The Nerd’s Guide to Thrifting, Part VI: Why excitement is not actually always a true indicator of a great find.

Top: ‘Vintage’ (does 90s count as ‘vintage’ yet?) Liz Claiborne, thrifted

This is a tricky concept to unpack, and it can manifest in a lot of different ways with varied results. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve found something and lost my mind with excitement, only to bring it home and never wear it–in fact, even just a few weeks ago, I found a pair of shoes that I was just elated to have found, only to get them home and immediately wonder what in the seven kingdoms was I thinking?! First off, don’t beat yourself up: Getting familiar with return and exchange policies is your first line of defense. If that isn’t an option because the tags are off and it’s already in the wash, or in rotation but it’s just not working out, try consigning it or selling it. And if that doesn’t work, the obvious next step is to donate or gift it to someone who might really appreciate the item.

Ultimately, the point is still just don’t beat yourself up about it. If fashion exploration is your passion, then finding out what doesn’t work is as valuable–or arguably more valuable–than finding out what doesAnd give yourself some credit, too: You bought it secondhand, which means you didn’t put another article of new clothing into the churn, and you probably didn’t spend retail prices on it. Don’t forget that!

The harder part to tackle is the question of why we make these mistakes. Often it is the narrow perspective issue we looked at in #1: It seemed so great in contrast to what was there, but not so great in contrast to what you actually own. Or it could be issue #5, where the excitement was more about the great pricetag than the actual item itself.

Another reason why excitement might not always be the only important factor in buying decisions in general is because what you really need might not actually be that exciting. I have items on my wishlist that I’m not really that thrilled about–I deeply loathe shopping for pants and dresses for some unexplained reason!–so when I find something great in those categories, I don’t even buy it sometimes (WTF). Maybe it’s just me, but this seems like a particularly common error in the category of ‘staple pieces,’ because those just aren’t going to come with the same fanfare as the discovery of a really fantastic statement piece that, in the (slightly altered) words of the almighty Dude, ‘really pulls the whole wardrobe together.’ But take it from me when I say do not neglect those staples, because they really are the glue that holds everything together–after all, how are you going to rock those rainbow-sequined overalls without a plain old white tee to go underneath?

Statement pieces are better at getting that neurochemical excitement going in us because they are the stars of the show that really kick up visual fantasies about dinner parties and beach dates and sexy breakup revenge Insta posts. But without the boring black skirt or the well-fitting jeans to support the statement pieces, you’ll still live squarely in ‘I have nothing to wear’ land.

And then there are more complicated ‘brain state’ reasons why we might make weird decisions that don’t make sense later, which I briefly discussed in part 2, and will definitely be going into in much finer detail soon. Suffice to say that if you’re hungry, tired, and running late (or in desperate need to breastfeed your infant who’s screaming in your husband’s face at home because you just wanted to take 3 [expletive] seconds to yourself for once!) then you are a bit more liable to make frustrating decisions that might have you scratching your head later!

How to deal with it:

  • As I’ve already said, return/exchange, consign/sell, or donate/gift the item, and practice the art of not crying over counterfactuals (‘coulda/woulda/shoulda’) and sunk costs (money that’s already been irreversibly spent). It’s not always the best thing to tell someone to ‘think like an economist,’ but in the case of sunk costs, the best course of action is to just move forward with the situation as-is without ruminating over what could have been.
  • If you can practice this with a bad $5 vintage poodle skirt purchase, you’ll be in much better shape to handle those unfortunate-but-unavoidable bigger future purchases you might someday regret! Of course, do your best to avoid making the mistakes in the first place (more on that later!), but in the event of the occasional mistake, it’s best to just move on and forgive yourself.
  • Try not to save purchase decisions until the end of the shopping trip. Make the decision when you try it on (and always try it on!), because it’s entirely likely that by the end of the trip, you’ll be rushing and starving and pretty much set up to make crappy decisions.
  • Don’t put too much stock in emotional excitement while shopping, especially when searching for those foundational and staple pieces that make the rest of your closet actually wearable. Just because it doesn’t immediately make you start fantasizing about where you could wear it doesn’t mean it’s not a quality decision that you will thank yourself for on a daily basis.

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