It happens in an instant. You spot your dream dress from far away, hanging right on the rack as if it’s waiting for you. You don’t even care to look at the price because the dress has it all – perfect color, perfect length, perfect fit. You want it – no, you need it – until you look at the price tag. So, what do you do?

I know I’ve experienced this before, as have many other college girls. Even if an item is not so expensive itself, it’s more than our usual budget. We prefer things that are both stylish and affordable. Still, sometimes an expensive purchase may be worth it.  This is where the concept of ‘cost-per-wear’ comes in.

Since first reading about cost-per-wear in various blogs and magazines, like The Budget Fashionista, it has been helpful in my own shopping excursions. Cost-per-wear is used to determine the true value of an item.  In using this method, take the total cost of the item and divide it by how many times you will wear it. For example, if something costs $100 and you plan to wear it 20 times, it will cost you just $5 for every time you wear it.

Cost-per-wear shows how versatile and useful a piece of clothing may actually be, preventing you from making impulse purchases. For example, you may find a trendy top on sale from a store like Forever 21, believing it to be a steal. But, before you know it, you’ve only worn the top a few times when it goes out of style. In this case, the cost-per-wear is high.

On the other hand, you may pay higher than usual for a good pair of jeans or a little black dress. These are essentials to any wardrobe, much like a denim jacket or a plain button-down shirt. For these items, it’s worth it to pay more for good quality and durability, because these items are timeless. They can be used with many items in your closet and won’t go out of style.

My favorite pair of Converse were about $50, but I’ve owned them since about 2011 and wear them weekly. They’re comfortable and classic. I dress them up or down, pairing them with almost everything. The cost-per-wear would definitely reflect the value of these shoes.

So, is that dream dress really worth it? Is it timeless or just a trend? Does the price reflect the quality and versatility? Cost-per-wear will help you decide. To start, you can use this handy calculator.