In a 2004 visit to Ghana, a west African country, I noticed lots of people wearing second-hand Western clothes. While others donned beautiful traditional fabrics and garments of their country, it was equally common to see t-shirts, Gap khakis and Levi’s that looked like cast-off Goodwill donations. My hosts told me these were referred to as obruni waawu, which, literally translated, means, “dead white people’s clothes.”
“Why dead?” I wondered. Before long, an answer dawned on me. Maybe to Ghanians, many of whom don’t have closets, the only reason you would give up your perfectly wearable clothes would be because you are dead. To them, clothes might be something you use until they are no longer needed at all.
This led me to the idea of how often we buy new clothes and get rid of old ones. For some, it’s quite frequent, while for others not so much. In over 20 years of helping people with budgeting, I’ve seen spending on clothes range anywhere from $2,000 to $50,000 a year. But what I have not asked is, how often are the old clothes being thrown out or given away?
Money Velocity, Money Supply; Closet Velocity, Clothing Supply
There are two concepts in economics that came to my mind – velocity and supply. Normally “velocity” refers to how many times a dollar changes hands, called “money velocity.” There is also a “money supply,” which is the amount of money available to be spent at any time.
Taking this to the closet analogy, what would closet velocity and clothing supply be? Let’s say if we throw out old clothes when we buy new ones, we have a high closet velocity. Correspondingly, the amount of clothes we have on hand at any point in time would be our “clothing supply.”
Taking the four combinations from these two concepts, you can figure out your closet type.
Closet Type – Ghanian, J-Lo, Suze, or Imelda?
If you have a low clothing supply and low closet velocity, you might be a Ghanian closet type. You have a small number of clothes that you wear until they have holes, stains, or are otherwise unusable before you replace them.
If you have a high clothing supply and high closet velocity, you started with lots of clothes, are buying lots of new clothes, but are also giving or throwing away old or never-worn ones. This would be the J-Lo closet type.
If you have a low clothing supply and high closet velocity, you have a small, actively-traded closet. New clothes are entering constantly, getting worn, and old clothes are going out. You always look up to date from a carefully curated closet. This would be the Suze Orman closet type (who claimed to own one pair of earrings, which happened to be diamonds.)
If you have a high clothing supply and low closet velocity, you have a large closet of seldom-worn items, with plenty to choose from, and not much going out. This would be the Imelda Marcos closet type.
What Could Closet Type Say About Us?
In her work with Money Habitudes(TM), Dr. Syble Solomon identified six primary attitudes toward money. One of those six is “status.” Anyone with an American puritanical upbringing might see this as a nasty word. Status is something many people crave but are supposed to pretend not to.
Rather than taking a strictly negative view toward status, Solomon recognizes that money, through status purchases like clothing, is needed to help us make a good impression. However, if you tend to spend lavishly on clothes you will never wear, or spend more than you can afford for the sake of trendiness, you may have an overtendency toward status spending. Conversely, if you show up in old or frayed clothes a lot, you may have a problem with status underspending. Spending enough so you can “suit up and show up” when it matters, with care, fun and spontaneity mixed in, shows healthy habits and attitudes about status spending.
With Dr. Solomon’s more balanced view in mind, I am going to take a second look at my closet. I don’t plan on being a dead white person anytime soon, but I may find potential obruni waawu destined for Ghana or Goodwill, soon.
Have you found yourself spending more or less on clothes during the pandemic? How has the pandemic changed your closet? Have you changed your donation or throwing-out patterns? Leave a comment below.