Cost Per Like Is the New Cost Per Wear


Twenty-four hours before leaving for a weekend trip to Miami, I went into a panic. I needed new swimsuits. New shorts. New tops. New sandals. I speed-shopped through H&M, Aritzia, and Zara, recklessly swiping my card, as if I were on my own version of Supermarket Sweep. I wasn’t preoccupied by where to go, what to do, what to eat and drink when I landed. The first thing on my mind was, What am I going to wear? More specifically, What am I going to wear for Instagram?

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It’s become my worst habit. I shop before every trip, whether I’m going abroad for a week or just a quick weekend escape. With the exciting prospect of fun activities, new locations backdrops, and Living My Best Life #content opportunities, my inner faux-influencer comes out. As frivolous as it feels, I have a lot of fun crafting the perfect ‘gram—from the pose to the outfit.

Coming off of a heavily ‘grammed summer, I laid bare my Insta-driven shopping habit on my IG stories. In a casual poll, I asked people whether or not they too went shopping just for the ‘gram. A resounding 81 percent (169/209 votes) said yes. Some shared grids of their own vacation photos, outlining which items were newly bought just for the trip:

Clearly, I’m not alone.

We used to talk about cost per wear when justifying purchases. $200 for a pair of pants might seem like a lot. But if you wear them to work one day a week for a year, that’s $4 each wear—a bargain compared to spending the same amount on, say, a cocktail dress you’ll wear only four times ($50 per wear). For me, my friends, and women I connected with through social media, Instagram is shifting the equation. What we wear in the moments worth documenting—a weekend getaway, a friend’s wedding, a honeymoon—is more important than what we wear everyday. How an outfit will perform on Instagram is more important than how many times we’ll wear it. And, often, that’s once, because where else do you wear a Miami “going out” top that’s already been posted? For us, cost per like is the new cost per wear.

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COURTESY OF THE AUTHOR/DESIGN BY MIA FEITEL.

A big factor in the CPL equation is the emotional significance of grid-worthy occasions. For Ashley Kraynak, a 30-year-old publicist, her first vacation with her boyfriend was significant because the couple doesn’t take a ton of social media pictures together otherwise. “I had to look amazing to match how happy I felt inside,” she says. For six weeks before the trip, she worked out, gave up alcohol, and stopped spending money. “Then, I went balls-to-the-wall crazy shopping at Aritzia,” she says. On top of that spree, she splurged on a pair of Gucci sunglasses and ended up spending $900 total.

For six weeks, she stopped spending money. Then she went “balls-to-the-wall crazy” at Aritzia.

Millennials are notorious for spending on experiences, and the clothes make the experience, or at least our record of it. Madeline Alford, 27, bought almost two weeks’ worth of new clothes for her honeymoon to Italy. Alford, who works in partnerships at a watch brand and has a fashion blog called The Postscript, says she “got extremely Type A” planning her outfits: notecards outlined with the city, expected temperatures, and activities, outfits laid out on her living room floor for photos. “It sounds crazy, but it honestly helped,” she says. “Instagram has really changed the way I shop—As fun as [it] is, there is still a lot of pressure to post constantly and to always be showing something new.”

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Courtesy of Jordynn Wynn/Design by Mia Feitel.

As a freelance writer, editor and host of the Hurdle fitness podcast, Emily Abbate mostly lives in athleisure. “The only time I typically shop for nicer clothes is when I have an event or a purpose,” says Abbate, 30. Consider her recent solo trip (also to Italy): “A perfect striped shirt for a rowing tour through the Venice canals. A billowy white shirt for wine tours in Tuscany. Cute new sneakers that would keep me comfy walking cobblestone streets. Yeah, it was nice to own all these things, for sure. But I knew that they’d look great on the ‘gram too.”

Same goes for Jordyn Wynn, 25. In her day-to-day life as a marketing manager at ColourPop, she says, “I don’t really have the chance to sport orange and teal striped silk pants.” But when traveling, “I buy outfits that suit the location—always keeping in mind how photogenic they will be for the ‘gram.”

Bold shades stand out on an idle scroll: grass green, hot pink and feed-stopping red.

According to Katie Smith, director of retail analytics company Edited, Wynn isn’t the only one gravitating to bright colors for ‘grammable moments. “Instagram culture is influencing which products are trending,” she says. “Saturated palettes are leading color trends right now, with bold shades that stand out on an idle scroll…grass green, striking yellow, hot pink and feed-stopping red.” Trends in selfie-friendly sunglasses are moving faster than ever, according to Smith, while ‘it bags’ (which tend not to appear in the frame) are less of a priority for brands.

