Although Cher Horowitz’s computerized closet from Clueless has long been the dream, there’s a new style of wardrobe gunning for our attention—one of the endless, no-strings-attached variety. Enter the rental clothing industry, a corner of the market once relegated to occasion wear that now has its sights set on broader terrain.
First popularized a few years ago via companies like Rent the Runway, which offers designer clothes and accessories rentals for up to eight days, renting outfits has become common for those once-in-a-lifetime events that require a level of luxury that’s not necessarily worth the long-term investment. Hannah Orenstein, a writer at Seventeen, first rented a dress from the company for her sister’s bat mitzvah in 2010, telling me, “I was obsessed with Hervé Léger bandage dresses but couldn’t afford to buy one. I ended up renting a cranberry-colored bandage dress from them and was so happy with my experience that I decided to rent again for my prom the following year. I knew I wanted a really special, one-of-a-kind dress but didn’t want to splurge on an item I’d likely only be able to wear once. Since I didn’t see any other black-tie occasions in my near future, it made sense to rent.” The other women I polled cited similar events—weddings, bridal showers, bachelorette parties—where they never wanted to be seen repeating outfits, especially in an age when social media captures everything.
Capitalizing on this phenomenon, other companies have popped up to offer rentals for specialty items like accessories (Bag, Borrow or Steal) and maternity wear (Mine for Nine). Le Tote takes things a step further by offering to send customers five items from brands like Free People and French Connection to try out before potentially deciding to buy. And according to recent retail analysis by Westfield, that shopping model is especially appealing to millennials between the ages of 25 and 34, who have grown used to a “disposable fashion–based economy” that has them shopping for new clothing every few months (if not more) to keep up with the trends. To save them time and money, renting may be the answer—one with the added appeal of keeping their wardrobes eternally fresh.
Although no major retailers have adopted the policy just yet, Westfield hints that certain major brands have plans to test rental “sections” in the near future. They’d be smart to do so, given that online searches for “rent designer clothes” have increased by 120% since 2014, according to data from Lyst. “We've all come to expect access to the music, entertainment, and even transportation we want at the click of a button, so why not everyday clothing?” the team at Rent the Runway tells me. “The sharing economy is growing now more than ever, and everyday fashion is next frontier.”
Indeed, RTR hopes to offer that convenience itself now that it’s expanded its offerings to include great work and weekend wear from ready-to-wear brands like Diane von Furstenberg and Tory Burch. “Our goal is to not only be a source for special occasions but to be a one-stop shop for all your closet needs,” Blumenthal explains, pointing out that renting is a great way “to experiment with different trends and styles you may otherwise refrain from buying.” Orenstein, of Seventeen, echoed this idea when she shared a recent shopping dilemma: “I impulse-bought a cheap bomber jacket last week because they're everywhere right now, but the minute I bought it, I realized it wasn't really my style. If I could've just rented the jacket, worn it a few times, and returned it when the month or season was over, I probably would've gone for that option.”
Would you ever rent the majority of your wardrobe? Sound off in the comments!