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Our Complete Guide to Clothing Rental Subscriptions—How Do They Work & Are They Worth It?

Anna Reilly
ByAnna ReillySep 2, 2020 | 7 comments

introducing our complete guide to clothing rental services and subscription boxes

The newest trend in fashion? Renting your clothes! New clothing rental companies are popping up every day in our Instagram feeds, while existing brands like Urban Outfitters and Ann Taylor are starting to offer rental programs in addition to their on- and off-line stores.

But are these rental programs really worth it? What makes renting better than buying?

What is a clothing rental subscription?

Fashion rental services let you rent one or more pieces of clothing and/or accessory items for either a set or an unlimited amount of time, depending on the rules of the program. It's kind of like having a big virtual closet that you can draw from on a regular basis.

There are clothing rental programs for women (including maternity, petite, and plus options), men, and kids, covering everything from casual clothes like jeans and tees to special occasion styles like ballgowns and tuxedos.

So, other people wore these clothes before me? Are they clean?

Oh yes. Most programs have extremely thorough (if not downright high-tech) cleaning processes in place to ensure no piece gets rented back out without looking and feeling like new. That means you can expect clothes that, apart from a quick steam, should be just as fresh and tidy as something you'd see at the store.

It also means that you don't have to worry about laundering your rentals. Obviously, you'll want to keep your pieces in relatively good condition while they're in your care. (If you spill a glass worth of red wine on your rented cocktail dress, you'll likely be stuck paying for the damaged item.) But you can return your items worn and unwashed without consequence.

Why is renting better than just buying new clothes?

First, renting isn't definitively better than buying. For example, most programs only let you rent around 3-4 pieces at any given time, so they're not great for overhauling your entire wardrobe. You also tend to have less choice and control when you rent from a brand rather than when you buy. Not all clothing brands with rental programs put their entire catalog up for rental, and even if they do, they may not let you pick exactly what goes into each order. (Most programs have you add your favorite items to a wishlist, and then the system picks which pieces from that wishlist are actually sent to you. More on this later on...) And of course, if you're looking to stock up on essentials—simple tees and tanks, jeans you'll wear 'til they wear out, a jacket you'll want all winter—buying is probably the better option.

But clothing rental services are an awesome solution for supplementing your wardrobe. We recommend renting if:

  • You love trying new trends, even if they're fleeting. When you rent, you can wear something once and return it. That means no regrettable purchases hanging around your closet.
  • You're a habitual shopper. Many rental subscriptions let you pick new pieces as often as you'd like for one monthly fee.
  • You're shopping for a special occasion. Some rental companies do one-off rentals that are perfect for weddings, important meetings, you name it.
  • You're on a budget. It's often a little less expensive to rent a piece than to buy something at retail. (More on this next.)
  • You like to try before you buy. Sure you can try clothes on for a few minutes in a fitting room or in front of your bedroom mirror. But with renting, you actually get to try that new style, silhouette, or color in real life. Wear it to work or out on a date. Wear it as often or as little as you'd like. And if you really like the specific piece you've rented, most programs will give you the option to buy it (often at a discount).

Top: Anna in Rent the Runway. Bottom: Marne in Vince. Unfold. Right: Taryn in Infinite Style by Ann Taylor.

Is renting clothing cheaper than buying new clothes?

For the most part, yes. If you're just doing a one-time rental, you'll undoubtedly be paying less than the retail cost of that item. There are also "unlimited" rental services that charge a monthly membership fee for access to their inventory on a continual basis (sort of like a library of clothes that you can pull from as needed), but that fee is typically a fraction of the retail price you'd pay for the items you can rent.

Honestly, though, it comes down to how much you personally spend on clothes. If you're someone with an active shopping habit, spending, say, $50 per month to try three or more pieces might seem like a steal. On the other hand, if you're someone who's happy rotating through the essential items they already have, you might be better off spending that $50 on some for-keeps pieces and calling it a day.

What kinds of clothes can I rent?

