Considering Clothing Rental? Here’s How

You rent a car when you fly to another city, stream movies on Amazon, and use bike share to zip around town. So why not rent parts of your wardrobe, whether it’s to keep costs down for a formal event or just to shake up your day-to-day look? Plus, by not buying new clothes for every baby shower/work presentation/beach vacation, you’ll be reducing the clutter in your closet and, sometimes, supporting sustainability. 

“I like the idea of using these rental places for special occasions, when you’re starting a new job, or while your style or weight is fluctuating,” says Kaarin Vembar, senior editor at Retail Dive, an online publication that tracks the businesses of both online and brick-and-mortar retail.

So how do you navigate the clothing rental market? Here’s our guide to when and how to use fashion-for-hire sites, plus how not to spend too much or wrack up fees for damages.

How Clothing Rental Works

Rental fashion sites operate in two ways. The original model, pioneered by and still available via Rent the Runway, lends you one item at a time for special occasions, say an A.L.C. blue satin cocktail dress (four-day rental, $65; MSRP $500). Most rental businesses now also offer subscriptions where, for $45-$250 a month, customers borrow from one to several accessories or pieces of clothing. 

For instance, Vince Unfold charges $175 a month to hire out four items from the minimalist-cool men’s and women’s label; upmarket Armoire Style wants $249 a month to send you six items (Rag & Bone blazers, African-print dresses from Zuri) at a time with unlimited trade ins.

With both subscriptions and one-off rentals, stuff is shipped to you. When you’re finished with the items, you mail them back via a prepaid label and the rental company dry cleans and/or mends the stuff before ferrying it off to the next customer.

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Peer-to-Peer Clothing Rentals

Peer-to-peer clothing rental sites and apps have also come on the scene in recent years. People make extra cash from their gently worn party gowns or designer shoes by listing them via outfits like Pickle and Social Closet, setting their own prices and either arranging a local hand off or shipping via a provided label. 

Like peer-to-peer selling sites Poshmark and Vestiaire Collective, these rental portals take a small cut if you use them to rent out your Manolo mules or Arcina Ori sundress. “It feels like a more formalized way of having some girlfriends over to rifle through your closet and borrow things,” says Vembar. 

Sustainable fashion expert Alden Wicker, author of To Dye For: How Toxic Fashion Is Making Us Sickand How We Fight Back, suggests an even greener and cheaper alternative if you need something to wear to a party or big presentation: “ask pals who are your size if they have a dress or blazer to lend you. I’m lucky that I have a strong network of friends I do that with.”

Plus, says Vembar, “the used clothing market is so strong right now, you may be able to find a high-style, high-quality dress or blouse for less than what you’d rent it for.”

When Should I Rent Clothes?

Overall, rental services and subscriptions might provide the best value (and style) for maternity wear or special-occasion clothing: black-tie gowns, bridesmaid dresses, even spendy diamond earrings for a wedding. 

And while using a subscription to endlessly change out your wardrobe is cheaper than purchasing the same Tory Burch sandals and Ulla Johnson dresses, don’t fool yourself into thinking you’re saving the environment this way. “It’s much like buying fast fashion to rent a bunch of stuff every month and ship it back,” says Wicker. “The most sustainable thing you can do is buy something you love and wear it all the time.” 

Rent Clothes Sans Rip Offs 

Read the fine print on damage and late fees. In some cases, messing up a rental might mean paying for it—and with Bag Borrow or Steal), you’ll have to cough up the MSRP price for the item when sold as new. But most other companies don’t charge fees for damage from minor stains and wear.

Late charges range from steep to liberal. Rent the Runway charges up to $50 a day per late item; Nuuly says it doesn’t have late fees or damage fees.

For special occasions, give yourself plenty of lead time. Both Nuuly and Rent The Runway offer a nice selection of party and daywear, but popular cocktail dresses can be booked months in advance during wedding season.

Check the time terms of the rental; some sites lease out clothes for four to eight days; others let you keep things until you feel like returning them.

And with peer-to-peer sites, use the same stranger-danger rule you would for Craigslist sales: Meet in a public place and trust your gut if something feels off.

Some Rental Sites We Like

Armoire Style: Women-owned brands (Yumi Kim, Sachin & Babi) and higher-end labels (Equipment, Rag & Bone) star at this clothing subscription site, where $89 a month gets you four items for a month and $249 nets you six items and unlimited swaps. Answer questions about whether your taste leans bohemian, edgy, or sporty and Armoire’s algorithm will suggest items for you.

Bag Borrow or Steal: Pretend to be a wealthy socialite by renting designer bags. Prices range from $50-$600 a month. Highlights: a yellow Balenciaga city satchel ($250 a month, retail $1,500); Chanel quilted chain bags ($425-$600, retail prices in the thousands).

Dare and Dazzle: This Sonoma, Calif., wedding and bridesmaid dress boutique both sells and rents frocks. Borrow a lace V-neck wedding number for $400 for 10 days or buy it for $1,400; a red velvet attendant’s dress is $50 to rent or $120 to buy. Brides in other cities can book a consultation online and have clothing mailed to them.

Gwynnie Bee: Women’s clothing sizes 0-32W is for rent on this website, where subscribers can purchase things they like or send them back to trade in for new pieces an unlimited number of times monthly. GB lists a range of recognizable department-store brands such as Maggy London, Vince Camuto, and Karen Kane. Monthly rates: $49 for one item, $199 for 10 items. GB also could be a nice option for people who fluctuate between sizes.

Motherhood Rental: For $69 per month, moms-to-be can borrow three items at a time from the maternity clothing chain and its higher-end sister, A Pea in the Pod. This seems like a practical service for the body changes of pregnancy and includes styles like a fête-worthy Rachel Pally caftan (MSRP $250) and basic jeans. Note: Armoire, Nuuly, and Rent the Runway also offer some maternity clothing.

Nuuly: Launched in 2019, this is a subscription service run by the parent company of Anthropologie and Urban Outfitters, meaning that the site offers casual-to-formal dresses and tops from its stores’ private labels plus designers like Farm Rio. Pricing and policies are simple: Subscribe for $98 a month and get six styles.

Rent The Runway: Known for glam party frocks and work clothes by mid- to high-level designers, RTR leases out women’s styles for special occasions as well as via monthly subscriptions ($94 a month for five items at once, $235 per month for 20 items). For special occasions, you can either select dressy items as part of your subscription or opt for one-time rentals of dresses or other party pieces. One-time rentals last four or eight days and include a backup size in case the first one doesn’t work or fit. Sample four-day rates for party frocks: $35 for a Lauren Ralph Lauren floral maxi dress (MSRP $280); a showstopping Badgley Mischka pink gown for $138 (MSRP $795).

Vince Unfold: Vince, a label known for sleek minimalist work and dressy clothes, offers a monthly subscription for $175 that ships out four men’s or women’s pieces at a time, such as a striped shirt dress for her (MSRP $450) and a guy’s relaxed navy blazer (MSRP $455). We think the price is a bit high, but corporate types with frequent meetings or presentations may find this the best bet for business wear.