Why do women spend more on clothes?

“Fashion is a language that creates itself in clothes to interpret reality.”
Karl Lagerfeld

Some – such as fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld – view fashion as an art form. A mode of communication. A way of life.

In Britain, women spend an average of £28,350 ($35,400) on clothing compared to men’s spend of £16,200 ($20,230). Average spends on shoes are likewise are £8,100 ($10,100) for women, £4,725 ($5,900) for men.

There is a variety of reasons for this disparity. Women’s clothes are generally more expensive, and women buy more clothes. But why?

More expensive

As far as I can discern, the reason women’s clothes are more expensive is simply because they can be. The cost of production is only one small part of the equation. Manufacturers and retailers will charge as much as the market can bear.

I have two examples to illustrate why I believe this to be true:

Scarves

Unlike clothing that may be more or less tailored to a particular body shape, scarves are ostensibly ‘unisex’ garments, and are only ‘gendered’ by their colour, the design printed on them, or, importantly, the section of the store they are sold in.

When I was in high school, a friend and I went to buy scarves. In the ladies’ section, we found plain cream scarves with tassels on the end. Making our way to the checkouts we happened to wander through the men’s section… and found the exact same scarves. The same dimensions. The same colour. – for significantly less. The only difference was the cardboard tag attached which specified it was a ‘men’s’ scarf. Needless to say, we quickly swapped. This is another example of the ‘pink tax‘ at work.

Lesson: For items like socks, scarves, beanies, earmuffs, gloves, flip-flops etc. check both the men’s and the women’s sections – even the children’s section can be useful.

T-shirts

For our 10th anniversary, my husband and I decided to take some photos in the same location we spent our honeymoon, and wanted matching T-shirts for the occasion – simple plain white ones.

Not only was my husband able to find a far better quality shirt at half the price, but his came in a pack that included a second shirt for free. My more expensive shirt, from the same store, was of such shoddy quality, it only lasted the length of our holiday.

Lesson: Unless you really want a tailored T-shirt, check the men’s section too. You’ll also find men’s shirts are often more sun smart. Women’s tops tend to have low-cut necks and are made of thinner fabric.

More clothes

It’s well known that women tend to buy more clothes than men. But often, this is assumed to be simply because they like clothes shopping more.

I think this is poppycock.

I personally have always despised clothes shopping. Spending a day trying on different clothes again and again. Staring at myself in the mirror. Subjecting myself to the opinions of friends, family, and unasked shopkeeps. Parting with my hard-earned money. None of this has never been my idea of a ‘fun day out’ (give me a bookshop to browse at any day!).

But in spite of my lack of passion for fashion, I have always owned more clothes than my brothers, or than my husband.

There are a couple of reasons for this:

Fashion

Women’s clothes come in and out of fashion far more frequently than men’s. And women are judged more harshly on this measure. In fact, if a married man commits a fashion ‘faux pas’, it’s often his wife who gets the blame!

A classically cut men’s suit in black will almost never go out of fashion. Women’s clothing has always followed fashions much more closely, and classic designs are much to find. They’re also often more expensive than buying the current trend.

Women are complimented on wearing flashy, currently fashionable items. Not for choosing solid, staid, understated classics. Thus, it’s easy to fall into the trap of buying what’s hot right now – which is cheaper upfront and more likely to impress – than to buy what will last a long time.

Fashion pervades every aspect of clothing, in our sleep as much as in our wake. As Adriana Huffington notes in The Sleep Revolution, even sleepwear is subject to the whims of fashion. Women’s pyjamas change fashion every so often, while men’s pyjamas have remained largely unchanged for the past century. A man could easily wear his grandfather’s PJs and not look strange. But a woman in her grandmother’s nightgown would be immediately recognised as anachronistic!

Because women’s clothes are more subject to fashion, it’s also more difficult for women to find suitable secondhand clothing. It’s not an issue of availability. In fact, there is too much. Only 10% of clothes donated to thrift stores are sold. The rest ending up in garbage dumps or flood markets in developing countries. Fashion causes perfectly serviceable things to be discarded. But the proportion of available women’s secondhand clothing which may be worn to a job interview is smaller than for men.

Limits

It is totally permissible for a man to wear the exact same suit to work every day, in any season, with a different shirt and tie. But women are expected to have a ‘work wardrobe’ that might include one or more skirts, one or more pairs of trousers, one or more business-like dresses, and several tailored jackets, in addition to the basics of blouses and accessories. To be judged as dressing at the same level as a man who has spent a few hundred dollars on a suit and several shirts and ties, a woman would have to spend well over a thousand.

A man can wear the same suit to special events (weddings, work functions, social events) for years. A man’s suit is a blank slate which can be updated with a different coloured tie at minimal expense. A woman is expected to not only follow fashion, and not be seen wearing ‘last season’s’ clothes, but is expected to have a different dress for every event of the season. Heaven forbid she be seen wearing the same dress to more than one function! And if you think I’m exaggerating, blogs and magazines suggest the ‘economic’ measure of wearing a dress to the wedding or birthday party of someone in your social circle, and then to an event for someone in your husband’s social circle… What a saving! Wearing a garment twice!

The LBD

The ‘little black dress’ is supposed to be a woman’s equivalent of the man’s suit. But even the LBD is subject to the whims of fashion in terms of cut and sheen.

Certainly, dresses should not be disposable, but other elements of women’s clothing are close to it. Take pantyhose for example. In many workplaces, a skirt with stockings is the expected dress code for women. (Frighteningly, this may soon include the US government, with Trump’s recent demand that ‘female staffers must dress like women’). Pantyhose are notoriously subject to runs and ladders, and are not repairable. In other words, they’re a disposable garment. They’re so disposable that many train stations and vending machines sell spare pairs.

