a successful purchase might be the item has to be casual yet presentable, comfotrtable yet flattering, and finally match with a lot of other items.

    • Thank you Robert! Wonderful story! About a year ago I also woke up to the same discovery and tossed out everything that did not fit properly or was uncomfortable. I made a commitment to owning a much smaller wardrobe and purchased a few new good quality well fitting items. And I now pay attention to a clothing company’s ethical stance before buying a garment. I’ve decided that I’m happier with a smaller amount of clothing, I don’t mind paying for clothes that fit me well.

      And the best part of a small wardrobe is that now I wear all of my clothing regularly, and when something goes out of style, I don’t mind letting go of it because I’ve had lots of fun wearing it multiple times. I just put whatever item it is that needs to be replaced on my shopping list, knowing that when I find something I love I can buy a replacement. I was even able to test this theory last week when two key items in my Project 333 wardrobe suddenly became shabby and needed replacing. I am a whole lot happier having less clothing and I seldom miss the variety because I’m comfortable with how I look and feel.

      And as Deby mentioned, an added bonus is when I find myself going into stores to shop, I am no longer drawn to the sales racks and seduced by low prices as I once was.

      • PS
        I meant to say — when something either goes out of style or “begins to wear out” after having lots of wear, I don’t mind tossing it and know I can then begin to search for replacement. 🙂

      • One of the other interesting benefits to having a small, predictable wardrobe (mine is both, yours may vary a bit 🙂 ) is that you know what you buy – so you can buy it when you get a good deal on it.

        My wife has some shoes (basic flats) that she gets at WalMart. One day when we were there, they were on some sort of super sale (end of season or something like that? Do flats have a season? 🙂 ). She knew she liked them, so we bought a couple of pairs. The extras got tucked in the top of the closet, and she just brought them down this last week to replace the worn pair she’d been wearing.

        It saves us both time & money, so it’s a net win for us.

        Of course if you enjoy finding your “next new style” (and I can definitely appreciate that!), this is a horrible idea. But it works well for my wife and I. 🙂

      • Robert, this is good advice! Thank you. I’m just beginning to discover that a small “predictable wardrobe” works best for me, knowing what I’m happiest wearing and want to buy – so I can buy it when I can get a good deal on it. An example is that I’ve found that I like Patagonia for my basic everyday causal wear, and when they have their end of the season sale, I can purchase replacements at a much lower cost and know exactly what it is that I’m getting. But I also like to have fun with style and allow myself two or three pieces each year to experiment with. My husband is great about challenging me to try something a bit out of my comfort zone and most of the time what he suggests is perfect for me.

    • Amanda, I agree completely about “classics”. I always love when stores talk about “new classics”. If it’s classic, it’s not new – and if it’s new, it’s not classic. 🙂

      I really like the idea of Cost Per Wear. I’ve never put a name to it, but that general concept has been underlying my clothing buying decisions for several years.

      The real trick, for me anyway, is in realizing that the initial cost of an item doesn’t necessarily have any correlation with CPW. You can pay $1000 for a dress that you’ll only wear once, or $50 for a dress that you’ll wear once a week for five years. 🙂

      Thanks for commenting Amanda!

  5. I enjoyed reading your thoughts on this topic, Robert. Until this past December, when I first cleared out my closet for my first stab at Project 333, I still owned — and wore — clothes that were over 20 years old! That’s an extreme example, of course — I owned a Winnie & Tigger oversized sweatshirt that I wore only during the winter months and only with sweats while lounging around the house grading papers, playing board games with the kids, watching movies, etc. That aside, most of my clothes “older”, with some newer pieces tossed in as I had been forced to replace worn-out items over the years. Generally, I think of an investment as something that is going to bring me dividends of some sort, and clothes rarely (imho) qualify. I have actually had some pieces that I sold for more than I paid for them. But I didn’t buy them for that purpose — that was gravy. So an investment? No, I agree with you there, with very few exceptions. Again, I love your take on this — thanks!

  6. This is a helpful post for people who don’t understand the utilitarian value of clothing vs. “investment” pieces touted by the retail-fashion industry. Very little of what we buy as clothing retains its value, and it is getting harder and harder to purchase basic items ( a white cotton t-shirt for example) that are well made — almost at any price. Many people purchase stuff way above their income level (does someone making $45K a year need a $600 handbag?) or buy lots of inexpensive stuff of inferior materials and construction that will not last out one season. My sister and I often bemoan the fact that in order to keep clothes “affordable” many of our favorite retailers have shifted to poorer quality clothing — cheaper materials (more man-made fabrics) and shoddy fabrication (sloppy buttonholes, unmatched seams, etc.) I’m certainly hoping that my older and better made clothing lasts a few years longer because what’s on offer as replacements is definitely inferior.

  7. I would never consider a clothing purchase an investment regardless on how much I spend on it. However, if I buy one high quality basic piece instead of five cheaply made ones, chances are very good that this piece will look good years down the road and I will look dressed well, though not, in all probability, trendy. I own shoes that look as good (with new heels and soles every couple of years) as they did when I bought them eight years ago. Quality of material and labour should be considered as part of the price of clothing.

  8. I loved Robert’s post and I’m happy it generated a lot of interesting discussion among readers! You all had such great thoughts to add!

    As for me, I agree that fashion purchases are not really “investments” in that they rarely increase in value, but I am moving more and more toward the concept of buying fewer pieces that are of higher quality. It started for me with handbags, then shoes, and now I’m working on buying fewer and better clothing items. I wholeheartedly agree that it’s better to have one more expensive pair of pants that you love and actually wear than three less expensive pairs you feel “ho hum” about.

    My problem is that I don’t trust myself enough to KNOW what’s going to be a “wardrobe workhorse” and what’s not. I have bought certain items that are better quality and more money, but sometimes I don’t find myself loving and wearing those pieces. Someone here mentioned using consignment shopping as a way to hone her style without spending a lot of money. I’m doing that, too, and have been having mixed results. I’m learning to shop smarter when hitting the resale stores, though, and will share my insights on that in a post soon.

    Many thanks to Robert for his guest post and to all of those who commented to share your insights! Lots of great food for thought!

  9. Excellent advice. I always read about investment pieces, and one thing that’s never mentioned is, personal boredom level. If you are someone who gets tired of things quickly, it doesn’t matter if it is a $10 item or a $1,000 item, you’ll still get tired of it. So I have learned to stay away from big ticket items that I think I will grow tired of. Instead, I’ve learned to take my workhorse pieces (which in my case is jeans) and invest in those. I’ll spend up to $250 on one pair of jeans. But they fit me like a dream, and I will wear them until they truly do wear out. And this usually takes a few years. Plus, I find I want to own less of them, because I will reach for the same workhorse pair again and again. This does not mean I own only one pair of jeans that I wear 7 days a week, but I do own less than 7 pairs, even though I wear them everyday.

    • This is a good point! I get bored of things easily, too, which is why Project 333 has been hard for me. I like to have more variety in my wardrobe, but I’m also trying to train myself to buy better quality and have a smaller wardrobe. I think it’s great that you’re willing to spend so much on jeans. I would, too, if I could find ones I absolutely loved and knew I would wear often. I still have trouble trusting myself with purchases, though. I think I love something when I buy it, but then I can sour on things. So I’ve started with purses and shoes and working my way into clothing in terms of spending more money.

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