It’s 8 p.m. as I sashay towards a table to meet my friends for a drink. I feel like the belle of the bar in my orange, cold-shoulder top with embroidered birds dancing across the collar bone. 

Every blonde in the room pops her head up to have a look. I bask in the attention, dripping in designer pieces, from my Tanya Taylor Red Elien top to my Kate Spade pearl-studded, chain-link purse. 

But as Cinderella could have told me, nothing magical lasts forever. Just two days later, I’m feeling sad as I toss my beloved shirt into a black canvas bag, postmarked for New Jersey.  

Such is the life of a Rent the Runway subscriber. I can't rationalize paying $250 to rent a $495 shirt on my $150 monthly clothing allowance. But the subscription falls closer to my budget, and I like the environmental friendliness of re-wearing gently used clothes over buying new ones.  

So I tried it out this spring. Rent the Runway’s unlimited service lets you borrow up to four designer items at a time and keep them for as long as you want, for $99 for the first month and $159 a month going forward. If you want to buy something permanently, you get a discount. 

The company also offers cheaper options that lets you rent individual pieces or four pieces per month, but I thought the unlimited service would help me better curb my shopping addiction. Would getting a fresh batch of rental clothes whenever I wanted help me resist the temptation to buy something new?  

Marisa trying on her Rent the Runway outfits.
The author trying on three of her favorite pieces from Rent the Runway. Courtesy of Marisa Torrieri

RENT, WEAR, REPEAT  

After signing up for the unlimited plan, I learned that some items that were available through the cheaper plans weren't available on this one. I had a few moments of remorse, but fortunately there were enough stunning items to covet. 

In the past, I would buy clothes I only kind of liked, then feel guilty when I didn’t wear them much. Now, I’m more attuned to what I love — and Rent the Runway delivered, like with this BB Dakota Braelyn Leather Jacket.  

I had a crush on it. And with my new subscription, I could keep it indefinitely. It took up a semi-permanent spot in my closet.   

My online shopping decreased, but that didn’t mean I spent less time online: I’d escape, for large chunks of time, into the Rent the Runway app, browsing rentals and “liking” my favorites.  

I couldn’t rely on the service for my whole wardrobe — I still needed running shoes, underwear, bathing suits and other basics. I also missed the joy of occasionally walking into a store and trying something on. Case in point: When I visited a Patagonia store in May to request a repair, I saw a stunning floral navy bikini made from recycled polyester and just had to try it on. I fell in love (plus, I couldn’t get swimwear on Rent the Runway) and ended up breaking my monthly clothing budget to buy it.  

But even beyond the impact to my wallet, there’s a psychological element that I didn’t anticipate. I went down a rabbit hole of browsing gorgeous designer dresses that don’t make sense unless you regularly attend film premieres. I so badly wanted a reason to rent one, so I got a full-length silk Parker maxi dress in lavender to wear to an evening event at my son’s preschool. I had hoped to rent more dresses, but I realized my days of fancy parties had dwindled considerably since I took up motherhood and working from home.  

CRUNCHING THE NUMBERS 

In total I rented 12 items of clothing and accessories for $258 in membership fees. I also purchased that Patagonia bikini for $140. Not too bad, right? Except that, as I was preparing to send back the BB Dakota jacket I wore nearly every day in April, I noticed its sale price had dropped from 10 percent off to 60 percent off — it could be mine for $236! I bought it as a belated Mother’s Day gift to myself.  

I was giddy about the deal, but with total clothing spending of $634, I had gone $484 over my budget — mostly because of a jacket I would have never bought had it not been for Rent the Runway. 

I could not keep the subscription at the cost of other important budget line items, like my kids’ karate lessons or my retirement fund contributions or future trips, so I put it on hold. Even among my personal discretionary budget items, clothing wasn’t high on my priority list. I would much rather keep my bimonthly trips to the salon and boutique gym membership.     

Still, it was a learning experience, I felt it was good for the environment, and it was fun to rent a $600 bag. I can still revisit Rent the Runway’s unlimited subscription if my financial situation changes. In the meantime, I’m looking for other rental or clothing-share services that offer subscriptions at a price point that can help me pump up my wardrobe without going financially overboard.   

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