Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Investing in Clothing: An Introduction

Last week, I posted on Midwest-Dressed’s Facebook page a guide to buying a watch. One disgruntled reader, who shall remain nameless, questioned the logic of buying a $1,000 or more watch. I’m here to set the record straight on why smart, (and sometimes) expensive investments in clothes are a good move.
(This is all predicated on the idea that you’re buying smart, i.e. the company has a reputation for quality and you're finding good deals. Money doesn’t necessarily equal quality, and it’s still important to research a bit and go with trusted companies.)
Clothes are ultimately an investment. Not an investment in the traditional sense, like stocks or commodities where you (hope to) see a profit. Clothes are more aptly described as a “sunk cost,” based on my limited knowledge of business vernacular. You aren’t going to run around naked all day. And since you’re going to have to wear something, you might as well make sure what you’re buying is worth it.
A quick example to describe what I mean: Most people have trouble grasping the idea of paying >$400 for a pair of dress shoes, frankly because it’s $400 for a pair of dress shoes. The idea seems ludicrous because, similar looking shoes can be had for $100, or half-as-good-looking shoes can be had for $50. Why pay $400 for a pair of shoes when you can get the same thing for $100? Aren’t you just paying for the label?

Stacy Adams Nolan Wing Tips- $80, likely "plastic leather"
Alden Wing Tip Blucher- $478, shell cordovan

Truth is, yes, in part. You’re also paying a higher price for higher quality material (which costs more) and better construction (which costs more time, higher skilled laborers with larger salaries, etc.) But shelling out the extra dough for the higher quality is a better investment in the long run, because you’re seeing returns in the amount you’ll be saving. Allow me to demonstrate:
Let’s assume you’re in a formal setting, where dress shoes are required everyday. If you’re wearing them everyday (which you shouldn’t be, but this is a hypothetical. Bear with me dammit), they’re taking a beating from constant exposure to sweat, the elements, etc. For the sake of argument, let’s say this $100 pair gets you through one year. Then, when the old pair shoots craps, you’ll be buying another, again for $100. In four years, you’ve spent $400 on shoes; six years is $600; eight years is $800, you get the picture.
Now let’s assume you saved up and threw it all down on the $400 pair (Nice move!). These shoes should last ten years and up. Even if you have to have them resoled every once in awhile (which isn’t expensive), you’ve still ultimately saved quite a bit over the long haul. 

Despite the low initial cost, you'll end up spending as much or more (I'm not a math guy).
Watches are a tad different. In fact, they can be considered more like a commodity, because their value is a little more stable. Watches (again, good, quality watches), are machinery. If finely built and properly maintained, they can last a lifetime, just like the shoes described above. And while clothes ultimately lose value over time (in part because they can go out of style, but also because they can get grody/start falling apart after years of use), watches retain their value based on the fact that, after 50-60-maybe even 100 years, they can still work and look great. Check yo’self before you wreck yo’self:
When I “graduated” the 8th grade, my grandmother gave me a Fossil watch (if you’re reading this grandma, again, thank you!). It was great, cool looking, sexy, sleek, stylish, all that. Problem was, within a few months, the crystal had cracked and time markers had fallen off, preventing the hands from moving and you know, actually telling time. A watch of similar style retails here for $85, but it was essentially valueless within a year.

Fossil Decker Stainless Steel Watch, available at Fossil
In comparison, check out this vintage Rolex, circa the late 60s. It retails for $4,900, and that’s after 40 years. Forty years of wear and tear, but the thing’s still ticking, still looks damn good, and still costs what you’d expect a Rolex to cost. Like with the shoes above, this price reflects not only the quality of construction (demonstrated by the fact that it’s still wearable today), but also the materials used (18k yellow gold, the price of which has doubled since 2008). 

Rolex 18k Yellow Gold Oyster Perpetual Datejust, available at Park & Bond
You really are paying for quality, and in the case of a good watch, it can retain its value for years down the road (or even go up, if it’s made of precious metals). In a sense, it’s similar to investing in artwork or other things the wealthy use to diversify their portfolios. You’re not so much buying a watch as you are investing in a commodity. You can buy a new $100 watch every time the old one breaks, or you can throw down five large for a Rolex and rock a Rolex with playa swagger for decades, thereby saving you the cost of having to ever buy another. Plus, if you’re down on your luck, you can turn around and sell it. 

Hope this helps,

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