Is fashion art?

‘Put on a proper suit’ the British PM famously told Jeremy Corbin, who quoted Einstein:

“If most of us are ashamed of shabby clothes and shoddy furniture let us be more ashamed of shabby ideas and shoddy philosophies…. It would be a sad situation if the wrapper were better than the meat wrapped inside it.”
Albert Einstein

US senator Bernie Sanders, too, has been compared to both Corbin and Einstein, given his unruly hair, and fashion sense (or, as the Washington Post suggests, ‘non-sense‘).

But when it comes to fashion, I don’t view clothes as an art form any more than I do food or shelter or water or air. All are, at base, necessities.

Sure, an aesthetically appealing cake is nice. I appreciate beautiful architecture. However, the difference between clothes and a pretty cake is that food is supposed to be consumed and disposed of in short order. Clothes should be more like buildings – designed for comfort and lengthy use.

We all need protection from the elements. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with choosing clothes that are pleasing to the eye. But when it comes to the question of whether fashion is art, I’m more of Einstein’s leaning than Lagerfeld’s. And somewhat wonderfully, this month, Bernie Sanders-inspired clothes appeared in Paris’ Fashion Week.

Clothes aren't artEver wondered why women’s pants and men’s wallets don’t have pockets?

Do you have too many clothes? Find out how to make a capsule wardrobe!

Today’s featured image depicts some more catalogues that arrived recently… this time advertising men’s and women’s wear.

What is your attitude to fashion? Let me know in the comments!

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If you’re interested in traveling lighter, cheaper, and for longer, please check out my recent post on Beautiful Budget Life!

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7 thoughts on “Why do women spend more on clothes?

  1. I have to admit that I don’t pay much attention to clothes. However, I do try to dress nice as the research shows that people that dress nice make better first impressions and get paid more per month. I figure if I can get paid more why not 🙂

    1. Thanks for your comment Mustard Seed Money. You’re absolutely right that research suggests those who dress nicer tend to get paid more (at least in some professions).👕👔 For women, those who wear makeup are more likely to be financially rewarded too, as I explore here: https://www.enrichmentality.com/how-much-does-it-cost-to-be-a-woman/
      But I’m not convinced that spending more necessary = looking nicer (I’m sure you’re not implying this either!)
      And I’m also not convinced that “investing” in certain fancy leather bags or flashy suits or cosmetics necessarily results in a return on that investment (a topic I look forward to covering in a future blog post)
      Thanks again for stopping by! 🌺
      PS. I really enjoy your blog!

  2. I love fashion and clothes but I detest wastefulness. I’ve grown up in poor country, so everything used to its most value. Discarding a thing that’s still usable is insane. That’s why I never follow fashion. I choose things I like, please my eye, not something that someone far far away told that’s cool or fashionable!

  3. And when I use something long time enough, it becomes part of my life. Its not just a thing materiallly anymore, it becomes spiritual and emotional to me. It may be ridiculous in Westen eye, where everything’s just judge in financial basic! They never love anything but themself. They follow fashion because it makes them flashy, sparkle, not because they love clothes.

    That’s why thorwing thing away is not easy to me al all!!!

    1. Thanks so much for your comments Đại Ngu. I detest wastefulness too. I am horrified to see people discard not only clothes, but household items (e.g. toilets, bath tubs etc) when they are still usable. There are so many people in the world who would love to have a toilet, it’s a terrible shame to waste them. And these items have very little secondhand value in many so-called ‘developed’ countries – in fact, in many places, you actually have to pay to have someone take them away, because nobody wants a toilet or a sink in an ‘old-fashioned’ colour. Then there are the environmental costs to consider.
      If you buy things that you personally like, as you do, there are a lot of advantages. I’ve never woken up one day and decided that I don’t like the colour green anymore, or that I no longer prefer cotton to wool. But fashion magazines (for clothing, accessories, home decor etc.) will tell you this stuff all the time.
      I try to appreciate the things I have, and some things hold very special meaning for me. For example, I still own (and wear!) some skirts that my grandmother made when she was young. I am grateful for the warmth my clothes and bedding gives me, etc. But I also try not to become too attached to anything – I could lose any of my possessions, and life will still go on. That being said, there are advantages to using something for a long time – they generally become more comfortable. I’d hate to wear only new shoes all the time!
      I grew up in a relatively rich country with a ‘Western’ culture although it is more closely located in Asia than in Europe or America, and I did some of my schooling in Asia. After spending the past two years travelling around Europe and now Asia, I’m not sure that ‘fashion’ and wasting things is a purely ‘Western’ thing. A lot of waste goes on all over the world, and being concerned about how ‘popular’ something is or whether famous people recommend it is definitely a large phenomenon in some places in the East (Hong Kong, where I am currently, for example, has a huge fashion industry, and it seems no one will buy anything unless it is popular in some magazine/according to some idol/Number One in some popular country like Japan, Korea, or, less often, the USA, and in modern China, there’s certainly a lot of focus on money and success as well). I think it has a lot more to do with the culture of ‘consumerism’ and growing up with ‘too little’, ‘enough’ or even ‘too much’ than it has to do with any racial/cultural/linguistic background. Rich people the world over tend to be alike from what I can see.
      I agree that people who really love something (clothes, books, whatever) will not throw them away just because someone else said it’s no longer cool. My favourite books will never change because I read a negative review of them or when they are no longer on the bestseller list.
      Thanks again for your comments, and I hope to see you on Enrichmentality again 🙂

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