Average Clothes Spending and Pattern

the new clothes I bought to wear to one of my interviews

Two weeks ago Marketplace did a short segment on clothes-buying habits and amounts from Elizabeth Cline’s book, Overdressed.  I was surprised by what they reported so I’ll share their numbers and observations here along with how they compare to our buying patterns, as determined from Mint.

 

Average Spending Level

 

Americans spend an average of $1,100 per person on clothes each year.  We spent way, way less than that on clothes and shoes in the last year – $471.68 on me and $142.82 on Kyle.  Actually $1,100 per year doesn’t seem outrageous to me, and if we had a higher income I would probably spend a lot closer to that level.  I really like cute dresses and I want a much larger collection than I have.  :)  We (particularly Kyle) obviously can only get away with spending so little because we have clothes and haven’t been replacing them.  This is a temporary measure and when we get real jobs we will have to upgrade and expand our wardrobes.  I guess I would like to know what the average percentage of income is spent on clothing – for us it’s a little over 1%.

 

Frequency of Spending

 

Americans buy an average of slightly more than one garment per week – that’s over 52 for the year.  In the last year, I made 11 transactions on clothing/shoes on 8 days – once every seven weeks! – and Kyle made 2 transactions on 2 days.  We don’t shop for fun and we tend to shop only infrequently when we need something urgently, which sometimes requires multiple stops.  For instance, two of my transactions were for a business casual outfit (pants and shirt) for an interview later that week.

 

Type of Clothing

 

Marketplace reported that most of this money was being spent on “fast fashion – that’s super-cheap disposable clothes in the latest styles.”  That type of clothing doesn’t last long because of its poor quality and transient stylishness (think Forever 21 or H&M (affiliate link – thanks for using!)).  I can assure you that Kyle and I are not fashionable and cannot afford to keep up with the latest styles, even if we knew what they were.  We don’t often buy expensive clothing because of our income and the nature of our work, but we certainly don’t buy throwaway clothes, either.  Nearly half of the money I spent was on two items – a dress for an evening wedding and a suit for an interview.  The remaining $250 was a set of socks, three pairs of pants, one shirt, and three pairs of shoes. Kyle’s $150 was spent on a jacket and two pairs of shoes.

 

 

I would love to buy more clothes and have a greater variety of options in my closet – particularly after my weight loss last year, I feel pretty good about my body and don’t dread shopping!  Kyle is still regularly wearing shirts he bought in high school so he is in desperate need of an upgrade.  But until our income is higher, clothing is just a very low priority for us.  However, when we do buy, we buy what we think will last at least a few years, style-wise and quality-wise.  I don’t think we’ll ever buy “fast fashion” so we might end up spending more than the average American once our income is higher.

 

Do you buy cheap clothes frequently like the average American?  Was your spending on clothes in the last year higher or lower than $1,100 per person?

 

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44 Responses to "Average Clothes Spending and Pattern"

  1. Emily too says:

    Interesting statistics. I am more on the “fast fashion” side I guess, in that I enjoy shopping and buy almost all my clothes at thrift stores. The nice thing is that I’m able to pick up things I don’t need yet cheaply, when they would otherwise be much more expensive if I waited until I had to have something (in the last year, this has included cocktail dresses for attending weddings at $2.50 and $12 and a knee-length “conference” skirt for around $4). At a couple secondhand stores I can find pretty good quality stuff in good shape, too, so I don’t feel like I’m buying things that I will have to replace quickly – it’s just a matter of luck, because you can’t necessarily go in the week before you need something and expect to find it, you have to grab it when you see it.

    I don’t think I spend too much this way – a couple hundred a year, max? Shoes are worse because I have to replace my running shoes for $100 every year, no option, and then I usually wind up spending another $100 or so on some other pair of shoes that I’ve been wearing until they’ve literally fallen apart. My husband almost never buys clothes, he just buys a pair of jeans when the ones he bought the last year get holes in the knees, a dress shirt each year for the last couple years, and replaces his sneakers, so he’s more on par with Kyle.

    Perhaps the big divide here is people liking vs not liking shopping? I think even if I had more money and wanted to shop more, I would still do secondhand, though – the amount of waste created by Americans buying disposable clothes is staggering, and a lot cannot be reused.

