It’s wedding season. For 20-somethings, that can mean devoting every weekend to some related celebration.
For women, wedding season also means you need a lot of outfits.
Thanks to Facebook and Instagram, paired with the sheer number of festivities, women (gasp) might have to wear the same dress twice. Worse, their friends might notice (double gasp).
Rent The Runway (RTR) launched in 2009 to help women expand their wardrobes in a budget-friendly way. It was founded by Jennifer Hyman and Jenny Fleiss and has raised $US54.4 million from Conde Nast and a slew of venture capital firms. Instead of buying a dress outright, RTR offers a selection of designer brands and new styles that can be rented for a quarter of the cost — as long as you don’t mind wearing a gown strangers have already worn.
The trend of renting over buying is increasing. Getaround is doing it for cars and Airbnb is doing it for short term apartment stays. Poshmark lets you buy clothing straight from another user’s closet.
As someone whose guilty pleasure is buying dresses, I’ve resisted Rent The Runway for years. I’d rather buy, own and recycle my own clothes.
But when a friend had a black tie wedding this past weekend, I couldn’t justify buying an expensive evening gown. There aren’t enough opportunities to wear a $US500-1,000 dress.
I turned to RTR, the startup a lot of my “normal,” non-techy friends already use religiously. Ultimately, I got to wear a $US1,700 dress for $US150. But the experience wasn’t headache free.
My first RTR experience began last month, when I signed up for an account and scoured multiple pages of dresses. I fell in love with a few, but decided on a unique Yigal Azrouel gown that retails for $US1,495. For four days and $US210 dollars, it could be mine. The price was steep for a one-time wear, but still cheaper than buying a gown. Plus, I’ve never worn something that expensive. Fun!
I used the “customer photos” feature to help me pick an accurate size. Normal, non-model customers send in pictures of themselves wearing RTR gowns. They share their height, weight, bust, and build, then explain why they loved or disliked the dress, along with which size they wore.
Rent The Runway didn’t have my size available the weekend I needed it, so I settled for one size up. Rent The Runway sends you two different sizes in case one doesn’t fit.
A few days before my gown was supposed to arrive, I got a voice message from a Rent The Runway customer service representative. She offered to answer any questions I might have about my first rental. The day before my dress was supposed to ship though, I received a less thrilling voicemail.
The gown I ordered had been ruined by the previous renter. It wouldn’t be available for my black tie wedding, so I was instructed to pick a different dress on the website. I could pick any dress I wanted, even one that was more expensive, for no extra charge.
(Apparently a ruined gown on RTR is not a normal occurrence. A friend of mine who’s a frequent renter says she’s never encountered that issue. )
I was bummed. With one day to spare, there wasn’t a ton to choose from in my size. It was becoming clear that Rent The Runway has an inventory problem.
I found two dresses that would suffice and emailed the customer service representative. I was told my second choice dress also wasn’t in stock, but the third-choice dress would be shipped right away.
My third choice dress, a bright red $US844 Carlos Miele gown ($US150 on RTR), arrived on Friday in place of the ruined gown. It came in a branded box, tucked inside a black garment bag. On the garment bag was a thank you card and some trinkets from RTR partners, including fashion tape, shampoo and Q-tips.
The gown was even prettier in person. But when I tried it on, it didn’t fit and I wasn’t given a back-up size.
I now had three failed attempts at renting from the runway. My black tie event was Sunday and I still had nothing to wear.
Frustrated, I emailed the customer service representative about my predicament.
The customer service representative continued to be both understanding and accommodating. She asked me to pick another dress from the site. This time, instead of sending me one style, she offered to send me one size of three different gowns (none of the gowns I inquired about had both sizes requested in stock). She also threw in a matching clutch and a pair of earrings for the hassle.
I was grateful. Surely I could make one of these three gowns work. The next morning, they all showed up at my door. I lucked out; the best fitting dress was the most expensive of the bunch.
Last night, I wore the black, Narciso Rodriguez $US1,695 gown and felt comfortable among the other beautifully-attired guests. I’ve shipped back the first dress that didn’t fit; the other gowns, earrings and clutch will be shipped back tonight. Rent The Runway provides pre-paid shipping packages, so all you have to do is get to a UPS drop off location.
Despite my initial frustration, it was a good decision to use Rent the Runway that ultimately saved me a lot of money ($US150 rather than a few hundred dollars for an average gown). And, although three of the four dresses didn’t fit me well, all of them arrived in perfect condition. You couldn’t tell that they’d been worn before, minus the missing price tags.
For a less dressy affair though, I’ll put that $US150 towards an outfit I can own or borrow from friends for free. Guessing your dress size when dealing with designer brands is a challenge, especially when inventory is limited. You also can’t make alterations to a dress that isn’t yours.