Smart SpendingSmart Spending

Is 'wardrobing' thrifty or is it theft?

More and more people are buying, using and then returning clothes. It may not be strictly illegal, but is it right?

By Donna_Freedman Jul 22, 2011 12:22PM

Need a hot dress for a night on the town or a sharp suit for a job interview? No problem! Just buy whatever you want, wear it and return it for a full refund.

Or so say those who use a shady tactic called "wardrobing" -- buying something (usually clothing or electronics) that you have no intention of keeping.

"Wardrobing" makes it sound cool and edgy. If you called it "theft," would people still want to do it?

I'm not the only one who finds this questionable. In a Money Crashers post called "Wardrobing on the rise in tough economic times," blogger David Q says it's no different than stealing.

"If money's tight, wardrobing is not the way to use products you need or simply want but can't afford. It's unethical, fraudulent, and makes the rest of us pay for your indulgence," he writes.

An obviously used item cannot be sold as new, according to Joe LaRocca of the National Retail Federation. So if that cocktail dress comes back with makeup on the collar, retailers "are forced to take a loss on the item completely or discount it substantially to move it out the door," he wrote in a post on NRF's blog. Post continues after video.

Honest shoppers inconvenienced
Nearly 62% of the companies surveyed in the NRF's 2010 Return Fraud Survey reported problems with wardrobing. That's up from 46.2% the previous year.

Almost two-thirds of the retailers have changed their return policies, e.g., requiring a receipt and/or photo identification before returns can be made.

"Combating this very costly problem helps retailers keep prices low but can unfortunately involve establishing policies that inconvenience honest shoppers," LaRocca says.

Some buyers see nothing wrong with the practice of temporary ownership. In fact, some of them call it "renting," according to a post at The Consumerist. One man bought a portable DVD player to occupy himself on a long flight, then returned it. On another occasion he bought an LCD projector for a business presentation, then got his money back.

"(It) made me look good when I saved my company $600 in rental fees for the projector," the man said.

Classy. Very classy.

The price of self-respect
In his Money Crashers post, David Q suggests some alternatives to wardrobing:

Technically, wardrobing is not illegal. Even if it were, it would be darned hard to prove that someone never intended to keep the slinky gown or the three-piece suit.

But you knew you were trying to put one over on the stores -- and the rest of us get to pay for your bad behavior.

David Q says that "you can't really place a price on self-respect, which is something that will surely suffer if you engage in wardrobing." It's likely that the folks who do this don't really care what other people think.

Myself, I believe in karma. Sooner or later your misdeeds are going to come back and bite you on your Gucci-clad butt.

Here's a scenario: You finally get enough money to buy something for keeps. You try it on and it looks great. It's only after you get it home that realize it has sweat stains or a tiny cigarette burn. How good do you think you'd feel wearing someone else's sneaky behavior?

P.S. Don't forget your photo ID when you return the item.

More on MSN Money
Jul 24, 2011 11:36AM
I have been doing this for years but not with clothes.  It's great for personal entertainment.  In fact the places I do this DEMAND I bring back their merchandise.  I call it the library.
Nov 14, 2011 8:05PM
This is definitely stealing and honest consumers should not have to pay for this. If I buy something "new", I want it to be new, not used, especially clothing. I've worked retail for a lot of years and never wear clothes until they've been cleaned unless it's sealed. Unfortunately, though, the stores don't do enough to curb this practice because they hate to offend their customers. I can't begin to tell you how much used merchandise is returned to the store I've worked in for the last four years. It's so wasteful to see so much merchandise thrown away because of people who have no respect for other people's property, and in the end, the price just continues to escalate for those willing to play fair. This practice is not being thrifty and smart; it's showing you have no morals and care for no one else.
Jul 22, 2011 2:38PM
I would much rather wear a nice, second-hand dress than do something like this.  I would feel way too guilty to enjoy myself in a dress I basically stole. 
Jul 22, 2011 4:00PM
I agree with MaryL  I dislike shopping, so I dread the thought of making another trip to return something.  But some of my most-often used items came from second-hand stores.  I also buy things at deep discount clearance prices, often using coupons.  The cost of driving back to the store to return such inexpensive things could cancel out any savings.
      And those who call it a form of "renting" are trying to justify their underhanded behavior.  The guy who took back a projector after using it, then saying, "(It) made me look good when I saved my company $600 in rental fees," is yet another example of how people manage to hide their true character underneath their respectable-appearing business attire.
Jul 23, 2011 12:08PM

Great comments.  It makes me feel better just knowing that there are still decent people out there that have good morals. 


