Shopping is out of fashion: Why buy when you can rent?

Remember a time before music streaming and e-books, when people actually used to go out and buy CDs, paperbacks and all the rest? It could be that a full-to-bursting closet will soon feel as outmoded as a media shelf groaning with DVDs.

Renting your wardrobe is suddenly a thing — and we’re not just talking about traditional tux rental, (although that’s still around, of course). These days, there’s a bunch of new services and you can hire pretty much everything you wear, whether it’s for work, weekend or a black-tie event, and it’s estimated that the rental market will grow to more than $1.9 billion by 2023.

Reasons to rent? Well, you’ll never be snapped in the same outfit twice. You’ll have access to designer clothing at a fraction of the cost, and because it’s such a low stakes way to try a new trend, you can afford to be bolder and more experimental in your style. Plus, there are the environmental benefits — when you rent, you can stop losing sleep over your contribution to the world’s burgeoning clothes mountain.

Fancy breaking free of your shopping habit? Here are four ways to give it a go:

The designer destination: Rent the Runway

The whole rental movement was pioneered by two Jewish women, Jenn Hyman and Jenny Fleiss. Scandalized by her sister’s $2,000 splurge on a dress to wear to a wedding, Hyman began to wonder if it might be smarter to rent event dresses instead… and in 2009, Rent the Runway was launched. You can still rent a designer frock (the RTR roster includes names like Proenza Schouler, Rosetta Getty and Badgley Mischka) for a one-off event, but these days over 70% of its business comes from its subscription service. For $89 per month, you can rent 4+ pieces per month, while $159 lets you rent unlimited pieces on rotation — with shipping, dry cleaning and insurance all taken care of.

Emerging designers and vintage: Nuuly

Nuuly caused a stir when it launched earlier this year. More casual in feel than Rent the Runway, Nuuly gives you access to its URBN family of brands (Anthropologie, Urban Outfitters and Free People), as well as premium denim labels (think Citizens of Humanity and DL1961) and one-off vintage pieces. For $88 a month, you get access to six pieces, with laundry and shipping included.

Mono-brand: Vince Unfold

If you really, really love a particular label, the new wave of mono-brand rentals might be for you. Fashion fans are getting excited about the thought of a Ganni subscription (currently only available in its native Denmark), but in the meantime, California brand Vince was one of the first off the block with its Vince Unfold rental service. For $160 a month, you can rent four items at a time  — but, as with the old Netflix DVDs model (remember that?), you can’t specify what you receive in each shipment; instead, you’ll be sent items from your Edit as they become available.

Peer-to-Peer: Style Lend

You can rent out your apartment with Airbnb — so why not do the same with your closet? Style Lend is one of the new breeds of peer-to-peer services that lets you rent out pieces from your own wardrobe, or pay to borrow someone else’s. Brands they love include Reformation, Self-Portrait and Alice + Olivia, and they recommend listing items worth over $250 and less than two years old. So while it’s a great way to make money from a special-occasion dress that might otherwise be gathering dust in your closet, you won’t get very far with your Topshop or Zara pieces.

Susannah Cohen
Susannah Cohen is a fashion journalist, e-commerce editor (specialist subjects: lingerie and diamonds) and Jewish mom. Recently relocated from London to the West Coast, she’s feeling a lot more spiritual these days.