I — like many women — don’t keep my closet stocked with the latest trends in formal fashion. Also like many women, my body is shaped weird, and I’m certain I’m the only person who never looks good in a single item of clothing ever.
After a lot of recommendations from friends over the years, I’m finally going to try to solve my fashion ineptness this year by getting my event outfits from Rent the Runway, the original clothing rental service.
What is Rent the Runway?
Rent the Runway (RTR) is a clothing rental service for designer dresses, casual wear, professional styles, and accessories. Founded in 2009, the company started a trend toward a “circular economy” for clothes — basically, making pre-worn fashion cool.
RTR started with one-time rentals focused on dresses for special occasions — weddings, parties, that time you get invited to the Emmys and don’t have designers clamoring to outfit you for the red carpet…
They’ve since expanded to add a monthly membership option and style options to back it up, including activewear, casual styles, and workwear — for when you want to dress to impress for a conference, big meeting, or just be dazzling in the office every day.
How does Rent the Runway work?
You can browse RTR styles and rental prices as much as you want before signing up. You just have to enter your ZIP code to confirm availability in your area. You can enter dates you want to rent for or just browse without dishing out that information.
Then you can browse items with tons of filters, including color, body type (e.g. pear, hourglass, etc.), sleeve length, skirt length, embellishments (e.g. prefer sequins or floral print?), neckline, age range, and — if you’re so in the know — designer.
You can read tons of customer reviews and see their photos to get an idea of what the items look like in action. This is super helpful if you’re worried about fit, comfort, body type, or any of the eight million things we think about when trying to choose a decent outfit, especially off the internet.
Once you choose what you want to rent, you can add it to your bag for a one-time rental, or drop it into your first shipment to start a membership.
As you make your way through the checkout process, you’ll be prompted to start a membership and see offers for accessories to add to your rental. Because, marketing. Don’t worry; you’re not signing up for a subscription (but… check your cart before making your payment just to be sure).
At checkout, you’ll just enter your shipping address and payment information to place your order.
Items ship one to two days before your delivery date. RTR recommends choosing a delivery date two days before your event to give yourself time to try it on and exchange if you need to. That means, for a four-day rental, you’ll have to get it in the mail by noon on the day after your event — so if you’re expecting a late night, you might want to shell out for the eight-day rental.
The company provides everything you need to return your items: a reusable garment bag, box, hangers, and prepaid shipping label.
You don’t have to do laundry — they prefer that you don’t wash your rentals, because the proprietary dry-cleaning process is designed to give them a long life (and your building’s washing machines almost certainly are not).
Pricing for Rent the Runway
One-time rental pricing
Depending on the retail value of an item and, likely, the item’s popularity, one-time rentals cost anywhere from $30 to around $100 per item. Wedding guest dresses with a retail value of about $200, for example, rent for about $50.
Monthly membership pricing
|8 (4 at a time)
|16 (4 at a time)
Basic closet access includes casual and workwear styles with retail values up to $350, while Full closet access includes RTR’s full selection, including formalwear and designer items valued up to $3,500.
If you need more variety, you can add an extra item to your shipment for $25 (if you receive one monthly shipment) or $29 (if you receive two or four shipments).
Rent the Runway features
RTR lets customers rent for special occasions, sign up for monthly memberships to make regular swaps, or buy pre-worn designer clothes at discounted prices.
They’ve transitioned to focus on membership options, but RTR’s signature service is still one-time rentals — especially of dresses for special occasions.
You can reserve an item for a four- or eight-day period around your event, choosing a delivery date one or two days ahead. Search for styles by color, length, trend, size, occasion, and more; choose your item, size, and rental dates; and book it.
Every order comes with a free backup size, and you can add a second dress for $32.50 if you want even more options. Try it on as soon as you get it, and if it doesn’t fit, RTR tries to overnight a replacement for you for a $12.95 shipping fee.
After you wear the rental, you send it back to RTR in the provided postage-paid package through FedEx or a Rent the Runway Drop-Off Box. The company dry cleans everything, so you don’t have to worry about laundry.
With a monthly membership subscription, you can rent 4 items at a time, up to 16 per month, for a flat monthly price.
Pieces you rent with a subscription don’t come with return dates, so you can wear them for as long as you want. If you want to keep it forever, you can buy it.
Free Fit Do-Over
Memberships include one Free Fit Do-Over you can use within the first two months of your subscription. This feature lets you exchange items from a shipment without counting against your monthly limit or costing more.
