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August 26, 2013 at 8:00 AMComments: 2 Faves: 0

Wardrobing: Another Way to Commit Retail Fraud

By Claire Franklin More Blogs by This Author

A website called Evolving Personal Finance reported that, in 2012, Americans spend an average of $1,100 on clothes annually. This figure breaks down to just under $100 per month, which sounds a little high but probably isn't after accounting for underwear, socks, shoes, coats, and other garments that get used repeatedly. Speaking of garments, the average American buys more than one per week.

Beating the System

Most consumers have pretty clear intentions when they go shopping. They need a suit for a formal event, running shoes for exercise, or black dress pants for a job interview. They find what they need, make their purchases, and leave the store. Shopping is a pretty cut-and-dry experience.

But shopping isn't necessarily such a cut and dry experience for everybody. Some consumers make their purchases, not in the hopes of investing in their wardrobes, but in the hopes they can take advantage of a store with “repeat returns.” This is known as wardrobing – or garment renting - in which a shopper purchases an article of clothing knowing she will return it after it’s worn. This allows her to have a new shirt or other garment without having to pay for it. Yes, she hands over money at the time of her initial purchase, but she keeps and wears the garment for only a brief time. Then she returns it and gets her money back - hence the phrase, garment renting. After she makes her return, she might immediately shop for something else and continue her cycle of “renting” or wait a few days and shop again when she’s in need of a particular item.

Retail Fraud

Wardrobers familiarize themselves with the stores at which they shop. They know each store's return policies so they are never “stuck” with one of their purchases, and they are careful to avoid repetitive service from the same sales associate – they do not want to draw attention to their activities. Wardrobers are also careful in that they keep the tags on their rented garments – even while wearing them – to ensure they receive full refunds. They don’t damage or alter the clothing and try to return it to the store in nearly the same condition as it was purchased. It is not possible to return a used garment in the exact same condition, but wardrobers try nonetheless.

A Habit-Forming Offense

Wardrobing sounds like a brilliant way to supplement clothing without spending money or committing a crime, but it comes with serious consequences. Careless shopping habits can become addictive, especially when people think they can take advantage of retailers’ friendly return policies. The act of buying, wearing, and then returning a garment produces a thrill that often consumes wardrobers. Some spend as much as one hour a day returning clothes to various retailers – a process that becomes a daily fixture in their lives. 

Although a wardrober thinks she’s doing nothing wrong, but, at the very least, she’s behaving unethically. Retailers implement return policies to ensure customer satisfaction, not to allow shoppers the opportunity to take advantage of them. Abusing the system will result in more stringent return conditions in the future – meaning those who return garments in good faith will suffer along with those who are not so honest. Already, the Return Activity Report tracks where and when shoppers make returns. This is why many return processes require identification from shoppers. 

People who are addicted to shopping and returning garments don’t need retail therapy – they need help. It makes for interesting conversation and even sounds humorous when put into words, but wardrobing can be as destructive as substance abuse. It ruins people’s finances and takes over their lives. Shopping shouldn’t be a habit but an occasional and enjoyable experience, with returns saved for those items that truly do not fit.


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  • This upsets me. There are always people trying to take advantage of a good thing and they ruin it for everyone.

    Companies should have a purchase log so employee dodging isn't an avenue of avoiding question. There should be a system that shows their purchase and returning trend which should bring the buyer into question.

  • So we need more regulation on people? We want companies keeping detailed records of individual's activities, because that would never be abused by profiteering merchants. Or we could just have regulation on the regulation of people's buying habits. Maybe an oversight committee and some federal laws. Or go with state laws so they are all different... more job security for lawyers if the regulation is by state.

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