Everything from jeans and tees to bridesmaids dresses and polished office attire. There are even programs that let you rent accessories, like jewelry or handbags. The options are vast (there are programs that offer plus sizing, petites, and even maternity options) as are the price points—we've seen clothing and accessory programs that range from $21 per month all the way up to $160 per month.

Here are just a few examples of clothing and accessory programs for different occasions and aesthetics:





Left: Marne in Le Tote. Right: Taryn in Infinite Style by Ann Taylor.

How many pieces can I rent at a time?

"Unlimited" clothing rental subscriptions, which let you borrow from their inventory for a monthly fee, typically let members rent about 3-5 items at a time. Remember, though, that many programs let you swap those pieces out for different items as often as you'd like. (In other words, you won't have to wait 'til next month for something new.) And most clothing rental subscriptions offer free return shipping to make that process as painless as possible.

So I just pick what I want to rent & they send it to me, right?

Well, not necessarily. While some programs give you complete control over what you get and when, we've seen a few services that use a "wishlist" system—essentially, you'll browse available items, note the pieces that interest you, and the rental service will send you a random assortment of those items. In some cases, you'll be able to tell your service which items to prioritize if possible, but it's often the luck of the draw.

Do I have to subscribe to something long-term?

Some clothing rental subscriptions offer one-off rentals, though most follow unlimited programs, which require a subscription. That said, most unlimited clothing rental subscriptions are easy to cancel. We recommend noting the date of your next charge in your calendar when you sign up—that way, if you're not happy with the service, you can cancel before your account is charged for the next month.

Here are some examples of one-off and unlimited clothing rental programs:

One-Off Rentals:

Unlimited (Subscription) Rentals:

Left: Anna in Rent the Runway. Right: Liz in Gwynnie Bee.

What happens if I totally ruin something I rented?

First, know that most clothing rental programs expect some light wear and tear. Some of them even have "insurance" built into the cost of their membership to cover the cost of small imperfections.

But if you really do ruin an item (or lose an item), you may be responsible for the cost of that piece. We've found that most clothing rental subscriptions are a little dodgy about what the consequences are for returning an item in bad condition (as well as what the line is between "normal" wear and tear and "damage"). The good news is, your penalty will likely just be the cost of the item (which should be less than retail). But if you're renting a $500 dress, that could be a heavy penalty.

Long story short, we recommend being careful with the pricier pieces you rent (maybe swap the red wine for white while you're wearing these looks), and if you're nervous, double check with customer care on all the details before you sign up.

I heard it's more sustainable to rent clothes. Is that true?

In some ways, yes, but it's hard to give a definitive answer on this one. The fast fashion industry is a huge weight on the environment, between the manufacturing process, distribution, and ultimately, the speed at which fast fashion gets tossed in favor of new items. Renting clothing means individual pieces can have many lives—once you're tired of a piece, it's passed to someone else to enjoy, and so on—rather than each person buying their own item only to wear it once or twice.

But clothing rental subscriptions still have their own carbon footprint to consider, thanks to culprits like shipping and large-scale dry cleaning. And fast fashion brands are still continually manufacturing new trend-conscious pieces to offer their rental program clientele.

In other words, it's not a perfect system, but it could help you personally curb your consumption in a way that supports both the environment and your budget.

Left: Taryn in Gwynnie Bee. Right: Marne in Vince. Unfold.

Ready to try a clothing rental service for yourself?

Tell us why or why not in the comments!

Anna Reilly
Anna Reilly
Anna loves collecting little treasures, be they pop-culture finds, handmade mementos, or new potions to put in her makeup bag. Beauty boxes got her interested in the subscription world, but now she's swooning for all things kawaii!

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Anna, thank you for you review.

I am absolutely in love with Vince Unfold. The price is definitely worth it to me, since most of their items are >$160 each.

I love the surprise effect of not knowing what it comes on the next package. The only time I used “prioritize”it worked out, and the item came on the next one.

