The Best Fashion Rental Subscriptions: Perks, Costs, and How It Works
Half of my closet is dedicated to the dresses I’ll never wear again. They make me feel both guilty for letting them hang there unworn and uninspired when I actually try one on and realize I don't know what I was thinking when I bought it.
But wanting a fresh new look for every outing and social post can create bigger problems than an overstuffed closet. Chances are if you’re wearing a new look every day, you’re also supporting fast fashion (cheap clothes made in sweatshops that treat workers unethically and also use practices that contaminate the environment).
That's why I decided to start putting the monthly budget I’d typically spend on shopping toward testing out some clothing rental subscriptions. Below is a list of the services I tried, a breakdown of what I liked and disliked about each, the costs, and what to expect.
Rent The Runway
You’re probably already acquainted with Rent the Runway, and maybe you’ve already used the platform to rent a dress for a wedding or special event. The company was founded more than a decade ago and is one of the pioneers in the online clothing and accessory rentals space.
I signed up for the One Swap plan, which gave me 4 items per month for $89. Once my account was set up and plan was selected, I was able to start scrolling through and “hearting” my favorite pieces until I'd decided on 4 items.
What I liked:
- There’s a diverse and upscale inventory of designer labels. From Mischka Badgley gowns to Chloe handbags to Saint Laurent sunglasses, it’s easy to create an entire look that includes accessories and jewelry (just no shoes!).
- Shipping is reliable and quick. When you select your first shipment, you can expect it at your front door within four business days. When you’re due for a new order, the Rent The Runway app will notify you to send back the items (unless you want to rent them again the next month or purchase them for a discounted price), and you’ll have your next shipment within that same window of time.
- Shipping practices are pretty sustainable. Shipments are sent in cloth Rent The Runway garment bags, which means there’s no excessive packaging you’ll have to toss like cardboard boxes/plastic bags. Tucked inside is a return shipping label so that when you send items back all you have to do is pack everything back into the bag and move the label to the outer pocket.
- Items are, for the most part, what you expect. Because Rent The Runway offers ratings and submitted photos from other users who previously rented the items, you can feel pretty confident about whether or not an item is going to fit/look like it does on the model.
- The concierge service via email is responsive and helpful. They will answer any questions you have quickly and thoroughly.
- You can pause your membership at any time. You can easily do this by signing into your account and navigating to the “Your Membership” menu option and just clicking pause.
What I disliked:
- Newer items were often not available. Unlike when you go to reserve an item months in advance, when you're a member and it's time to swap your rented items, you're at the mercy of what's available. Oftentimes, the new arrivals and seasonal items are gone. For example, while there’s a variety of ski clothes on the site, renting a pair of ski pants in February is unlikely because someone else in your size probably already scooped them up. However, members receive a discount in order to reserve items early (which does mean paying on top of your membership for the stylish ski pants).
- Accessories are almost too tempting. Because the handbags, sunglasses and jewelry are so good (who doesn’t want a Michael Kors handbag to carry for a month before trading it in for a new Rebecca Minkoff clutch?) I found myself only getting one complete outfit for the entire month, which meant I had nothing to wear during the other 29 to 30 days of the month!
Cost: $89/month for 4 items; $135/month for 8 items (4 at a time); $199/month for unlimited items (4 at a time)
I signed up for Haverdash when they were offering a promotion for access to unlimited rentals (3 at a time) for $30 during your first month. Throughout the trial period, I was able to fit in one swap for a total of six items (I probably could have done another if I was really on top of things).
The site uses a system where you add eight items to your hypothetical closet and then you prioritize four. The company does its best to send you three of your four prioritized items.
What I liked:
- You read correctly, I rented six items for $30. I also received items I prioritized during both shipments.
- Labels are more laid back. Not every day calls for designer clothing. In fact, most days a BB Dakota maxi dress or a French Connection sweater works great. I found the items I rented from Haverdash were more appropriate for day-to-day looks than Rent The Runway.
- Items are, for the most part, what you expect. Of my shipments, there was one dress I didn’t wear, but the reviews said the neckline was way too low, and guess what? It was; so that’s on me.
- Shipping is reliable and quick. When you fill your closet and pick your priorities, the Haverdash team is notified to start preparing your shipment, which will arrive within four business days. Like Rent The Runway, Haverdash also offers the option to rent items again during the following month or purchase them for a discounted price.
What I disliked:
- Lack of variety. By the time I was done with my first month of rentals, I wasn’t super into any of the remaining items. While the site receives new inventory weekly, it has a lot of catching up to do in terms of its inventory in comparison to Rent The Runway.
- No accessories. You'll have to rent something that matches the handbags, jewelry and other accessories you already have.
- You can’t pause your membership — and canceling requires a phone call. Am I the only one who doesn't want to pick up the phone and talk to a real human? I’d much rather click a button on the website or correspond over email/a help chat.
- Shipments come in cardboard boxes. If you’re receiving two to three shipments per week, the packaging is pretty wasteful.
Cost: $59/month for unlimited items (3 at a time)
I added six items to my "closet" that I received in my Nuuly shipment just in time for a trip to Mexico City in November. I say just in time because the shipment was intercepted halfway to me and sent back to headquarters. After many email exchanges, the team made sure the package still got to me in time for my trip.
What I liked:
- Living in Los Angeles, the inventory is very Cali chic. Carrying designers like Cynthia Rowley, Modcloth, Urban Outfitters, and Nicole Miller, styles can be easily dressed up/down.
- There's no lack of variety. It took me hours to scroll through the different categories of clothing, meaning there you could subscribe for a while without getting bored/seeing the same items over and over.
- You can have 6 items out at once. There's no hassle in returning and sending shipments back throughout the month — just pick 6 and keep them until you place your next request for the following month.
- Sustainable shipping. Packages arrive in a cute little bag that's reusable, so there isn't any waste. However, to fit six items in each shipment, the clothing can be a bit wrinkled.
What I didn’t like:
- No accessories. Just like Haverdash, the items you pick will have to match the handbags, jewelry and other accessories in your closet.
- Might not appeal to everyone. The inventory is well curated, but if boho, alternative chic look isn’t your style, then you probably won’t find much you want to rent from Nuuly.
- Sizing can be an issue. Because the brands are on the indie side, the fit can be loose—great for those slim or tall women, but too much fabric for a more curvy or petit frame.
Cost: $88/month for 6 items
The Takeaway: My suggestion, if you can do it financially, is to pair either the Nuuly or Haverdash subscription with a One Swap Rent The Runway membership. This way, you have access to high-end accessories and dresses/looks for special events, but you also have some day-to-day looks. Be sure to take advantage of trial discounts (Rent The Runway currently has offerings as low as $69 for your first month).