A recent visit to New York City’s fashionable Fifth Avenue was a sound reminder about the price of women’s fashion: Ladies, your stuff is expensive.
From shelling out $22,000 for a Gucci soft crocodile bucket bag to landing that $33,000 Valentino gown, paying for high fashion could cover the cost of a college education or a new home. Recent news that Americans are working harder and earning less means access to even moderately priced fashions may be further from reach.
Thankfully, a girl doesn’t have to “go without” now that style-minded apparel and accessory rental startups have emerged.
The majority of these fashion rental houses provide the opulence of possessing hot , brand-name clothing, bags, shoes and even accessories to the masses without having to make the staggering high fashion financial commitment. In most cases, customers pay either a monthly subscription fee or a per-item rental fee in order to don top designer gowns, clothing, bags, shoes and more.
Cristin Valle, fashion enthusiast and store director of Scoop NYC in Bal Harbour, Fa. says having affordable access to the latest, trend-setting fashions is one of the best ways the average woman can wear designs usually limited to the fabulously wealthy.
“Fashion rental companies provide a great way for women on a budget to have access to a special dress for an occasion or a purse just so they can carry that unique luxury,” Valle explains. “Plus, fashions and seasons are always changing so these rental companies allow you to keep up with the latest trends without having to make the long term financial commitment.”
While vogue designers may come with an unreachable price tag, how cost effective are these fashion rental companies?
When Does Fashion Rental Pay Off?
Valle says any woman can save money and look fantastic with this service. “A single rental for a wedding or a special occasion can save a lot of money, plus you can wear a stunning dress or gown for one event and then rent something completely different for the next occasion without paying the high price,” she says.
Rental company rates and fees vary. For instance, Rent the Runway has options that allow the customer to rent an item for four to eight days for a single fee (based on the piece) or a monthly $139 fee to keep the item for an unlimited amount of time. Some companies offer clothing only, whereas others include accessories and handbags as part of the service.
Most companies show comparative savings during the online shopping process. When renting short term from Rent the Runway, customers can spend a mere $70 to lease a stunning Badgley Mischka blush sequined dress that usually retails for $620, for example. Don’t forget about shipping, cleaning and insurance costs that may pad the price.
Christine Hunsicker, founder and CEO of fashion rental company Gwynnie Bee, says fashion rental services provide both financial and fashionable benefits.
“Gwynnie Bee provides women access to an endless closet,” Hunsicker explains. “We encourage women to try, discover and exchange rather than commit to buying clothing because they see it as their only option.”
She says Gwynnie Bee encourages women to own only the clothing that they love. “In terms of value, members receive apparel valued around $1,000 of clothing per month for a flat monthly rate of $95, based on an average three garment at a time plan experience," she says. Of course, it's also important to note that beyond access to lots of great clothing, Gwynnie Bee also bears the burden of cleaning.
Sandy Silva, chief merchant from Canadian-based Rent frock Repeat, says customers see the savings almost instantly. “Our customers realize the savings from the first rental--the regular retail on our frocks is hundreds of dollars higher that the cost of a rental," she says. "Why buy a dress for $1,000 and up when you can rent for a fraction of the cost?”
Along with determining the right pricing structure, Valle says customers should do their homework before diving in with a rental.
Which Fashion Rental Company is Right For You?
How does the average girl know whether to Rent frock Repeat or just Rent the Runway? Valle explains knowing what you want and how fashions fit is vital to making your experience a success.
“Sizing is completely different for just about every designer when it comes to clothing,” she says. “Plus you have Italian, French and British sizes, which are entirely different--my suggestion is to visit a high-end store and select designers you like. Try on the clothing so you can see how the sizes run so you aren’t surprised or frustrated when you order a Valentino gown in your usual size and it doesn’t fit the same way.”
Also, some fashion rental companies only offer a limited number of sizes, only up to size 8, which may be a problem for many women.
Hunsicker points out her company makes sure fashions are available for all women. “First and foremost, the Gwynnie Bee service is focused on the end goal of delivering women sized 10-32 endless style possibilities and confidence every day. Our collection is designed to provide options for every occasion – from everyday work looks to casual weekend outfits to special occasions. No other fashion rental service provides the breadth of styles that we do to this historically underserved group of women.”
Also, if handbags are your fetish, look for companies that specialize in bags and accessories or include more than clothing. Some companies like Rent frock Repeat takes pride in being a high service based, dresses -only rental depot, whereas Bag, Borrow or Steal is defined by its designer handbags and accessories.
Also, don't forget, fashion rental isn’t exclusively just for weddings and proms, Hunsicker says.
“Many of our members incorporate Gwynnie Bee into their travel plans and excitedly plan shipments to arrive in time for their adventures,” she recounts. “They pack these camera ready looks along with our pre-paid return bags, then wear and return the looks from the road, leaving their loads a little lighter to return with souvenirs. In a world where Americans are posting 20 million photos per day to Instagram, women are loving being able to share the moments of their daily lives, always looking fresh and on trend without having to break the bank.”