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What 4 STYLECASTER Editors Learned from a Month of Closet-Sharing
A large part of my employment is predicated on people’s ongoing desire to buy new clothes, so it’s maybe a little weird that I’ve become something of an evangelist for a service that encourages you to stop doing just that—or at least cut down on it significantly. Rent the Runway launched their Unlimited program in March of this year, giving members the option to pay a monthly fee of 9 for access to a rotating closet of designer clothes and accessories, which can be rented three at a time and kept indefinitely. “Clothes in the cloud” is the co-founder and CEOJennifer Hyman’s preferred catchphrase, and clearly, the concept is catching on: the company is on track to beat for the first time this year, with over 20 percent of that coming from Unlimited subscriptions.
I signed up when, a few months after one of my coworkers wrote up the launch, she said that she was still using the service even after her free month expired (real talk: editors get enough free stuff that when we’re actually shelling out money for something, it’s probably worth paying attention to.) Also, I needed an outfit for the Kentucky Derby and had precisely zero things in my closet that would go with the green-and-purple turban-hat I’d picked out.
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Not wanting to drop 0 on a Reformation dress out of obligation alone, and having scoured Zara to no avail, I took the plunge and signed up for an account (like more than 65 percent of Unlimited users, per Hyman, I was a first time RTR user). Especially with , the price was more approachable than most new outfits I’d have been able to find elsewhere, and I reasoned that with summer approaching, I’d need some new work clothes—something I’m never particularly thrilled about buying.
Since then, I’ve rented Jason Wu dresses for fancy work events, Derek Lam blouses for work—in white! A color I’m too scared to buy anything in—and Vince jackets for traveling. And yes, there have been misses—some things were awkwardly big, some way too small, others just not how I expected them to look from the photos—but at least with three items per shipment, the odds were always good I’d get at least one piece I loved. With the popularity of the service, the company has been beefing up their selection—the number of styles in their inventory has increased 160 percent in 2019, Hyman says, and they have added 85 vendors, including brands like Marni, See By Chloe, and Proenza Schouler. Other companies, too, have started offering subscription plans in recent years: there’s Gwynnie Bee for plus-size rentals, Le Tote for more affordable clothing and accessories (think Free People and Rebecca Minkoff), The Ms. Collection, and StitchFix.
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Unlimited’s 9 a month isn’t cheap, it’s true, but if you spend enough on clothes already and maybe swear off Seamless, as I did (well, mostly), it can be justifiable. Plus, there’s the matter of dry cleaning. RTR has the biggest facility in the world at their Secaucus, New Jersey warehouse, and the service is included in the price of Unlimited; dry cleaning has always been one of my least favorite things to pay for, but now I harbor full-scale resentment at anything I own that costs -plus to clean. For those who live in Manhattan, delivery is fairly speedy—if I drop my returns off at UPS on a Monday, I can expect a push notification Tuesday prompting me to make a new selection, and that to arrive at my door by Wednesday or Thursday—but across the country, the average turnaround time is four to six days. The convenience factor also goes up significantly if you live in a city with a brick-and-mortar RTR store—currently Topanga, Georgetown, NYC, Las Vegas, and Chicago.
And while I probablydohave enough clothes, an occupational hazard of my job is that I see new ones I want every damn day (I know, poor me) and, like everyone else I know, have neither unlimited funds nor unlimited space. A few of my coworkers jumped on board, too, after seeing that the pieces I got were not, in fact, the sequin gowns that the company made its name renting when they first launched in 2009, and others still wanted to give it a shot, so I rounded up a few members of the STYLECASTER team to try out Unlimited for a month or two and give me their honest reviews—shipping foibles, sizing issues, and all—as well as their thoughts on what we’ll be renting and what we’ll be buying if closet-sharing becomes the future, all of which you can read in the gallery below. Now, the only thing we have to worry about is showing up to the office in the same Yigal Azrouel jumpsuit (retail price: ,490).
"I’ve never tried any sort of renting service most for the same reason I hate shopping at online-only stores: I hate the return process. This one was relatively easy because I could physically return it to the NYC store, though."
