Published on November 25, 2013 | by Lauren Bridgeman


Wardrobing: The latest student fashion trend?

Girl shopping

Wardrobing is no zero sum game [Andrew Hyde]

Buying and wearing clothes with the tags in before returning them for a refund is a growing trend, according to new research conducted by One in six British women have admitted to this new ‘wardrobing’ practice.

The British Retail Consortium found that among the 287,000 retail outlets in the UK last year, 65 per cent regularly experienced customers returning newly worn items to their stores.

Amongst them, 18-24 year olds were the worst offenders, with sone purchasing outfits with the intention of returning them once worn. According to Anita Naik, consumer editor at Vouchercodes, more than a quarter of women feel guilty about it, “but the pressure to look good on special occasions makes it feel like the only option for those on a budget.”

Being on a tight budget is something most students can relate to, while for those working in the art and fashion industries, the pressure to look good can make ‘wardrobing’ a tempting option.


LCF fashion styling and photography student Anita da Silva told ALN: “I personally haven’t done it before. Being a skint student, chances are I’ve been seriously debating whether to spend my money and thinking about how much I’ll get out of one outfit. So I’ll buy it, but it has to be good and it will be a keeper.

“On the other hand, as a photographer, sometimes I buy outfits for shoots in the model’s size and after photographing them I take them back for a full refund. Places like Oxford Circus Topshop are fully aware this happens (pattern of returns from fashion students) being around the corner from LCF.”

There is also a more extreme trend of purposely damaging items so that they can get a refund or exchange; one in 20 adults admit to doing this and it is a growing concern for high street fashion stores across the country.


Wedding and job interviews are the most likely occasions for wardrobers to strike, when the pressure to impress increases.

Former fashion student and high street employee Hollie Doman told ALN: “Working in retail I would see people purchasing more premium products, often expensive dresses or smart outfits, who would then return them, obviously with some wear but not enough to refuse returning the following week.

“This has happened a lot more over the past few years, reflecting the current economic climate, as women still want to go out and wear nice clothes, but don’t have the budget to do so. I also saw this whilst a student. I never did it personally, but many of my friends would buy a really nice £60 or £70 outfit from Topshop for a special night out, but then they’d be panicking all evening in case someone spilt a drink or got makeup on it. I guess this also reflected the tight student budget.”


Return fraud abuse directly affects retailer’s profits, while some states in America alone are losing a total of $870 million to $1.1 billion annually in sales tax revenue according to The Retail Equation.

Vicky Brock, CEO at Clear Returns, said those who choose to ‘wardrobe’ “negatively impact the experience of other shoppers – causing lack of product availability and impacting product quality. A returned product is more likely to get returned again compared to clean stock, so the cost burden spirals. This is a tiny segment of shoppers who are having a disproportionately high impact on returns, business profits and customer experience. It’s not cheek, it’s fraud.”

Bloomingdales is the first store in the US to try and tackle sneaky shoppers, by introducing black plastic devices that are attached to expensive items in visible places, which are near impossible to hide once the garment is worn; once shoppers remove the tags they cannot return the item.

UK fashion and beauty video blogger Becca Kirby believes that there are ways to kick the wardrobing habit but still look good, including charity shop hauls, outfit trading with girlfriends and swap-shops.

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