Clothing Choices

Americans spend over $400 billion annually on clothing and other personal products. Most people could reduce clothing expenditures by purchasing only a few very durable items. The clothes, however, would not serve another purpose—variety. In this section, you’ll learn that variety, for Americans, is typically the motivating factor involved in clothing choice.

Comparing Clothing Value

Clothing value depends on style, durability, and cost of care, as well as purchase price.

Economics & You Do you look for comfort, style, or certain brand names when shopping for clothes? How important are price and durability?

Read on to learn how to make wise clothing choices. Comparison shopping is an important part of buying wisely. Comparing value in clothing means more than simply purchasing an item from the store that offers the best price. Clothing value depends on at least three other factors: style, durability, and cost of care


Clothing styles and trends change often, especially for young people. Today, many department stores offer very trendy clothes at reasonable prices. Some of these department stores also offer store-brand clothing labels that are similar to the store-brand grocery items discussed in the previous section. Store-brand clothing, like store-brand food, is generally less expensive than national brands. Nevertheless, it often represents the latest trends.

When making clothing purchases, many people want to have different looks for different occasions. Also, people who live in places where the climate changes need different wardrobes for summer and winter.

  • Style We often buy clothing that we believe reflects our self-image. Personal taste also has a big influence on the types of clothing people buy. For some people, wearing designer-label clothing, such as Abercrombie & Fitch, is important, and they will often spend more on clothing that bears this label than they would have spent on a similar, non-designer product.
  • Durability When comparison shopping for clothing, you should try to determine how long an item will last and how long you will need it. Then you should compare prices. If Shirt A is made of a more durable fabric than Shirt B, then Shirt A might be a better buy even if it costs a little more.
  • Cost of Care Dry-cleaning costs can vary widely, from $4 per shirt to $12 or more for a skirt or sweater. Be sure to check clothing labels to determine if an item you are buying is dry-clean only.


The ability of an item to last is known as durability. The longer a piece of clothing—or any item— lasts, the more durable it is. When you purchase an item of clothing, you are purchasing it for the service flow that it yields.

Service flow is the amount of time you will be able to use a product and the value you place on this use. If you buy a jacket that will last three years and costs $300, the cost per annual service flow is $100.

Before you shop, you may want to research what kinds of fabrics tend to last longer. Keep in mind, though, that if you are purchasing trendy, inexpensive clothing, durability might not be a very important factor. If you believe the item may be in fashion for only a year or two, you might not care whether it lasts much longer than that.

Cost of Care

The cost of care is another factor in assessing value. Two shirts or blouses may cost the same, but one may require dry cleaning, which is more expensive than machine washing. Also, if an item requires hand washing, this will cost you in terms of the time that it will take to physically wash the item. When deciding on the best choice in a clothing purchase, you must consider these kinds of maintenance costs.

More for Less

Consumers have many alternatives to buying clothing at full retail price.

Economics & You Do you look for sales when you shop for clothing? Read on to learn about ways to spend less on clothing.

The cost of clothing has decreased significantly over the years. Seventy years ago, a good suit cost about $40, which took an average consumer almost 80 hours to earn. Today a comparable suit sells for just over $500, but costs the average worker the equivalent of about 40 hours of work.

Even though a smaller percentage of one’s budget goes to clothing purchases now than in the past, it is still the wise consumer who looks for ways to save on clothing. Over the last couple of decades, consignment stores, or stores that sell used clothing at lower prices than new, have grown in popularity. Often, you can find very trendy clothing at low prices at consignment stores. 

One Way to Save

At a consignment store, you can bring in used clothing of your own, and if the store accepts it, you will be given either cash or a credit on any future purchase you make at the store. These stores will generally grant you a higher amount in credit than in cash, to encourage you to shop at their store.

Another way to save on clothing is to buy it on sale. Most major department stores have frequent clothing sales, and holidays are often good times to look for clothing as stores will hold more sales when they think people will be off work and shopping.

Stores also frequently hold seasonal sales. For example, at the end of winter, a store might have a big sale on winter coats in order to get rid of their coat inventory and make room for spring and summer items. If you plan ahead on your wardrobe, you can save a lot through seasonal sales.

You can also sometimes save when you shop online, where there are thousands of clothing Web sites. Just enter “discount clothing” in any search engine, and you will find a great many sites that offer deals on clothes. Because clothing sales are so numerous throughout the year, however, it is easy to become a bargain fanatic—buying sale items that you don’t need just because they are on sale. Before going shopping, make a list of the clothing you require. Having this list along may help you keep your spending within limits.

  • durability: ability of an item to last a long time
  • service flow: amount of use a person gets from an item over time and the value a person places on this use


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