    1. Emily says:

      I don’t think thrift store shopping is fast fashion. I think the latter is like Forever 21 – cheap (both in price and quality) clothes that intentionally fall apart quickly because they’re already out of style. I definitely fall into the trap of paying more for something because I can’t wait for good deals. I’ve visited thrift stores before to look for clothes – like the suit I needed – but under my timecrunch wasn’t able to find anything. One of the lingering effects of my mother’s spendthrift nature from my childhood is that I don’t feel comfortable buying used clothes and my idea of how much clothes “should” cost is too high for our income. So my compromise is to shop infrequently. I’ve rid myself of a lot of other thinking patterns I inherited from my spender parent but the clothes one seems really entrenched.

      I had a pair of black heels literally fall apart this year and made a really poor choice of some black pumps, so that’s why I’ve bought three pairs of shoes – two pairs black pumps and one pair of sneakers. I think I got away with spending about $55 on sneakers but they were New Balance so I was happy with the choice. I’m not a serious runner or anything so I don’t need to be too particular.

      We bought Kyle four pairs of jeans a couple years ago on sale at his preferred jeans store and they’ve really lasted! It’s his shirts that we need to replace soon.

      I think you’re right about the difference being whether shopping is a fun activity or not. I don’t like to go shopping but when I do I enjoy myself, so that’s part of the reason we go so infrequently – I want to remove the temptation to spend unnecessarily.

  2. Daisy says:

    I was going to say, WOW. Because how can somebody buy 52 pieces of clothing a year for $1000? That’s insane! So I guess I don’t buy the fast, cheap clothes. I keep mine for awhile!
    Daisy recently posted..A Few Simple Steps to Build Wealth

    1. Emily says:

      I wonder if the one-per-week average is actually one per week or huge shopping trips a few times per year.

  3. IdaBaker says:

    I’m really surprised the number is so low for annual spending. Heck, a few new pairs of shoes and a couple of suits or dresses, and there goes the budget.

    I purchase all of my clothes at second hand stores, and even then, many of them are on sale. Just last week, at a 50% off sale, I bought 5 “new” items for $10.

    The only thing I purchase new are undergarments and shoes, so my clothing budget is way below most peoples.

    In fact, I don’t really understand why more people don’t take advantage of thrift stores. Who can pass up name brand items that are almost brand new?
    IdaBaker recently posted..27 Kitchen Essentials for a Start-up or Minimal Space

    1. Emily says:

      As I replied to Emily too above, it’s the “almost” that catches me! Maybe I don’t have enough exposure or I’m not frugal enough, but I just can’t bring myself to wear used clothes. I’ve never even been a person to borrow clothes from my sister or friends. They all seem like personal items to me. :)

      The prices you’re referencing are very tempting, though! I’m glad you’re able to find things you like.

  4. I don’t even want to know how much my wife has been spending. She’s been loosing a lot of weight and every few months will find that absolutely nothing fits and has to buy new clothes.

    Me on the other hand, I haven’t spend a dime on clothing this year. Last year I spent about $60-$70 total on clothes. And half of that was a pair of work books since my existing pair weren’t steel toe. A package each of underwear and socks, and then a couple “new” pairs of jeans at the thrift store.

    On the topic of buying used clothes vs the uncomfortableness of wearing something that somebody else used to wear: I’m guessing you’ve never borrowed clothes from a friend?
    Edward Antrobus recently posted..Should I Pay Debt or Invest in Myself?

    1. Emily says:

      Weight loss was actually the reason that I bought 3 pairs of pants instead of 1 in the last year so I totally understand your wife’s dilemma. For my interview, for instance, all my dress pants were size 12 (bought in 2008) and now I’m a size 4 so it was really non-negotiable! The only reason I haven’t spent more is that I was able to start wearing some older clothes again that were smaller, and my T-shirt size hasn’t changed nearly as much as my pant size.

      Sounds like you and Kyle and very similar in your buying habits! How long can you keep it up? We’ll definitely need to buy Kyle some additional interview clothes when he starts looking for a postdoc.

      You’re exactly right – I never shared clothes with my sister or friends. Too personal! I have borrowed shoes from my mom (only for special occasions, not everyday wear) but that’s it.

      1. She’s always been big, so there wasn’t any old clothes that would fit her. I did have a similar problem when I lost all my weight a few years ago. The last time I weighed the weight I am today, I was a Freshman in high school and four inches shorter.

        Aside from some t-shirts, the oldest article of clothing I know own is four years old, so I figure my wardrobe has a fair amount of life left in it. Maybe I’ll have to break down and buy socks later; I think I’m down to about 6 pairs.

