I, like many other women, love shopping. There’s nothing like wandering around a clothing store, trying on as many clothes you can bring into a dressing room and walking out with two bags filled with items you probably don’t need.
American families spend more than $1,800 per year on clothing and related services, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But instead of shelling out hundreds on clothes you may not want to wear again in a year, what if you could rent your wardrobe?
That’s where Rent the Runway, also known as RTR, comes in. Under their Unlimited membership, for a set monthly price ($159) women can rent from a collection of designer clothes (yes, this is very millennial). You can rent four items at a time, but swap them out as many times as you want. Technically, you can rent a new outfit every week.
RTR offers another membership option, called Update, which is $89 a month. Unlike Unlimited, you can only rent four items for the entire month, with only one swap per month. You also have limited access to the clothing options. In addition, you can rent individual pieces for a couple of days without a membership plan. The prices vary depending on the item.
I wanted to know if this was actually a good deal, so I contacted a friend who works at the company who offered me a free month’s trial. From there, I rented a month of designer clothing, for the sake of journalism.
Here’s what it was like to rent my wardrobe for a month.
Picking what to wear on my first day was the hardest part. There are a hundreds of options. For inspiration RTR has pre-made shopping lists catered to different styles, events and even weather.
I ended up picking a $78 pink velvet top from Slate & Willow, a $248 pair of blue jeans from Current/Elliot and a $695 long black leather jacket from Slate & Willow, which I ended up keeping the whole month because I loved it so much. My entire outfit cost $1,021, which six times more than the monthly cost of RTR. The prices were based on the items’ retail values, which were listed on RTR’s website.
Though I felt richer walking the streets of New York, no one seemed to notice that I was wearing designer clothing. In fact, I found the jeans to be more uncomfortable than my $8 jeans from Goodwill.
More money doesn’t always equal more style. Here are some tips on dressing “extra” for less.
How Rent the Runway works
I quickly learned the tips and tricks of the app. Though you can only have four items at once, it’s relatively easy to swap outfits. After the first day, I quickly fell into a routine. I ordered an item in the morning, got it in the mail that night, and wore it into the office the next day. During lunch I walked a couple blocks to a Rent the Runway store (yes, they have brick-and-mortar locations), dropped the previous day’s items off, and ordered a new item on my phone.
Swapping outfits may not be this easy for everyone, however. You can only instantly exchange items if you live near a RTR store or a designated drop off location (you can find the nearest one to you on the RTR app). The other option is to drop the clothes off in the bag they came in at the closest post office (RTR provides a return shipping label with your clothes). It takes one to two business days for them to receive the clothes and allow you to order new ones.
Rent the Runway also gives you the option to purchase an item you’re renting for a discount. I bought a leopard-print shift dress that was a hit at work (in my opinion) and I got it for $41, more than 50% off the retail rate.
Not everything fit well. Sizes differ for different items, which means not everything is flattering. A black jumpsuit I wore to dinner with my parents was too tight at the waist and too loose everywhere else.
‘Extremely annoying issues’
I’ve had friends use the service who warn against RTR’s strict damage-and-return policies. If you return a product extremely damaged (think major stains), you could be on the hook for the item’s retail value. If you are renting an individual item and return it late, you can expect a $50 dollar charge each day until it’s returned. I didn’t run into any of these problems, but I recommend checking out their terms of service before renting.
I ran into a number of extremely annoying issues when it came to canceling my free trial. I returned all my clothes and sent an email asking for a cancellation a couple days before the trial end date to make sure I wouldn’t get charged. But they still charged me $173.11. After a couple of angry exchanges with customer service, I got a refund, but it was a sour ending to an otherwise positive experience.
Is Rent the Runway worth it?
RTR is an amazing deal if you are always on the hunt for the latest trends and spend a large amount of money on clothes. I rented 22 pieces of clothing. The total retail cost of all the clothes I rented in one month was $6,188. If you are constantly buying and discarding clothes, this service is definitely for you. I loved the feeling of having new clothes all the time, and it was fun to see how different styles looked on me.
But I don’t think RTR is for me. They didn’t offer pieces that matched my personal style. I felt the clothes were geared towards slightly older women who dress for a more formal work environment. I also thought the price was a bit too steep. The $160 monthly cost of the Unlimited membership adds up to $1,920 a year, more than what the average American family spends on clothing, and you don’t own the clothes when the year is up. I spend less than $100 a month on clothing, so it doesn’t feel worth it.
What’s more, the trouble I had canceling my subscription makes me a bit averse to trying it again. But everyone’s experience with the company will likely be different.
The biggest lesson I learned from RTR? I have way too many clothes. After my trial ended, I went through my closet and threw away two big bags of clothes I hadn’t worn in months. If your closet is in need of a good spring cleaning, check out this guide to monetizing your old stuff.
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Image: Phillip Blackowl