Over the past two months, I’ve fallen in love with a new retail service that gives me unfettered access to gorgeous clothes and jewellery from designers like Tory Burch and Jason Wu.
The service hasn’t been without its problems. Rent the Runway’s CEO Jenn Hyman admits Unlimited, which rolled out a year ago, has gone through about 40 different versions as the company struggles to make it successful.
But from a customer perspective, it’s worked well the past few months. And it has completely changed the way I view my wardrobe.
Here’s the deal:
I first heard about Rent the Runway Unlimited when company CEO Jennifer Hyman talked about it at last year's South By Southwest conference in April.
Rent the Runway's primary business is leasing out dresses on a one-off basis. They usually cost under $100 for either a four or eight day rental. But Unlimited offers something completely different.
The rules are simple: Pay $99 and receive as many dresses, accessories, or everyday-wear clothing that you can squeeze into a month's time.
The idea appealed to me so much because I'm the kind of person who loves clothes, but generally spends my money on cheap, trendy items from the likes of Forever 21 and H&M.
So, I signed up for the Unlimited beta immediately. I did not, however, get off the waitlist immediately.
Full disclosure: I actually ended up talking to someone from Rent the Runway before, finally, six months after signing up, the magical invitation appeared in my inbox:
The site promises thousands of designer pieces, ranging from dresses to bags, and you rent items out in increments of three.
It took about four days for them to arrive at my office, folded neatly in a re-usable tote with hangers and plastic bag around each one. Eventually, I'd use the same bag and a pre-paid shipping label to return the dresses.
I couldn't believe how quickly I fell in love with the service. Although I've always worn dresses to work and social events, I started getting way more compliments from both friends and strangers alike.
And more importantly, I just felt great. Surprise surprise, a $425 dress truly does look and feel about 10 times better than the pieces I usually shell out $40 for.
I enjoyed catering my selections to upcoming events: ordering a sequined dress to complete my Halloween costume and several professional looking pieces for a big conference. Plus, Unlimited gave me the opportunity to try new styles I'd never experimented with.
When you're done with the dresses you simply fold 'em up, plop them back in the bag, and send them back. Rent the Runway takes care of the dry cleaning.
You can't order your next set of dresses until Rent the Runway receives your returned items. Although shipping in both directions varied, I found that it generally took about three days. The way I was using the service -- giddily placing my order as soon as it was possible and wearing the clothes I received almost immediately -- that roughly translated to being able to wear nine dresses per month.
That's an insane deal, compared to Rent the Runway's usual prices. For example, this teal Parker dress costs $136 for a 4-day rental, but I was essentially getting to wear it for about $12 (with tax, my subscription cost $107, divided by nine dresses).
Of course, because you can't try things on before you order and every brand has slightly different sizing, sometimes you end up with things that don't fit or look quite like how you imagined.
Although it didn't take a lot of mental acrobatics to realise what a steal Unlimited was compared to Rent the Runway's traditional service, I still had to grapple with whether I should actually renew my subscription for a third month or not.
On the one hand, spending $107 a month on fashion is way, way above what my 24-year-old clothing budget normally allows. And these were dresses that I couldn't even keep.
It made me question: What do I really value in my wardrobe? Traditionally, I'd placed an emphasis on quantity over quality. This service lets me get both.
I like how 'sharing' the same dress with lots of other people instead of buying a bunch of pieces to wear three times then forget about lets me feel like I'm not contributing as much to the wastefulness of cheap fashion. But there's still the big environmental cost of shipping items back and forth...
Ultimately, I decided that the confidence, excitement, and experimentation Unlimited allowed me made the investment worth it, at least for a couple more months. I'm not ready to commit to buying a $400 dress, but using the service will allow me to get a better idea of what I may eventually want to splurge on. I do envision a day in the hopefully not-too-distant future where I will have a seriously pared down wardrobe, with only a handful of really nice, sustainably-made pieces.
Not long after making my decision though, I got an email telling me that Unlimited was actually boosting its price to $139 a month. Before tax, that's $1668 a year.
Hyman recently admitted to Fortune that Unlimited has gone through 40 different iterations. I've heard independently that the $99 model was a big money-loser for Rent the Runway (and how could it not be?), so the price increase makes sense.
As an early user, I'm locked into the old price for six more months, so I'm definitely going to continue for now. I think the $139 a month tier will still make sense for a lot of people -- namely, those with more disposable income than me who still struggle with the same desire to have a varied wardrobe -- but I'll personally have to re-evaluate in July.
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