        I really don’t get the problem with sharing clothes. They were washed. But then again, I also share drinks, so a pair of jeans is no big deal for me.
        Edward Antrobus recently posted..The $3k Challenge: 2nd Quarterly Update (Halfway there!)

        1. Emily says:

          Losing weight on a budget is really difficult. You want to reward yourself for your accomplishment and the clothes are certainly necessary but funds are still limited. Congrats on your and your wife’s weight loss!

          I would definitely advocate for some more socks. Having a low limiting reagent in the laundry equation is really stressful to me! We only do laundry about once a week.

  5. Jessica says:

    I usually buy mid-range quality clothes, but always on sale! I usually buy clothes a few times a year, but I don;t really keep track of what I buy or how often. My sister is a shopaholic though most of her purchases are fast-fashion from forever 21. When I lived with her, I would borrow her clothes all the time whenever I get bored with mine. I’ll probably start buying more clothes now that I don’t have the convenience of walking into her closet to pick out a last minute outfit
    Jessica recently posted..Tips for Selling Your Wedding Dress

    1. Emily says:

      I guess that’s a good deal – to live with someone with tons of clothes in the latest styles that you can borrow. Not a good deal for you sister, though! We don’t keep track of clothes any more closely than anything else – that’s why I love Mint and my targeted savings records, which made it easy to put together these numbers!

  6. I don’t pay retail, I don’t like retail stores, and my washing machine will take out any “thrift store smell” of my clothes. If I had to guess, I’d say I spend $500 a year on clothes.
    Kathleen @ Frugal Portland recently posted..My Sky Mall Wish List

    1. Emily says:

      I’m sure you’re getting even a higher value for that amount than the average American’s $1,100 with that strategy!

  7. bogofdebt says:

    Very interesting stats. I have only recently been purchasing new clothes so I’m sure that I haven’t even come close to the $1100/year mark. I think in total for this year I have spent ~$300 (and $50 was a gift from my guy but it came out of our budget so I included it). This includes shoes. I try to take very good care of my clothes so that I don’t have to buy new ones. Also, I’m lucky and manage to get hand-me-downs that are classic, in great shape and just what I need. That will end up changing I’m sure but I hope that I don’t have to spend $1100 a year!
    bogofdebt recently posted..Some Random Facts about Me

    1. Emily says:

      In my experience, I’m not wearing out clothes so much as sizing out of them or finding I don’t have anything appropriate for a certain activity. Sneakers I definitely do wear out so they need to be replaced yearly. It sounds like you have a good hand-me-down situation going on.

  8. Michelle says:

    I’m ashamed to say it, especially since you seem so good with your money, but we spend way more than $1,100 a year. I wish we were better though.

    P.S. I used to have a major spending problem. I used to be a manager at a clothing retail store and would easily spend $500 to $1,000 a month there.
    Michelle recently posted..Summer Bucket List

    1. Emily says:

      Like I said, if I had the money, I would spend more! I don’t wear fun things on a day-to-day basis because I work in a lab but I’d like to dress up on the weekends more than I do.

      I just spoke with someone else this evening who spends a lot more money at a particular retailer now that she works there – sort of like an alcoholic working in a bar, I guess! Probably best left to those who don’t enjoy it too much.

      1. Michelle says:

        I agree, it’s EXACTLY like an alcoholic working at a bar. Just not a good combination at all.
        Michelle recently posted..Summer Bucket List

  9. reneeg says:

    When I had a “real” job and ate conventional, I was hitting about $1200 a year – probably about $300/season. That would probably include ~8 items of clothes. (Usually something expensive like a jacket/coat, boots, suit, or a dress ($80-150), and the other stuff averaging about $25-40/item.) I shopped – and still do – mostly at Banana Rep and JCrew outlet…. and only when they’re having huge sales, which is quite often at the outlets.

    As a grad student, I’ve only spent $300 on refreshers this year – I think it was about 8 casual items. I ordered the batch online and just didn’t have any time to “shop around” or wait for a sale, so I had no intention for it being a frugal endeavor. I don’t plan to spend anymore *at all* this year – unless I find that I really need some new clothes once I get a professional job.

    I certainly have been successful thrift shopping or going to trendy consigments. But in the end? *Not worth the time!!!* To find professional equivalents to what I can accomplish in 2 hours at the outlets would probably take me 2 Saturday afternoons of driving around and sifting through racks.