New customers also get a Free Fit Do-Over with their first order — in addition to a backup size, you can choose a second style to accompany your rental for free. (Note: this feature was included with the coupon GETDRESSED at checkout when I researched RTR for this review; it may not always be available).
College students can get 25% off a one-swap membership — normally $89, but $67 per month for students. The membership gets you one shipment of four items per month.
To get the discount, you have to verify your student status through the student-deal site UNiDAYS.
RTR blends eco-consciousness with hygiene, health, and safety in its proprietary cleaning process. It uses non-toxic, biodegradable, fragrance-free detergents; steam-cleaning; and reusable garment bags to clean and protect items in the warehouse.
No need to clean your items when you receive them or after you wear them. RTR takes care of that part for you.
Rent the Runway offers a selection of clothes for kids ages 3 to 10 for rent alongside their closet for adults. You can choose one-time rentals for kids, use part of your monthly membership to rent kids clothes, or purchase a regular membership just for them.
The kids’ clothes selection is much smaller than that for adults. It’s mostly dresses and skirts but also includes some jackets and even a few onesies.
Jackets, coats, and sweaters
Need something stylish for cold weather? You can rent comfy designer sweaters, plus wool and faux fur jackets and coats — so you don’t have to ruin your splendid RTR dress by hiding it behind your old puffer coat.
Most people don’t need a fresh formal dress several times a month, so RTR offers plenty of casual wear to make a monthly membership worth it. You can find a limited selection of rompers, jeans, leggings, activewear, shorts, and casual tops for rent.
Complete your look with rented jewelry, handbags, scarves, hats, and sunglasses.
Rental prices for accessories feel a little steep — they’re in the same range as dress rentals — so adding a few pieces to your look could really bump up the cost of your night out. But accessories are top-notch, from designers including Derek Lam, Phillip Lim, Marc Jacobs, and more, so rental prices are just as much of a steal as they are for dresses.
RTR offers a selection of brands from more than 700 designers — everything from Adidas to Marc Jacobs to Stella McCartney to Ralph Lauren and more.
Want to get killer discounts on (used) designer clothes? RTR customers have two ways to buy items from the company’s selection:
- As a member, anything you include in your membership shipment is available to buy anytime.
- Clearance items are available at discounted prices to all customers. These are pre-worn items that are most likely slightly out of date and not as popular with renters as they used to be.
My experience using Rent the Runway
RTR comes highly recommended by friends, so I wasn’t surprised by how well the service fit my needs.
I loved that I could start my search by “occasion” and let the website act as a personal stylist to tell me what someone of my age and body type might wear to a wedding. It’s a godsend for the fashionably challenged.
I also like that each item comes with tons of customer reviews and photos to give you an idea of how these items actually fit and look on people who aren’t professional models in professionally styled product shots. You do run the risk of spending hours reading reviews to make the right decision, and at that point, it might be quicker to make a run to Target.
Compared with competitors, Rent the Runway offers the best experience for a special occasion rental. They’re the only one I could find that offers one-time rentals without a membership, and their filter options — combined with customer reviews — give me peace of mind that I’m choosing the right piece for my body.
Who is Rent the Runway best for?
RTR was founded by two women, Jennifer Hyman and Jennifer Fleiss, and their stated mission is “to power women to feel their best every day.” Dresses make up the bulk of their clothing selection, and their business and casual styles all cater to feminine-presenting folks.
RTR doesn’t offer gender-neutral styles or styles for masculine-presenting adults or children.
Weddings and special events
One-time rentals are perfect for special events like weddings, graduations, parties, galas… anytime you want to wear something special. RTR lets you be prepared for special occasions without keeping your closet stocked with fancy dresses for every season.
RTR has a selection of maternity styles as well as non-maternity styles they deem “bump-friendly” (think: high-waisted dresses with flowy skirts). They’re a great option to cover a special occasion that falls during your pregnancy, without buying a formal maternity dress you’ll never wear again.
A monthly membership is well-suited for professionals who want to keep their wardrobes fresh. Rotate your outfits with designer blouses, tops, blazers, sweaters, skirts, pants, jumpsuits, and accessories you might never dish out hundreds of dollars to own.
Who shouldn’t use Rent the Runway?
Rent the Runway sizes max out at 22, so the platform doesn’t serve people who wear a larger size.
