I hate shopping for clothes for three reasons:
- I hate taking my shoes off in a dressing room to try on pants.
- I feel guilty about spending money on pricey clothes (If only I was so thrifty when it came to spending money on wine…)
- I feel like I’m wasting precious time in clothing stores that could be better spent doing something else … like writing these articles or watching Netflix.
As a result, I have a closet full of old tops and very few pants.
Sure, once in a while, I get in the mood to go shopping. But I always end up buying clothes that don’t fit well or I don’t like once I’ve left the store. Like 44 percent of women in a recent survey, I have a lot of clothes I never wear.
In September, I was forced to admit my lack of clothing had become a major problem when I returned to my job teaching at a university. My lack of clothing options, and propensity to wear Target jeggings instead of real pants, made me look more like a student and less like a professor.
At a Sunday brunch, when I was once again wearing jeggings, my cousin suggested I check out some clothing subscription services.
Somehow, I didn’t realize these businesses existed. But of course they do.
Like everything these days—from computer software to food—you can pay a monthly fee to have clothes delivered to your door.
That got me thinking—is a subscription service a better way to fill your closet instead of doing your own clothing shopping? Do you wear the clothes more often? Does it end up being cheaper than spending 3.8 percent of your yearly income on clothing (the amount a study found that the average American household spends on clothing)?
I decided to try out the two best known clothing subscription services—Le Tote and Stitch Fix. Here’s what I thought:
What it costs
$49 per month.
How it works
Remember when Netflix was strictly an in-the-mail rental DVD business? Le Tote works the same way.
When you sign into the web site, you’re asked to take a short quiz that includes questions about:
- Stores you tend to shop at
- Celebrities you dress like
- Your sizes
The resulting style profile, which you can change at any point, is forwarded to a personal stylist, who then packs a box full of three clothing items and two accessories based on your answers.
You can also add items to your “closet,” and if the pieces are in stock, your stylist will include them in the box.
Before the box is shipped, you’ll receive a text or email asking you to review the items. If you want to swap out an item for something else, you have 24 hours to do so.
The box will arrive at your door within three days.
You can keep and wear the items for as long as you like (but you’ll be charged on the same day every month, so to get the most value, you should return the Tote at least once per month).
To receive another Tote, you must send back the items in the pre-paid return bag.
You can keep any pieces you love and want to add to your wardrobe—just send the rest of the items back and Le Tote will charge your credit card (you can see how much the item will cost you on their web site).
I got my first Tote five days after I signed up (two days to get my box packed, and three days in transit).
I wore everything in it within a week, then shipped it all back for another Tote.
That’s six pieces of clothing and four accessories in one month for a mere $50.
Most importantly, I liked the clothes.
For my first Tote, I let the stylist pick out the pieces. But I customized my second one, which I was much happier with.
You don’t have to worry about cleaning any items. Le Tote takes care of laundering before they ship out your clothes, and after you return them.
You can also start and stop your membership easily, which means that during busy months, you can get a few Totes. And during those long winter months when you wear pajamas all day and never go out, you can save your money or spend it on food delivery.
Because it takes Le Tote a few days to style a box, and then 3 days each way to ship (not including Sundays), you’ll be Toteless for at least 8 days each month.
And unless you wear everything in your Tote the day you get it, and then ship it back the next day, it might be hard to get more than two Totes in a 30 day period.
A lot of people have complained online that the clothes are cheap and low quality. (I personally didn’t find this to be true.)
I did, however, have some trouble justifying the $49 per month fee.
After all, if you’re not that into fashion, and don’t shop much anyway, isn’t $588 per year kind of a lot?
I asked Le Tote what they thought about their prices. According to Sarah Bernstein, a representative from Le Tote’s PR agency, women spend an average of $250/month on clothes and accessories (they got these numbers from a Google Consumer Survey conducted on 508 people between May 02 and May 14, 2015).
“That’s 5x the amount of a monthly Le Tote membership,” Sarah emailed. “Users can say goodbye to buyer’s remorse because they get to buy what they actually love since they already took it on a trial run.”
She also noted that you’ll score discounts every time you purchase an item from your Tote. Every item you buy is up to 50 percent off the retail price. Whenever you keep an item, you get an extra item in your Tote the next month.
Clothing commitmentphobes who aren’t too picky about what they wear and can part with $49 per month.
What it costs
$20 per box
How it works
You know how rich people have personal shoppers? You didn’t? Well, they do. And now you can, too.
Once you sign in to the Stitch Fix web site, you will be asked to complete a style questionnaire that asks you about size, style, shape, budget, and lifestyle.
Unlike Le Tote’s questionnaire, this one is actually pretty meaty. It takes about 10 minutes to complete.
You then select a date to receive your shipment. (When I used the service, the earliest shipment date was two weeks away.)
Based on your answers, a stylist finds you three pieces of clothing and two accessories.
When the box arrives, you have three days to try everything on and make some decisions. You keep what you like and send back the rest in a pre-paid bag.
The $20 fee is applied towards any items you purchase. If you buy all five items, they’ll give you 25 percent off the entire purchase.
When you don’t like shopping, or aren’t good at making split-second dressing room decisions, having a box of clothes sent to your door each month is a godsend.
I really, really liked what the stylist picked out for me, and ended up keeping a shirt that I now wear all the time.
The clothes were of higher quality than what I usually buy for myself.
I didn’t like waiting weeks for a box. By the time it came in the mail, I’d lost some of my enthusiasm for the whole idea. But I get it—if you really want a personal stylist, you have to give the person time to find the right clothes.
For some reason, I felt anxious about trying everything on within three days and shipping it out in time.
I actually would have bought a pair of jeans they sent me, but they cost way, way too much money.
In the style profile, you’re asked how much you like to spend on various items of clothing. I chose “The cheaper, the better” option. But apparently my idea of cheap isn’t their idea of cheap.
If you don’t like anything they send you, you spent $20 for nothing at all. I wondered how many women end up buying something just to avoid the $20 loss.
People with flexible clothing allowances who need a second opinion whenever they go shopping.
- If you don’t like clothing shopping, or shop too much, a wardrobe subscription service may save you money.
- With Le Tote’s $49 monthly fee, you can “rent” clothes, with an option to buy them, for as long as you like.
- For Stitch Fix’s $20 fee, a personal stylist will shop for you. If you buy one of the stylist’s picks, the $20 is applied towards the purchase price.
- I personally preferred Le Tote because I don’t want to make any long-term clothing commitments. (I’m already married with a kid!)
- Stitch Fix may make more sense if you’re looking to add nicer pieces to your closet for the long term.
- Both services are easy to put on hold or cancel, making them easy to try out for yourself.
Looking for more shop-by-mail options? Money Under 30 tested these services so you don’t have to: