Money Talks, So Should You

Want designer clothes for less? Consider renting

Marie Gentile
by Marie Gentile, Staff Writer (@dimespring)

They say you can’t buy style, but thanks to the emergence of a new breed of online businesses, you may be able to rent it.

Companies like Bag Borrow or Steal, Lending Luxury and Rent the Runway allow customers to rent designer clothes and accessories online for a fraction of the purchase cost.

Just like with regular online shopping, customers browse through the sites’ collections, select a size, enter payment information, and a few days later — voila! Designer dress, delivered to your doorstep. The only difference is that rather than stashing said dress away in your closet, you send it back from whence it came.

READ: Best retail return policies

How it works

Unsurprisingly, many attribute the growth and popularity of these sites to the fact that label-loving fashionistas are tightening their Bulgari belts. Rental sites allow the fashion-hungry to be seen flaunting their designer threads, while shielding their bank accounts from the hefty blow of high-end price tags.

The designer rental sphere has even expanded to include a few sites for men. For example, TieTry lets men wear thousands of dollars worth of designer ties per month for a monthly fee.

Rental periods and pricing vary by company. Rent the Runway, for example, has a one-time, per-item fee (about 10 to 15 percent of the retail cost) and a fixed rental period of four or eight days. Bag Borrow or Steal, on the other hand, places no limit on the amount of time you can borrow and instead charges based on how long you keep an item.

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Many sites include a pre-paid return envelope for returning the garment when your rental period is up. Most companies handle cleaning, and some even include insurance fees built into the rental cost to cover you in case you accidentally stain or damage the item.

One concern with online rentals is the fit of the clothes.

“You have to be familiar with the brands’ sizing to ensure a proper fit,” said Kam Throckmorton, a personal stylist, who does not use rental sites. “It's hard to judge what a dress will look like on the average women by looking at it on a 22-year-old, size-two model.”

Rent the Runway tries to eliminate these worries by providing a free second size with each order. The site also includes a “Size and Fit” tab next to each dress style with detailed guidelines.

Likewise, Lending Luxury has a policy that if it is your first time renting from a certain designer and your garment doesn’t fit, they will ship another size of the same dress or a different dress, though you’d foot the shipping bill.

READ: 6 great ways to get free stuff

Why rent?

We all know it’s more wallet-friendly to purchase off-brand or second-hand items. But if you’re looking for a high-quality designer piece, is it better to rent several items frequently or buy one classic item that you can wear frequently?

One of the main arguments for renting is that there are certain items that may not be worth buying simply based on cost-per-wear. Tiffany Ullian, fashion director of Bag Borrow or Steal says she’s seen a shift in the way people shop.

“Consumers are looking for smarter ways to access items they might not use all the time, and borrowing is much more cost effective than owning in a lot of cases,” Ullian said.

READ: Smart tips for choosing retail loyalty programs

Rentals allow customers to experiment with risky styles without having to make the full commitment of purchasing.

“I started this company so that women could buy the little black dress and rent the hot pink mini,” said Jennifer Hyman, CEO and co-founder of Rent the Runway.

Buying a designer piece can be worth it if you get enough wears out of it, but the stigma of being caught in the same outfit on more than one occasion might be a deterrent. The same money spent purchasing one designer garment could pay for multiple rentals.

The sites are tailor made for special occasions like weddings or graduations — instances where you need a nice outfit that you’ll realistically never wear again.

“I would consider using a designer rental site for special occasions,” said Jen Michalski, a 22-year-old writer. “It’s affordable and beats spending a few thousand dollars for a dress I’d probably only wear once.”

What do you think? Would you ever rent a designer garment? 

Marie Gentile is a personal finance reporter and content producer at Dimespring. She has a bachelor's degree in journalism from Marquette University. A native Midwesterner, Marie is now living in Atlanta and adjusting to life below the Mason-Dixon.