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?
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.