The Nerd’s Guide to Thrifting, Part IV: Avoid the ‘almost perfect’ error.

Top: American Eagle, Jeans: Lucky Brand, thrifted, Sandals: Nisolo, Glasses: Eye Buy Direct ‘Quill’ in Tortoise, Hair Clip: J. Crew

I’m sure we all could share at least a few memories of finding pieces that were so tempting but just slightly imperfect (pin holes, stains that just might wash out, missing buttons, frayed or too-long hemlines). If you’re an avid sewist, or if you already have a reliable tailor or dry cleaner that you frequent, I say go for it. But if your sewing machine has been gathering dust in the basement, or if you haven’t yet found a good tailor or cobbler in your area, the piece may just find its way right back to the thrift shop after sitting folded on your closet floor for an embarrassingly long time (ask me how I know…).

How to deal with it:

  • Do the math: This is related to point #1, where we get so excited that we found something great that we forget to do the simple mental math about the total cost of the piece post-alterations, cleaning, cobblers, or expensive shoe inserts (don’t forget to include your time in these calculations–time is one of your most valuable resources!). Sometimes just that alone will help you see it’s not quite the deal that $4 price tag makes it seem.
  • After doing the math, compare the total cost to the price of a new piece. This is a stickier proposition, because from a sustainability perspective, it’s always better to choose secondhand. But if the total cost comes close to or exceeds the cost of a new piece, you have a few options: If the brand is not particularly ethical, you could just go for the mend. Or, you could try to find an ethical brand that carries a similar product that better deserves your hard-earned money. But ultimately, this is a personal decision, and if it’s a piece that you will wear often, it’s still of reasonable quality that should stand the test of time, and you have very limited time or money, it’s not always easy to steer clear of questionable ethics (I talk more about that in this article), and the best choice might be to purchase new.
  • If you’re the kind of person that already has a proven track record of mending your clothes or generally just getting things done right away–and you do the math and it still looks like a good deal–go for it! But if you’re like *ahem*…me… and your ‘to-mend’ pile languishes for years with the price tags still attached, eventually graduating from the ‘to-mend’ pile to the donate pile, try and be realistic. If you can’t wear it and you don’t think you’ll get to dealing with it anytime soon, it’s just not worth it.

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