En español | Andrea Tran, 59, a registered nurse and lactation consultant in Bloomfield, Colorado, is the first to admit she loves the ritual of shopping for clothes in a brick-and-mortar store.
"I enjoy the event of shopping,” says Tran. “It wasn't until I wasn't really allowed to shop [with the pandemic] that I considered clothing rental services as an option.”
The online clothing rental market — you select clothes on a website and they're sent to you to wear before you return them and receive a new selection — has been booming for years. Rent the Runway, a designer clothing rental service started by two Harvard graduates that launched back in 2009, is valued above the billion-dollar mark. And start-up clothing rental company Le Tote acquired Lord & Taylor for $100 million last year.
But if you think renting clothes to keep an ever-changing wardrobe rotating through the hangers on your closet is just for millennials, think again.
For someone used to the ritual of browsing actual store racks, Tran says the online rental experience pushes her outside of her comfort zone, in a good way. She mostly uses the services for finding clothes for work ("I'm lucky to not have to work in scrubs,” she says) and to have a changing array of dresses for fancier dinners.
Add in other perks like being able to try on clothes in the comfort of your home (and, let's not forget, the benefit of natural lighting), not having to get in a car to go store to store and having intel from a virtual stylist of sorts (in most cases, the site's savvy algorithm) in the form of suggestions for what looks work best with your personal preferences, and there's a lot to love.
"You go, ‘Huh, I wonder what this would be like?'” Tran says about her experience perusing the clothing selections on Rent the Runway that include everything from designer gowns for black-tie events to brand-name sunglasses and handbags. “And you're just committing to renting, not buying. So you can wear more trendy things and not invest the money.”
With most of us working from home or staying at home more often these days, you might wonder if investing in your wardrobe is worth it right now. But in addition to offering resort and office wear, many rental companies, including Le Tote, have vast athleisure sections and casual garments (think: flowing sundresses and capri pants) that might offer just the pep in your step you need right now. And you may even find wardrobe staples to purchase and keep for years.
"A rental service is great because it allows you to add variety and depth to your wardrobe,” says Denver-based celebrity stylist Amber Alexandria. “Ideally, we should have the foundation of our wardrobe up to date with the ‘essentials’ — good-quality, classic pieces that withstand the test of time."
The novelty of a few new pieces is a way to freshen up your wardrobe, too, she says: “With a rental service you can implement statement pieces that you can mix with your essentials to create standout looks."
What to know
Most online clothing rental services use the subscription-box model (you pay a monthly fee and receive a box of clothes in the mail), operating along very similar lines. Create a user account, input your measurements (get a tailor's measurements for best results), then fill out a style preference profile — usually a spread of photos of outfits and styles that you'll be asked to rate or rank according to how much you like them — so the site's logarithm can hone in on pieces to suggest for your “virtual closet.” After your selections are picked, you can submit them to be shipped or swap them out for other available pieces you think work better.
Most clothing rental services ask you to rate the pieces you receive for feedback on how they fit and if you like the style — information that helps fine-tune the logarithm for your next virtual closet. You can also contact advisers via live chat or phone, with most companies, for help changing preferences in your profile.
Shipping is free in almost all cases, and a new box of clothes can be queued up as soon as the shipping bar code is registered as being sent. Dry cleaning is also almost always included, so don't even bother to launder the clothes before putting them in the prepaid bag and sending them back.
Subscriptions can be canceled without penalty at any time, and the price usually varies depending on how many pieces of clothing you want to have in your rotation with each delivery (some companies, however, have a set price and number). In general, you can expect to spend anywhere between $50 and $250 per month, depending on whether you're renting designer brands and how many pieces you get at a time.
If you love something, you'll have the option to buy it (it's as easy as not sending it back), usually for a reduced price since it's technically “used."
Onyekachi Amadi, 27, the CEO of Ebony Crown (a beauty company spotlighting Black-owned brands), says she's converted her 62-year-old mother to Rent the Runway, which has a wide selection of designer brands (including Kate Spade New York and Badgley Mischka) in plus sizes. Memberships start from $89 per month for four items.
"My mom was like, ‘You look very wealthy, but I know you're not,'” says Amadi, who let her mother in on her own fashion secret. “Now she can wear tailored clothes that fit her body type for work without paying a fortune,” she says.
And while Rent the Runway's inventory skews more designer and high-end, there's a clothing rental service for most fashion senses out there.
Gwynnie Bee specializes in plus sizing (with sizes 10 to 32 exclusively), with a huge selection of jeans, sundresses and blazers, and has pricing plans that start at $49 a month with unlimited new pieces. “As soon as you're ready to send things back, just input that into your account and we'll start prepping your next box,” a Gwynnie Bee customer service rep explains on the phone.
Le Tote has styles that skew a bit younger, with a mix of classic and more edgy fashions across many clothing categories that include skirts, sweaters, jackets and jumpsuits. The company has an appealing selection of chunky accessories, too, and a particularly good range of athleisure wear like leggings and lightweight hoodies that blend comfort with style. Plans start from $59 per month to rent three clothing pieces and two accessory items at a time.
Fans of Ann Taylor's classic and tailored look swear by the brand's Infinite Style by Ann Taylor rental service, with smart work and weekend styles as well as a wide range of petite options. You get three styles at a time that you can keep as long as you want for $95 per month.
And with that, virtual shoppers, start your search engines.