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Courtesy of the author / design by mia feitel

A simple piece in a super-saturated color can make a ‘gram. But the more eye-catching the garment, the less repeatable it is. So a distinctive printed jumpsuit—like the one Los Angeles publicist Alexis Johnson recently bought—requires its own social media strategy. She’ll repeat the outfit, but is careful to follow a full-body shot with a selfie or a waist-up shot.“Before I was paying my own bills, I would never repeat outfits on the ‘gram,” says Johnson, 25. “Now, I will give you an outfit with multiple combos of shoes/accessories before I retire it—because money.”

Before I was paying my own bills, I would never repeat outfits on the ‘gram.

Partly to blame for the cost per like mentality is the compulsion to emulate jet-setting celebrities and influencers who are seemingly always on vacation. “For my trip to Mykonos, picturing the gorgeous white houses of Greece, I wanted to channel my inner Kourtney Kardashian because I was inspired by her trip to Italy and her fashion was amazing,” Fabiana Buontempo, 24, a video producer, says. “I knew I wanted to create more content for my Instagram. This sounds so vain now that I actually admit this, haha.” But whether celebrities have the funds or get flown around by brands in gifted clothing, it’s hard for your average @jane to keep up.

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Courtesy of Fabiana Buontempo/Design by Mia Feitel.

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One option is to post and return. This summer, U.K. credit card company Barclaycard reported that 9% of shoppers admit to buying clothes with plans to return after they’ve shared the look on social media, confirming a trend designers gripe about off-the-record. But as return policies get stricter, cost per like shoppers lean on fast fashion for cost-effective content.

Susan Adeyeni, a 25-year-old New York stylist, shops Missguided, ASOS, and Amazon to keep her vacation wardrobe under $200. “If I really love an outfit, I’ll definitely wear it again,” she says. “I probably just won’t post photos in it again.” Revolve—curators of FOMO-inducing influencer trips promoting their wares on big-name bloggers—is another favorite. Wynn says she’ll sometimes go to Revolve for inspiration “then shop TopShop, Urban [Outfitters], and Fashion Nova for a more affordable dupe.” These are the retailers adapting to the new, Instagram-influenced pace at which consumers demand the trends, Smith says. “Customers want what they see right now,” she says, “A retailer like Zara is now introducing 2,300+ new items a month to cater to that. Boohoo is up 4,400+ and ASOS nearly 15,000.”

A striped shirt for Venice. A billowy, white shirt for Tuscany. Sneakers for cobblestone streets.

And when you’re shopping for pieces not likely to be worn after their appearance on the grid, quality is less of a concern. “If I’m looking for something quick and simple like a white T-Shirt or a plain bodysuit,” says Johnson, “I’ll go in-store to Forever21—don’t judge—because you can always up the value of an outfit with cool pants or shoes that you already own.” Her vacation budget is to not go over $250 “unless there’s an item I know I can get more use out of post-trip.”

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courtesy of the author / design by mia feitel

Still, fast fashion purchases for every occasion can add up. Beyond cost, there’s the sustainability issue: It creates a lot of waste. On top of shopping consignment and thrift stores and entertaining the idea of a clothing swap party, some CPL shoppers, myself included, have turned to subscription fashion for a stream of fresh looks for Instagram.

For $159 a month, Rent the Runway Unlimited allows you to pick four pieces from 500 designers you can swap or keep as long as you want. The Unlimited business makes up a third of RTR revenue and has grown more than 125 percent in the last year. Beyond Rent the Runway there’s Le Tote, also a monthly service that stands out for its maternity-specific offerings, and Gwynnie Bee, which includes a robust selection of plus sizes.

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Courtesy of Madeline Alford/Design by Mia Feitel

Alford, who admits she hasn’t re-worn “pretty much anything” from her honeymoon, has since converted to Rent the Runway Unlimited. “I rent the trendier ‘Instagram-friendly’ pieces off RTR, and save up my money for investment pieces I’ve had my eye on,” she says. “I’m hoping this will help me stop buying tons of cheap, trendy clothes and save for a more curated high-quality closet.”

And what happens if, after buying or renting the perfect outfit and creating the perfect photo-op, you don’t get The Shot? Hopefully, there has been some joy in the process. Having fun in clothes you love, even if briefly, has a way of overshadowing the hunt for likes and comments. “Some days when traveling, you just aren’t in the photo-taking mood,” says Wynn. “And that’s okay, too. I always make sure I’m not living my life for social media.”



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