Rent a dress for that next holiday party

Instead of buying an expensive gown that you’re only going to wear once to a wedding, formal holiday party, or some other black-tie affair, consider renting a dress through RentTheRunway.com. Best of all, after you send it back, your closet remains clutter free.

It’s the female equivalent of a tuxedo rental shop, which is a much-needed segment in the market in my opinion. And, for a percentage of what you would pay to buy the dress, you have the convenience of not having to deal with future cleaning, storage, or the garment going out of style.

From the website:

1. LOVE
Browse through our array of A-list designers and find a dress you love. Or two!

2. WEAR
Schedule a delivery date and your dress will appear on your doorstep, in two different sizes. Just to be safe.

3. RETURN
Put your dress in our handy pre-paid package and drop in the nearest mailbox. We take care of the dry cleaning!

My only hesitation with the program is the cleanliness aspect, and RentTheRunway answers this explicitly:

All RTR dresses will ship to you directly from the cleaners, without any handling in between. We’ve partnered with a premier dress specialist in NYC—Slate Dry Cleaner—and developed a process that ensures stringent quality control. We’ll only ship dresses that receive a 100% fresh seal of approval. Slate Dry Cleaner is an expert in eco-friendly, luxury dry cleaning. Their environmentally safe process certifies that every garment is thoroughly cleaned and cared for, maintaining the impeccable quality of the garment while being kind to the environment (not to mention to your health!). Our packaging is also specially designed to fully protect the dresses during shipment.

Learn more about the program in the Frequently Asked Questions section of RentTheRunway.com.

28 Comments for “Rent a dress for that next holiday party”

  1. posted by Kathryn Fenner on

    I rented a dress for my firm’s annual fancy dinner once–the only fancy event I attended in the course of most years. If I had bought a dress, I would have only worn it once, unless it was very forgettable AND I was the same size the next year.

    Now, a minimal style is great, and one I’m aspiring to, but sometimes you want to make a splash. This is great, as long as the dress fits….

  2. posted by T-mag on

    Where was this post 2 months ago! I just delivered and wasn’t back down to my regular dress size. One more dress I may never wear again.

  3. posted by Maria on

    The annoying part: You don’t sign up–you “request membership.” Upon supplying name/email, I got this msg:

    “Thank you for joining our wait list. To guarantee that our customers get the best possible experience, we have to limit the number of memberships. But we’ll get you in—and into one of our dresses—as soon as possible.”

    Oh, thank you. Thank you SO MUCH.

  4. posted by Anita on

    Interesting idea. In a perfect world, I’d be all over this. However:
    1. It’s incredibly rare that any dress (especially in the evening gown category) will fit me perfectly without tailoring, and I assume no alterations can be made. They do say they include a “fit kit”, which seems to emphasize modifying yourself to fit the dress rather than the other way around; if you’re not a fan of taping things to yourself, it doesn’t seem to be of much use. Also: especially in floor-length gowns, a lot of women would need at least some hemming, I assume…
    2. What sizes do they carry? Do they have petite and/or plus size options? What designers do they carry? Is there a cost to become a member or any regular membership fee? What is the average price range of renting a dress, and how is it calculated (e.g. flat rate per day, or proportion of the dress cost)? What regions do they deliver to — e.g. limited to the US? North America? worldwide? These are all pretty basic questions I’d like answered before joining, yet they’re not covered in the FAQ.
    3. Perhaps my biggest gripe is that you can’t get any sort of idea of their actual dress selection without becoming a member, and there’s no description of what being a member entails (membership costs, for instance), at least not before clicking “request membership”.
    4. As Maria said, the wait list aspect is annoying. I appreciate that they want to limit the number of members to make sure their available selection is enough to cover their members’ needs, but (1) wouldn’t it make sense to expand their dress selection and get more business, rather than keep limiting their membership? and (2) if they do place a limit, at least have the courtesy of giving some sort of hint as to how long it might take to get you in, BEFORE you request a membership.

  5. Avatar of Erin Doland

    posted by Erin Doland on

    @Maria — The wait isn’t long. You used to have to wait for things like Gmail, Wave, netflix, and other services, too. Even the knitting site Ravelry made you wait. It’s not long.

  6. posted by Celeste on

    On a related note, I sold my wedding gown to a place that rented them to brides. This was in Idaho near a Mormon temple. I think the rental was a frugal alternative; many of those couples come from large families and marry young, so frugality is a key component of their lifestyle.

  7. posted by Jennifer Markowski on

    I signed up on the waiting list and was approved the next day. As for sizes, I think they only have up to a standard size 12. As more of a 14-16 I was out of luck. I did not see any petite sizing.

    Although, they do have a chat service with a “personal shopper”. She was able to tell me which designers ran big or small, so you may find that helpful.

  8. posted by Barbara Tako on

    I love this idea. Are there other stores that do this online or local stores in major metro areas? I am going to research this! Thanks!

  9. posted by chacha1 on

    Sounds like a cool idea, but I think most communities of any size are likely to have a thrift/consignment store, and frankly, if I needed to be confident of how I would look at a big event, I would want to try on a garment before making any kind of commitment.

