You’ve been invited to a wedding or another special occasion, and the only options in your closet are bridesmaid dresses (unwearable ever again, of course!), the Little Black Dress that everyone has already seen you in a hundred times, and a mini you’d need to do a juice cleanse to fit into. So, you could buy something new — or you could try Rent the Runway, a company that allows you to do one-time rentals of clothes. The word “Runway” in its name refers to the fact that these are items from top fashion houses. For the price of owning an inexpensive item you could buy on clearance, you can rock a high-end gown from designers like Amsale and Zac Posen.
Before you decide to shop at one of the most “disruptive” companies in the world (via CNBC), there are a few things you should know. Rent the Runway has three membership plans that allow you to rock a constant rotation of designer loot — including jeans, loungewear, designer purses, jewelry, perfect-for-work outfits, sunglasses, and more. They even offer maternity clothes!
Rent the Runway is all about the fit
Finding the right size and fit online can be a challenge for many women. “I can try on 30 items and only like how one of them fits, or I’ll have to try 3 different sizes before one fits,” Lyric_Boy posted on Reddit Female Fashion Advice. Frustrated fashionista fizzlepop agreed, adding that trying to follow a manufacturer’s guidance for what to order doesn’t always help: “Size charts tend to put me 1-2 sizes larger than I would have picked in person. I’m not sure why this is.”
To make it easier to find a size that fits – and flatters — RTR asks customers to review their rentals with the size they rented, their usual size, their height, weight, and bra size, plus pictures of themselves in their rentals. That way you can see how a woman with a similar shape looked in the attire. User reviews are often very detailed. “I loved the fit and feel of this dress. I ordered the 6r because that’s all that was in stock but normally I wear anywhere between a 2-6. It was definitely a snug fit but in a good way,” commented a customer who borrowed a Christian Siriano Sunflower Gown. Plus, if you’re doing a one-time rental of a dress, you get to choose a free, back-up size.
Rentals may smell bad
Funky fashion is fun. Funky-smelling fashion? Not so much. There have been some complaints that RTR rentals have various odors. “They all had a very strong chemical smell, I assume from the cleaning fluids,” noted a user on the DC Urban Moms and Dads board. RTR, however, says it stands by its “conscientious cleaning processes, focused on both wet- and dry-cleaning, us[ing] biodegradable detergents that are free from added fragrances and zeolites,” according to the the company’s site.
Even with this apparently rigorous progress, there have been times when a previous wearer’s body odor haunted a dress that made it through RTR’s detox. This actually happened to a die-hard RTR fan interviewed by Mama Kate Knows Best. (Though it didn’t deter her from renting again!)
One hack to avoid renting an item that’s seen (and smelled) better days is, when you’re shopping, to sort by “newest” instead of the default, which will show items by “recommended” (via Legos in My Louis). You may even end up with a never-worn-before item!
Forgetting to return your rental is expensive
As much as you might obsess about what to wear to a friend’s wedding, once the occasion has passed, it’s pretty easy to forget about the balled up ballgown under your bed. Not remembering to return it can be a very expensive mistake; RTR’s Terms of Service state it will charge up to 100% percent of the retail price of the item if you don’t return it when it’s due. That could leave you in the red by a lot if you chose an option like this Monique Lhuillier metallic gown.
There also may be late fees. Mary Taylor Renfro spent $35 on a dress rental, didn’t return it on time, and ended up with a bill for $1,072.36. “The fees they charged me [were] beyond exorbitant,” she told The Daily Beast. “And when I addressed the issue with customer service representatives, I kept being rebuffed and dismissed with lines like, ‘These our terms, and you accepted them, sorry.'”
If you love what you rent, you can buy it
But what if you loved what you rented so much, you don’t want to give it back? If you have a membership and contact RTR while the garment is still in your hands, you can choose to own it for less than the advertised retail price. There are also select one-time rentals that have a Try to Buy option. Make sure you pull the trigger while you’re still renting it, though — after you send it back, you won’t see an option to buy it later. Why this strict policy? It may be because other customers have already been promised the item you now want to own, theorized Shelly Province on Quora.
Rent the Runway does often have a clearance section, though, where you can buy previously worn clothes and accessories. If you’re lucky, you might be able to find the item you borrowed and buy it (along with many other used designer items) for a steal. Then you’ll be owning the runway!
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