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Wardrobing on the Rise in Tough Economic Times


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“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.

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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 the 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.

Wardrobing Alternatives Solutions

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

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?

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.