    The big caveat is that gently used clothing like evening wear is most often available in single-digit sizes. For ladies of double-digit dimensions, what I think most fashion advisors would say is find or make a simple, flattering, elegant dress in a solid color of a rich fabric, for repeat use, and accessorize for each event. Most people do not remember what you wore, only that you looked nice and seemed comfortable. Stretch velvet seems to work really well for many women; it’s just tricky to sew at home. Many catalogs carry this kind of dress at prices ranging from $100-$200.

    p.s. Women obsess a little too much about their garments, and not enough about their hair. A great outfit can be completely eclipsed by bad hair! Learn how to color and deep-condition at home, and get a lesson in how to do evening hair. It’s not hard, but it does take practice.

  10. posted by Laura on

    I rented a dress in person from a place called (I think) “One Night Affair” in Los Angeles years ago when I needed something for a formal event. It was a beautiful gown, cranberry silk with beading, and we ended up using the pictures from the event as gifts that Christmas. I ended up spending around $100 on shoes and stockings, but those were reused multiple times. I don’t know if that store is still there, but I suspect that major metropolitan areas probably can support gown rentals and have similar services.

  11. posted by Jessica on

    Sounds like an interesting concept, but like others mentioned, I’m disappointed by the lack of info available on the site. Sizes? Styles? Price?

  12. posted by April on

    Nice for slim girls with no boobs or hips/butt, I’m sure. But for us curvy gals, this is an eye roll.

  13. Avatar of

    posted by jsights on

    I signed up on the wait list out of curiosity. I hope they don’t spam my inbox now. Though I’m not an off the rack shape either, and typically can’t wear something without trying on at least 2 different sizes. It’s a great idea, but one I doubt I’ll use. I bought a very nice, classic black cocktail dress half price when Lord and Taylor went out of business. I wear it once, maybe twice a year, and love it. I’m hoping this site works out better than I envision size-wise though. And that prices aren’t ridiculous. Could be fun.

  14. posted by chrisck on

    I think it’s smarter to own one terrific sleek dress that fits you beautifully and borrow fabulous (or fabulous looking) jewelry.

  15. posted by Gina on

    No — I’ll pass. It makes more sense to me to own one fabulous dress that you can change up with accessories(assuming you even need one).

    For starters, you’d never be prepared for an emergency need to dress up if you’re relying on this service.

    And then — well, I just don’t do used clothing.

  16. posted by JJ on

    This is a great idea, and in some cities (including the one I live in) you can go to a retail location that does the rental thing. Which makes much more sense, really. How many women can choose a dress without trying it on first? Seriously? I have to try on a dress to know if it will fit. Every time.

  17. posted by Erika on

    Doing this in a brick-and-mortar store is the only way this would work. It’s just a fundamentally bad idea to accept a dress that you’ve never tried on. That something fits doesn’t mean it looks good. It’s also my opinion that rented tuxedos are often shabby, ill fitting, and ugly. How will that translate to women’s formal wear where there’s greater expectation of beauty and proper fit?

  18. posted by Kayla on

    I LOVE this idea. I live in a place where it is frowned on to ever be seen in the same dress twice. I wish I had known about this a few weeks ago when I was forced to go out and buy a long gown when I have ten perfectly good ones sitting in my closet!

  19. posted by Rosemary on

    I just hired a dress for an event last Saturday night. It was fantastic. I’ve just had a baby (8 weeks ago), so the local maternity shop was the place for me. They have a range of formal dresses for pregnant / newly delivered mums and they do a roaring trade.

  20. posted by grace on

    I like the concept but having to sign up as a member/customer without being able to preview what they offer in terms of selection is a turn off and quite presumptuous. Also it adds to my ‘membership/subscription’ clutter. Lol.

  21. posted by Shana on

    Kayla: “I live in a place where it is frowned on to ever be seen in the same dress twice. I wish I had known about this a few weeks ago when I was forced to go out and buy a long gown when I have ten perfectly good ones sitting in my closet!”

    Me: That sounds…like an utterly absurd faux-problem easily remedied by refusing to play wasteful, ridiculous games like that. I wouldn’t last five minutes in that crowd, and it’s nice that the circle you run in uses resources so wisely. Perhaps if you didn’t keep buying one-use fancy dresses, you’d need not read Unclutterer….

  22. posted by Maria on

    Hi Erin:

    I like the concept. There are a couple of sites that offer similar “rentals” of high-end bags, jewelry and other accessories. The two I signed up for allowed browsing of their inventory before sign-up and immediate membership–unlike Rent the Runway.

    BTW, I still have heard neither yea nor nea from Rent the Runway and don’t know what clothing they offer.

  23. posted by Battra92 on

    I always wondered why they never had such a thing. I mean, I’m lucky that I can rent a tux if ever I get married but at any formal event the girls have to buy a dress. Maybe there’s business in renting Prom dresses too?

  24. posted by Erica M. on

    I “requested membership” not because I think I will have a need to wear an evening gown in the next five years, but because I wanted to daydream about the possibilities. I requested membership yesterday and was “admitted” today, so the wait really is not bad.

    However, the available size range was disappointing. I wear a size 16. Whee, another opportunity to feel like an outcast in the realm of modern fashion!

  25. posted by Jen on

    My membership was just accepted for this. I must say I’m pretty disappointed in the dresses. I was hoping to find gorgeous long, full gowns, but after going through many many pages mostly all they have is trendy, short dresses, or flowy hippie-type dresses. I imagine if I need to rent a dress because it’s too expensive for me to buy, it would be something extremely elegant, which is not found on this site.

    Also, I LOVE the dress on the main page (and linked in this article) but can’t find it on their site for the life of me!

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  27. posted by Emme K on

    i signed up about a week ago and still i am on the wait list…where as i see that some you were invited after two days…whats up with that?!

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