The next time you’re tempted to buy an expensive frock, ladies, you might want to think twice.
For chances are, it might have been worn before – and not just in the fitting room.
One in eight women has bought expensive clothes, worn them on a night out and returned them the next day, a survey has revealed.
And experts believe the true figure may be far higher as many shoppers are too ashamed to admit to the practice.
Nearly half of those who did confess said they were motivated by money because they couldn’t afford to keep the clothes given the present economic climate. But 18 per cent said they did it because they enjoyed the ‘buzz’.
The poll of 2,000 women found the most common occasion to buy and then return an outfit was for a wedding.
Others did it for christenings, black-tie events and Christmas parties.
The British Retail Consortium said it was ‘concerned’ about the practice, and warned offenders would be caught.
Those most likely to do it were 18 to 24-year-olds, 16 per cent of whom admitted to returning worn clothes. This was followed by the 25 to 31-year-old category, on 14 per cent. Hannah Priddey, 24, a masters student at Bristol University, said she bought a glamorous outfit – and returned it – once a fortnight for four years.
She spent up to £70 each time, and said she saved thousands of pounds, sometimes buying tops, shirts, trousers and skirts as well as dresses.
'Most of the clothes I did it with were expensive items that you would only want to wear once on a special occasion,’ she said.
'The cost per wear factor was not very high, so it was hardly worth spending the money. I was a student on a budget and it saved me a lot of money.
'It started to make me feel guilty so I don’t do it any more but it was pretty easy at the time.
'It was like renting someone’s clothes without permission.’
According to the survey, carried out by OnePoll.com, offenders tuck the labels inside clothes on a night out to conceal their strategy.
The next day they either hang them out to air or spray them with air freshener, then return them to the store, telling the shop assistant they didn’t fit.
Shockingly, seven per cent of those surveyed said they had returned an outfit after being sick on it, while six per cent had spilled a drink on one and taken it back.
Eight per cent said they had left the item they returned in a crumpled heap on the floor all night, and nearly nine per cent said it smelt of smoke.
A spokesman for OnePoll.com said: ‘It’s understandable that people are tightening their belts and are spending more cautiously during this bleak economic time, but returning clothes after wearing them is quite dishonest and high risk.
'These findings highlight how many people are ruthless enough to wear clothes and then expect their money back.’
But he added: ‘What it doesn’t show is how many more shoppers are doing it but are too ashamed to admit it or those who want to save face and give the impression they have more clothes than they do.’
Legally, shops are under no obligation to accept returns unless the goods are faulty or damaged. But in practice, many do as long as the customer has a receipt.
Sarah Cordey, of the BRC, said: ‘Most retailers go well beyond the legal minimum when it comes to returns policies, and the vast majority of customers use them honestly.
'Deliberately buying clothes to wear and then return is wrong and shop assistants are on the look out for signs of this.’
Dr Sandra Wheatley, a social psychologist, said: ‘It’s not something many people would admit to. They don’t want to draw attention to it.
'It’s like a legalised form of shoplifting.’