Tibi White Stretch Culotte; at Rent the Runway
Waverly Grey Blush Evie Coat; at Rent the Runway
"And while the selection of clothes wasn’t amazing for everyday wear—I tend to wear slouchy neutrals, rather than shift dresses or anything contemporary—I did find a few things that suited my style: The beige coat from Waverly felt like heaven, and I probably wore the white Tibi culottes three times a week during the time I had them. "
"Because I don’t know my size in many of the brands RTR offers, I ended up ordering a size 4 (the only size available at the time) in the Donna Karan skirt, which ended up being huge in the waist. I remedied it by wearing it with a longer top and I eventually threw a bomber jacket around my hips to cinch it when it got too loose at the end of the day."
Donna Karan Black Slit Shadow Pencil Skirt; at Rent the Runway
"Overall, I’d say it was a great experience, but I do wish they offered a higher percentage off if you opted to buy something, rather than return it."
"Because I was doing a photoshoot I picked some bolder pieces that I wouldn’t have normally selected, but as I was looking through the site I was aware of the large variety of clothes RTR has. It’s pretty impressive."
"I would have definitely purchased the pieces I rented if my checking account had a couple more zeros at the end, although there were also some gorgeous items that you could really only wear one time."
"They also have a wide array of sizes, which I really appreciate. When I first heard the name of the company, I just assumed their clothes would only go up to a size 6."
Trina Turk Navy Sedona Dress; at Rent the Runway
"The delivery was fast and neat. The clothes came expertly packaged. I really have no complaints. It would be great if they had someone come up to your door and pick up the clothes … well, a girl can dream."
"I've been using Unlimited for a few months now and definitely notice an impact on how I spend my money, fashion-wise—I'm less inclined to make impulse purchases when an impulse rental will satisfy the urge for something new to wear, and if I can rent something comparable to a top or dress I like, I figure why buy it?"
Tanya Taylor Black Nicolette Dress; at Rent the Runway
"Instead, my purchases lately have been mostly shoes, vintage, or pieces by independent designers, all of which I tend to end up liking more in the long run anyway. On RTR, I usually gravitate towards designers like Tanya Taylor, Tibi, Carven, and Thakoon—not the highest of the high-end brands they carry, but ones I definitely couldn't afford to fill my closet with otherwise."
"I've tried renting handbags and jewelry, but didn't really find those to be worth it for me. I'm not nearly organized enough to switch bags regularly, so I usually stick to the same one until its basically an extension of myself, and other than a pair of serious statement earrings by Oscar de la Renta that I was aliiittle bit obsessed with, the jewelry selection never wowed me enough to forgo a dress or jumpsuit. I've had issues with delivery here and there (if something is returned late or damaged and can't be sent out, you may not find out until a day or so after you've placed your order), but the customer service is pretty damn quick—something I can't say for every e-commerce site."
Carven Brown Pilot Leather Jacket; at Rent the Runway
"I'm also pretty lucky in that I live next door to a UPS store, so drop-off is a cinch—if you don't have a doorman or an office to get packages delivered to and picked up from, I could see it being a headache. On a related note: I've learned to study the reviews like there's going to be a test—if someone who's my height (5'8) or taller says something is too short, I won't risk it; if a couple people say to size up, I'd rather just do it than have to send a piece back right away."
"This was my first RTR experience, and it was kind of addicting and overwhelming at the same time. Though the site allows you to filter by body type—an awesome feature that I now believe all sites should have—it's not totally comprehensive, especially if you're tall like me. I'm 5'11 with crazy long legs and arms, so it's always a toss up to see what dresses will look like baby clothes on me, or what coats and sweaters will barely cover my forearms. This was easier to mitigate when a bunch of users had already reviewed the clothes with selfies, but everything I happened to rent was new, so I was flying blindly. Which, unfortunately, led to none of my stuff fitting properly and having nothing to wear on the day of the shoot, except for this BCBG dress. (Also, because of the fact that my second shipment got delayed in some place called Maspeth, NY, so I didn't get them in time for the shoot—sorry again, Hilary!)"
BCBGMAXAZRIA Emerie Shift; at Rent the Runway
"I also found myself playing it safe and picking clothes I pretty much knew would fit, because I was too scared to have to keep sending things back and re-ordering. This BCBG dress is super flowy—I added the skinny black vintage belt myself to break up the pattern and define my waist—so it could have flattered pretty much anyone. Basically, I would have been way too scared to use Rent the Runway if I had a big event coming up and was relying on something from here fitting the first time around. I think, though, if you’re a “standard” height—5’6” to 5’9”—you’d have an easier go of things fitting, though I guess that could be said of any site.
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