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Wardrobing on the Rise in Tough Economic Times

By David Quilty

couple shopping store“Wardrobing” is the act of buying a product from a retailer (most commonly high-end clothing, but it can be other items as well), using it for a while, and then returning it as “unused” to the store for a full refund. For example, people who need a formal dress or suit to wear once (e.g. wedding tuxedo or wedding dress), or even people who need to access technology equipment, sometimes take advantage of liberal return policies in order to “borrow” the items they need free of charge.

Instead of purchasing what they need like a normal customer, wardrobers turn retail stores into their own private libraries. They get access to products they want essentially free of charge, as long as they return them on time. While this practice has certainly taken off due to the decline in the economy, it costs retailers billions of dollars every year and leads to higher prices on goods for the rest of us.

Consequences of Wardrobing

On the retail side, wardrobing amounts to fraudulent activity. A store sells a new product to a customer, but gets back a used product that often cannot be sold again as new or at full price. Some stores have responded by adopting much stricter store policies and raising their prices, thereby hurting those of us who only return items when we have a legitimate issue.

Further, the act of wardrobing can be prosecuted. Ultimately, as this practice grows, all consumers will be forced to “pay” for such fraudulent activity as stores aim to protect themselves.

asian woman wardrobing clothes

Ethical Issues

Aside from the fact that wardrobing is an act of fraud, there are also ethical issues involved. Wardrobers pay nothing to use the items they purchase and then typically return a less valuable item to the store. They lessen the value of the item, without compensating the store in return.

Moreover, if┬áthe item is salable, it will probably be sold at a discount. This, in turn, eats into the store’s revenue, which they will then endeavor to make up elsewhere. As mentioned above, the store may raise prices, which makes it harder for honest customers to afford their purchases. So, the people who engage in wardrobing are essentially making their fellow consumers pay for their illicit practices.

What’s the difference between this and stealing? There is no difference. The consumer is exploiting the retailer and essentially taking money directly out of the retailers’ and other consumers’ pockets. Some wardrobers will argue that they are simply trying a piece of clothing out and that high prices are what forced them into wardrobing in the first place. But there is no good reason to “borrow” an item you can’t afford. And there are certainly alternatives to this shady practice.

Solutions & Alternatives to Wardrobing

If money’s tight, wardrobing is not the way to use products you need or simply want but can’t afford. It’s unethical, fraudulent, and makes the rest of us pay for your indulgence. Instead, check out clothing swapping websites or set up your own “clothes swapping group” among friends, family, and neighbors. These events are fun and can even have a party-type atmosphere. Legitimately borrowing instead of buying is also a great way to save money! If you are interested in finding lower prices on designer duds, check out shopping sites with daily deals on high-end labels like I-ELLA or Gilt.com.

There are probably also a plethora of options in your own community. Stores like Ross, TJ Maxx, The Rack, and others regularly offer high-end clothes from a range of designers or retailers for cut-rate prices. Or, visit thrift stores in upscale areas to find gently used, haute fashion pieces for incredible deals. Visit often as inventory changes, and try to get there early after new donations have been put on the shelves.

Final Word

While the idea of wardrobing can be tempting, especially in this difficult economy, the fact remains that it can hurt your friends and other fellow consumers where it hurts the most – in the wallet. Moreover, you can’t really place a price on self-respect, which is something that will surely suffer if you engage in wardrobing.

As a solution to this problem, swap clothes with friends or family, regularly peruse sale racks, and otherwise look for discounted or gently used items. Getting an honest, good deal is a lot of fun and definitely something to boast about. Plus, it’s the right thing to do.

What are your thoughts on wardrobing? Do you think it’s okay in certain situations?

(photo credit: Shutterstock)

David Quilty
David Quilty is a freelance writer living outside Santa Fe, NM. After burning out working in the entertainment field in Los Angeles for many years, David decided to strike out on his own and follow his passions for writing, web design, politics, and green living on a dirt road in rural New Mexico.

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  • http://www.budgetpulse.com Craig

    I have never done this with clothes, but I have recently done that with a book from Borders. I don’t know if it’s a trend that will take off. I have only heard of stories of women doing it, not men.


  • author

    yeah, i think both men and women do it, but could be more prevalent with women. But for both you and me, “wardrobing” is probably more common with men when it comes to other retail items other than clothing.

  • ParN

    Another solution is to visit a resale store. There are stores that sell big label clothing items at a fraction of the original price. Check resale stores in your area and visit often, as they get “new” stock all the time.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1406355649 Lydia Gaebe Bishop

      eBay is a goldmine of consignment dealers selling a mindboggling assortment of lightly used designer clothing. I upgraded my wardrobe patronizing these dealers.

  • http://www.donnafreedman.com Donna Freedman

    I think it’s wrong. “Wardrobing” makes it sound cool and edgy; if you called it “theft of service” or “stealing,” would people still want to do it?

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_QDOD6PHOXZWP3TRLYZPNT7HNXU oki

    Lol, what bunch of nonsensical crap. It doesn’t matter the “Reason” why you return something, as long as it’s within the correct time period of returning it, period.
    It’s not like if you buy a winter coat in Florida, the government can “prove” that you went on a family ski trip in Alaska and came back to return it. Sorry charlie, that’s NOT how it works.
    There’s no such thing as “Wardrobe theft”, just innocent people who make a purchase, and return it on time, like ANYONE else. Those are the rules, point blank.

  • Jenna

    I will do wardrobing with my son for his pictures twice a year. He only has the outfit on for about 15 minutes for about 20 poses and then it is taken off immediately and returned to the store in the exact same condition. It is no difference between that and trying on clothes at home or in the store. He does not eat, drink, or sweat in the clothes either and he has been recently bathed. I only started doing this at a particular posh department store after they started selling me second-hand children’s clothes. I used to spend on fortune on designer clothes for his pictures only to have to throw the outfits out after the first was because they are seconds and the store is selling them ay full price. No one has ever known that the outfits were worn, albeit for 15 minutes because they are in the exact shape and they are resellable. The only way a store could tell if the garment was used is if the wearer wore it for several hours, ate in it, had perfume on, spilled something on it, and stretched it out of shape. If people think that is disgusting just think off all of the people who touched the garment from the sweatshop to department store and also those who have tried it on who were not clean.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1406355649 Lydia Gaebe Bishop

    Wardrobing is so wrong! I have always been of the mind, that if I can’t afford something, I won’t buy it. There is NO REASON to pull this dishonest stunt! Click on over to eBay and discover the vast selection of gently used women’s clothing offered by the MANY consignment sellers over there! I have upgraded my wardrobe with these incredible bargains. I could never afford anything new by Michael Kors, Ann Tyler, Dolce&Gabbana, DKNY and any of the fine Nordstrom brands. But on eBay, I have found pieces for my wardrobe from just these brands.

    Were I ever in need of formal wear my first stop would be eBay or a local consignment store.

    Some formal wear rental stores also stock nice formal wear for women as well as the tuxedos for men.

    So, don’t buy it if you cannot afford it. Find your designer wardrobe on eBay. Rent your formal, party wear.

    Do not STEAL from a retailer!

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