    I am concerned about my material consumption and environmental impact with the shopping habit I prefer. So I try to have this policy – when I buy something new, I give an equivalent away. My hope is that the “equivalent” doesn’t end up in someone’s overflowing closet, but rather in the closet of someone who needs it. I think I wear most my clothes on a bi-weekly cycle. I’ve learned that I really like *less* choices in my closet too, as long as they’re really nice, so this works out well.

    1. Emily says:

      It sounds like you’ve given a lot of thought to your system! Every part of it makes sense to me.

  10. I think I spend around the average… and this year, I gave myself a $2K budget (which includes my quickly-escalating tailoring bill). Year to date I’ve spent $780 on 14 clothes and shoes, the most expensive piece of clothing I’ve bought was a $150 J.Crew coat I bought off of Ebay. The cheapest was snakeskin belt I got from Ann Taylor for $20.

    I’m trying to become a more discerning shopper – narrowing my color palette, being very critical on what looks good and what doesn’t (and stop lying to myself about it!), resisting buying things on sale just because they are on sale (it’s a continuing battle), and understanding what level of quality I want for what price I am willing to spend.
    Well Heeled Blog recently posted..Guest Post on Add-Vodka: Clothing Alterations

    1. Emily says:

      Sounds like very smart way to go about planning a wardrobe – very different from what was portrayed in this report!

  11. Interesting – that is a lot of money to spend on clothing. Typically, I wear oxford style shirts/sweaters to work in the winter, and polo style shirts in the summer, with blue jeans (though sometimes I have to wear khakis). After I got out of grad school and got a real job, I had to buy some new clothes, and that probably cost about 300 bucks (2 pair shoes, couple pair of pants, couple shirts. I’ve been slowly adding (read H buys me) clothes lately, but I’d say I spend about 150/year. I buy my jeans 3 pair at a time, and they last about 15 months, so in years that I have to buy new jeans, I spend a bit more, and when I dont, I spend quite a bit less.
    Jeff @ Sustainable Life Blog recently posted..How To Create A Personal Monthly Budget

    1. Emily says:

      I’m sure there must be a difference in the average spending between men and women, and I wonder if the $1,100/year figure is for everyone or just women. Sounds like you and Kyle are at about the same spending levels.

  12. [...] frequent travel, saving for the future) while sacrificing other (our cars, rarely eating out, rarely buying clothes) so that we can make it all balance without going into debt.  And yet even through practicing all [...]

  13. Michelle says:

    In the past year, we’ve spent an average of $60/mo on clothing for all 5 of us! I have to admit that it wouldn’t have been easy to do so if we didn’t have moms who occasionally shop for our adorable kids! Apparently, when your kids are super cute, it’s hard for grandmas NOT to buy them clothes. ;)

    I personally think Americans are spending WAY too much on clothes! It’s kind of ridiculous.
    Michelle recently posted..What to Do When You Get a Traffic Ticket

  14. Leigh says:

    I’ve started spending way too much money on clothes. I’ve spent $1,200 so far this year :/ Last year, I spent about $1,600 and in 2010, about $2,600. 2010 was more expensive because I completely overhauled my wardrobe to not look like a college student anymore. My original budget for this year was $1,671, so we’ll see how I end up!

    I tend to avoid stores like H&M and Forever 21. I also avoid outlet stores somewhat because I’ve found the shirts don’t last very long.

    One of my methods of trying to avoid buying stuff is to just not go downtown or drive near a mall. That is pretty effective.
    Leigh recently posted..I bought a condo!

  15. Raye says:

    I don’t know how you all do it. I have a very sparse closet with only a few pair of jeans, a couple of pairs of nice slacks and several blouses and sweaters. I am lucky, I am self employed and dress is tailored casual.

    I am from the Northwest and clothes are not inexpensive. Because of my profession, I do not want to shop second hand but I do not shop at expensive stores either. Due to my 58 years, my figure does not allow for the bargains found on-line shopping.

    If I want to stay reasonably smart but not flashy, my budget runs close to $5,000 per year.

    I believe, we can extol our wonderfully low costs but we must take into consideration the our age and our, our profession and our regions where we live.

    1. Emily says:

      Yes, the overall context of spending is very important. Obviously half the people studied/surveyed spend more than average. $5,000/year for clothes would be outrageous for me as that is 20% of my gross pay, but it may be just a small percentage of your income and that would be reasonable. That figure does seem high to me to only buy a few items per year (unless you turn over your wardrobe every year?) but I don’t get my clothes tailored – if your entire wardrobe is tailored I’m sure it looks wonderful on you!

  16. […] how much does the average person spend on clothes annually […]

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