For bigger sizes, look into competitors like Nuuly, which offers up to size 40, and Fashion to Figure, which offers a clothing subscription for sizes 12 to 24.
RTR doesn’t offer gender-neutral styles or styles for masculine-presenting adults or children. The company’s target audience is women, and their clothing selection caters to feminine-presenting folks.
Pros & cons
- Subscribe, rent, or buy — RTR offers a variety of ways to enjoy designer styles without shelling out luxury prices. You can rent one-time, subscribe for monthly swaps, or shop clearance items to get discounted designer clothes.
- Free backup size — The four-day rental window for one-time rentals is nerve-wracking; if it doesn’t fit, you’re out of luck. The backup size offers some peace of mind that you’ll have something to wear when your special occasion rolls around.
- Green cleaning process — RTR’s proprietary cleaning process uses non-toxic and eco-friendly products to keep clothes clean, and safe while being environmentally responsible and keeping your clothes free of irritating toxins and fragrances.
- 700+ designers — As the original clothing rental company, RTR has one of the biggest selections of brands and styles on the market.
- Max size is 22 — RTR clothing sizes max out at 22, so you’ll need to look to competitors for larger sizes.
- No masculine styles — The company’s signature offering is a dress for special occasions, but even their casual and professional styles are all exceptionally feminine. They’re not a fit for anyone who prefers more neutral or masculine styles.
Rent the Runway vs. their competitors
|Rent the Runway
|Fashion to Figure Closet
|One-time rental prices
|Feminine, Maternity, Activewear
|Feminine, Maternity, Vintage
|Feminine, Activewear, Trendy
|Masculine, Trendy, Vintage
|Wedding, Casual, Work, Cocktail, Night out, Black tie
|Casual, Work, Night out
|Casual, Work, Night out
|00–22, incl. petite and plus
|00–44, incl. petite and plus
|XS–XXL, 28–37 bottoms
Nuuly is a subscription-based clothing rental service with a selection of funky, vintage, and trendy casual, feminine-style clothes from about 350 mid-level designers.
Unlike Rent the Runway, Nuuly doesn’t offer a wide range of formal wear or professional styles, and they don’t allow one-time rentals. Instead, they’re focused on casual styles; even their few formal dresses and cocktail outfits are more whimsical than RTR.
Nuuly offers one subscription option: for $68 per month, you get six items. At the end of each month, you can buy or return any items and choose new ones. Nuuly handles the cleaning and pays for shipping both ways.
Fashion to Figure Closet
Fashion to Figure is a retailer that sells feminine style clothes in sizes 12 to 24. Headquartered in New York City, they have a few retail stores around New York and New Jersey, and they sell directly online through fashiontofigure.com.
FTF Closet is the retailer’s subscription rental service. They draw from the same 100+ suppliers as the main retailer to offer rotating styles at a flat monthly rate. For $54.95 a month, subscribers get three items at a time. You can wear them as long as you want, then buy them or return them to exchange as often as you want for new items.
Instead of selecting specific items through FTF, you create a “closet” of between eight and 20 preferred items, and the company selects three to send you a box. FTF covers shipping and cleaning for you.
Seasons is a clothing rental membership for masculine-style casual and professional clothes from 50+ high-end designers. They’re a good alternative to competitors for anyone looking for upscale gender-neutral or masculine styles.
The company’s newer than others in this list, launched in 2019, so their selection, processes, and customer service capabilities are still developing. You might get more personalized service from the small team, but you’ll face a smaller selection and fewer options, too.
Membership includes one swap per month at three price levels: $65 per month for one item at a time, $95 for two items, or $125 for three items. You can get an additional swap for a $35 fee. Seasons pays for shipping both ways and takes care of cleaning.
Rent the Runway stands out among almost all competitors with their one-time rental offer. They tap into a need women in particular often feel: to look spectacular at this summer’s 17 weddings without filling our closets with 17 $200 dresses.
The rental option also stands out against subscription competitors like Stitch Fix, which are focused on selling you their items instead of renting and reusing. Subscription members can keep their wardrobes fresh without overloading their closets or depleting resources.
RTR styles are definitely curated to appeal to young professional women, with a lack of diversity for gender-neutral or masculine styles, or plus sizes to serve more body types.
With working from home and social distancing dominating my life in the near future, I won’t be jumping on a membership anytime soon. But it’s nice to know the service is there to help me find an affordable dress for the occasional wedding or another special occasion — so I don’t have to show up in the same old thing for the next seven years.
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