I work in an office, so I must maintain a professional look while at work.  I buy all my clothing from the clearance racks or when everything is on sale.  I spend, on the average, no more than $5-$10 per item.  I won't pay more than $20 for a pair of dress shoes either.  I am able to piece my outfits together; while maintaining a clean, professional look that my clientele can appreciate.  The last thing that you want to do is to out-dress your clientele.  That's a bad no-no.


I can go months without wearing the same outfit.  I purchase things that can be worn year after year and I stay away from trendy things.  I have a pretty extensive wardrobe and I've purchased ths with the same amount of money that would purchase 2 outfits at Talbots or Anne Klein.  Imagine that.


Bottom line is this... if you truly can't afford to buy that outfit, then you have no business owning it.  Period.


Jul 22, 2011 5:29PM
It's  is like stealing. To wear a dress then returning it should be stopped. Then another person buying it at full prices is a rip off. for that person.The dress was used. I have seen people I know buying a expensive dress wearing it one time then taking it back ,making it look like it wasn't worn.Is the same as stealing.If you can't afford it don't buy it then return it.I buy my clothes on sale or at a discount  store or thrift store. And it's a lot cheaper. And if anyone don't like how I dress tuff luck.I dress to please me. The most expensive dress I bought was a evening gown I bought for my daughters wedding then I wore it again at my son's wedding.Why should I go and buy another new evening gown 2 times? I'm not rich.And $175.00 for a dress to wear once is silly.
Jul 22, 2011 11:01PM
It may not be legally defined as theft, but the person who does this is stealing a substantial part of the item's value (the difference between new and used, which for clothing and electronics is substantial) . Honest businesses that try to keep their customers happy by accepting returns wind up eating that cost. Of course, if the business fails to catch any visible damage, then the next shopper winds up paying MSRP for a used (and unwashed) item. Gross.

As far as the guy with the projector goes, I wonder what his client would say if they knew they were viewing his presentation on a projector that was "wardrobed". I can pretty much guarantee that this guy's shady ethics is NOT adding up to a net positive for his employer, regardless of how much they save on electronics. 
Nov 15, 2011 5:22PM

I've done corporate video production for years, many fortune 500 companies. They have all bought items needed for videos and then returned them after the shoot.


These people were all upper management types, thought nothing of it.


I, myself always make sure there is money in the budget for props when I'm the one responsible. Then I sell them at a loss on eBay and return the money to the budget.


 It's more work, but much more honest. It's called ethics, anybody remeber that?

Jul 24, 2011 6:13PM
I don't think people should be able to "wardrobe" because it is unsanitary. After wearing an item for a long period of time then returning it then it may be filled with germs and sweat. But it is not the consumers fault it is the fault of the store. I have worked in retail and have seen countless items that were obviously used because they smelled like smoke, perfume or had deodorant stains in them.  We had to accept these items because of the store's policy. 
If stores would change their policies then it would save them and consumers money because they would not lose money sending used items to salvage. Personally if I could not afford an item I would not buy it and if I am buying from a thrift store then I wash it. Its safer that way.
Nov 15, 2011 4:14PM
On another occasion he bought an LCD projector for a business presentation, then got his money back.

"(It) made me look good when I saved my company $600 in rental fees for the projector," the man said.

It made you look good? What kind of "professional" would stoop to this, and what kind of company would admire his trickery? If this clever employee would do this, you can bet he would find ways to cheat on expense reports or steal from the company. This example is theft, as is wardrobing.
Aug 2, 2011 4:00PM
I think this is stealing, too, but as for being "unsanitary" -- do you even think twice about how many hundreds of people may have already tried on your "new" outfit in the fitting room of a department store?
Nov 15, 2011 3:12PM

"Wardrobing" is stealing. Plain and simple. What people who do this do not realize is that doing so takes profits away from the stores they are doing this to, which in turn, cuts down on the pool of money available for raises, benefits, and even payroll itself for the staff who must grin and bear it when these dishonest folks do their business. The customer is always right, indeed.. Can you tell this is a sore spot with me?? Too many years in retail, I guess..


