Sign of the Times. The Unethical Habit of Wardrobing


According to Wikipedia, wardrobing is the practice of purchasing an item, using it, and then returning it to the store for a refund. It is most often done with expensive clothing – hence the name – but the practice is also common with tools, electronics, and even computers.

Having worked retail for years I was well aware this was happening, but did not know there was a term for it until today. I happened to catch a story on today’s Good Morning America (Wearing and Returning or read article here.) how this trend is expected to pick up given the horrible state of the economy.


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Shopping_bags Personally, I think this is no different than shoplifting and is a rather gross and blatant form of stealing. A few years ago when we launched this site, I briefly worked in the couture department at Neiman Marcus on Michigan Avenue Chicago. I was selling beautiful clothes to high-end clients who were unfazed about dropping $10,000 in one department. Or so I thought.

I was amazed how many customers played musical clothes (basically returning as much as they bought thereby really not spending that much new money in the store). These women I decided were bored and/or had a shopping problem. Yet, there was nothing legally wrong with this addiction. Then there were those who bought, wore and returned items. You could easily tell the item was worn. The tag would be bent and sometimes there were deodorant marks or the item smelled of perfume. Why not? The return policy was liberal. Some of the stores themselves undoubtedly have helped create this problem.

Back to the GMA feature. Retailers are expected to lose $11.8 billion in fraudulent Top returns including wardrobing in 2008. 64% of retailers reported used but non-defective item returns this year. Guess who pays for this? You guessed it. You and me…the honest shoppers. (Yes, I return clothing at times, but never anything used!) A recently unemployed women (hidden for fear of being recognized) admitted she has been buying clothes to wear for special occasions and returning them. She saw nothing wrong with the practice and in fact thinks she’s entitled. Mind you, she asked for anonymity so she can’t be that proud.

Stores are often unable to resell these used items thereby hurting their bottom line and margins. Blaming the poor economy just doesn’t cut it in my book. It is unethical. Nobody is entitled to buy things beyond their means, even if just to ‘borrow’ it. It makes me wonder how many items I have bought that have been used. The thought grosses me out frankly. If you can’t afford it, don’t buy it. Recycle a dress you already own for special occasions, but don’t wardrobe (or wardrob). Please.

Personally I hope stores get tougher on this practice and at the very least blackball offenders.

What do you think? Do you wardrobe?

– Lauren Dimet Waters

Sources:, GMA

3 thoughts on “Sign of the Times. The Unethical Habit of Wardrobing”

  1. Wow, I never knew how widespread that problem really is. I have returned items before but never after wearing it. Trying on, yes. WEARING? No! If anything (besides trying to be ethical and have a little class), I would be too afraid that I would spill wine, get snagged getting out of a car, body odors – anything! What would you do with that $5K dress now?

  2. I know! Can you imagine ‘borrowing’ a dress you totally can not afford and ruining it? Then what? Good point. Trying on and wearing out and returning the item are two totally different things. Of course you should/need to try clothing on. It’s wearing it out like you own it and returning it that I have a problem with. It’s totally widespread and just classless. IMO

  3. Yes, not a great practice and gives a hard time to hard-working shop assistants. Clothes are made for wearing so it will be hard to determine how long the items were worn before return. On the other hand, this may be a way to get back at the dirty and inhumane fashion brands (including high fashion brands) that basically kills the Earth we live on with synthetic fabrics, dyes that pollute rivers and pretty much employ slave labor. The clothes you were selling were unethical and the people who supervise the manufacturing of them. I wouldn’t be surprised that some clients wore the garment, got a rash or realized it is made of 100% polyester or acetate (even worse) and brought it back. It is still better than dumping in the trash.


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