It is very easy just to add a bunch of pieces to the Wishlist, because everything they have is so classy, and easy to use.

I didn’t have good luck with bottoms, so I stick to sweaters, coats and blouses. Once you know your size, you never go wrong.

My hack is just to click return item, the very same they I receive the items, that way, they start to prepare my next one, and by the time I return the current items, the next shipment has arrived (usually 5 days for the whole thing). I have encountered great deals with up to 80% off retail, but I don’t purchase anything, to me, the maximum benefit comes from not owning, and just trying new stuff every week.

I have looked at other programs, and I wouldn’t feel as confident that I’m going to like all of the selection as with Vince. I’m waiting for the summer season, to test if they perform well with non-sweaters.

Thanks again.

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This weekend I signed up for the Express box, but found out after signing up that it was mostly career wear, which means this first box will be the last one for me. I also gave a try to LE tote and Haverdash and cancelled immediately because they had very little in my size (L).. Both LE Tote and Haverdash give you just a few days to get the minimal number of items in your closet and I really didn’t want to spend the next few days poring over their websites in hopes that something I wanted would be returned. I was also surprised to find how limited the inventory was in each of these three services. I had high hopes going into this, but this is a no-go for me going forward.

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My daughter has been enjoying a clothing rental subscription and thought I’d like trying one too. We both love variety in clothes and “used” to be shoppers. With Covid19, nobody is allowed to try clothes on in stores (in Oregon). So if I buy off the rack, & it doesn’t work out when I get home, I have to return it anyway (if the store allows it, some don’t allow returns at this time).
I basically hate the return process of anything, but it looks like these companies make it as easy as possible, with return postage guaranteed. And, I wouldn’t have to “face” an interrogating store clerk in person.
I’m going to try one of these clothing rentals, after reading this article. I still like to dress up once week, on Sunday, for virtual church, it’s been good for my moral.

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Anything that requires me to package it up and mail it back is a big “no” from me, but that’s just because I hate packaging things to ship. I’d end up missing deadlines and end up paying for keeping stuff.

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Anna Reilly

I am also SO bad with returns, Melissa! I’m pretty sure most of these services include prepaid shipping envelopes (GIANT ones, too, where you don’t have to work too hard to pack your clothes inside). I like the services that use USPS – I can just leave the bag on the stoop for the mailman to pick up, so I don’t have to go anywhere – but if there’s any scheduling to do (even if it’s online), I’m wayyy less likely to do it, haha. Mail is hard sometimes!

So glad you brought this up, Melissa!!! Definitely check out the shipping/returns FAQs for a service BEFORE you sign up!

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Anna Reilly

(Ooo thanks for the heads up about the comments on that post, Lizc! We’ll get that fixed ASAP!)

To me, the value in rental really comes down to whether the model fits your lifestyle. For instance, I’ve recommended rental programs to friends of mine who are big shoppers – the kind of folks who “have nothing to wear” no matter how full their closets are 🙂 If you’re already spending a good bit on clothes each month – clothes you already might not wear more than once or twice – then a rental sub might let you spend a little less, try a little more (most programs cost at least a little less per month than what it’d be to buy the pieces you’re renting at retail), and not have to worry about clogging your closet.

It’s totally possible that you could find those rental items for less at other stores. I love a deal, I’m just less excited about the task of hunting them down across the internet. (I can be a lazy shopper 🙂 ) I am with you on the higher-end point, though! Personally, subs like Rent the Runway or Rebecca Taylor RNTD get me the most excited – it’s a chance for me to try these designer looks on my non-designer budget.

Sorry to be so long-winded – there’s lots to get excited about/consider/know when looking at rental subs! I’ll be curious to see whether other readers have tried one of these programs and what they think, too!

Thanks Lizc!

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I noticed on one of the recent reviews for Gwynnie Bee that it actually looked as if it was cheaper to buy the items than subscribe!!!!!! And there was no way to write comments on the review???? My feeling is that maybe for higher end items it might be worthwhile to rent, but the low end, probably not.

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