As far as the projector dude is concerned, my only question is, if he works for a company that would condone this behaviour, what kind of other unethical activities are they engaging in (assuming, of course, that he told them how he procured said projector)... Makes you wonder....

Jul 24, 2011 11:51PM
Umm, this is just DISGUSTING. I would be so grossed out knowing that someone wore and sweated in something that I bought "new." I wish people weren't so trifling. UGH.
Nov 15, 2011 5:19PM
You all will think I'm the most naive person on the planet - really you will. But it has never even  occurred to me to do this! Never! I've never even heard of "wardrobing."  I was shocked to hear people actually do this! Yikes! It's definitely wrong! 
Nov 16, 2011 11:36PM

 A few years ago we had a severe hurricane in our area. People rushed to the big box home improvement stores to buy chain saws and generators. Three weeks or so later those thieves returned the items and demanded full refunds on the items that clearly had been heavily used.  I personally saw some of the items; the chainsaws still had leaves stuck in the guards and the generators smelled of gasoline. Some customers were refused refunds..... and all Hell broke loose so the refunds were issued.  I don't know if it is the cost of these thefts which is passed on to honest customers or if it is the righteous indignation of the thieves who were initially refused refunds that irritate me the most.


However, if one learns that a friend/co-worker/boss/sweetheart  practices this form of theft it is a quick and easy way to find out what kind of person they are and distance oneself from them a.s.a.p.!

Nov 15, 2011 5:14PM

If you think about it, it's pretty arrogant of these thieves to think that their enjoyment of a brand new item (which they refuse to bear the cost of) is more important than the actual purchaser's enjoyment of the item (honestly bought for NEW price and PAID FOR).


Arrogant, and dishonest both financially and intellectually.  People who are doing this -- you are scummy thieves.  Get back to the gutters where you belong, and stop raining on the honest folks' parades by giving their 'new' clothes your stink and germs.  Noone wants your cooties.

Jul 24, 2011 9:04AM

It's not just clothes. I knew a fellow who would go to a home improvement store prior to starting a contruction project, buy new tools and return them after completeing the job. I couldn't believe how many times he got away with this.

Nov 15, 2011 3:50PM
What I've seen lately at the grocery store is disgusting. I have seen several women who return half eaten packages of food to the store. Some of the items haven't been opened, probably a"buy one-get one-free" item. I asked the cashier about it and she said the store policy is they will refund your money for any reason if you are not satisified.One woman had five boxes of cereal that were all almost empty. 
Nov 15, 2011 5:54PM
"So if that cocktail dress comes back with makeup on the collar, retailers "are forced to take a loss on the item completely or discount it substantially to move it out the door,"

No they won't.  If a customer tried to return an item soiled with lipstick, they won't take it back!  duh

non-story, not an issue.
Nov 15, 2011 6:09PM
There is no need for wardrobing when you can rent designer clothes and accessories.
Please help us to maintain a healthy and vibrant community by reporting any illegal or inappropriate behavior. If you believe a message violates theCode of Conductplease use this form to notify the moderators. They will investigate your report and take appropriate action. If necessary, they report all illegal activity to the proper authorities.
100 character limit
Are you sure you want to delete this comment?


Copyright © 2014 Microsoft. All rights reserved.

Fundamental company data and historical chart data provided by Morningstar Inc. Real-time index quotes and delayed quotes supplied by Morningstar Inc. Quotes delayed by up to 15 minutes, except where indicated otherwise. Fund summary, fund performance and dividend data provided by Morningstar Inc. Analyst recommendations provided by Zacks Investment Research. StockScouter data provided by Verus Analytics. IPO data provided by Hoover's Inc. Index membership data provided by Morningstar Inc.


Smart Spending brings you the best money-saving tips from MSN Money and the rest of the Web. Join the conversation on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.