Posh for a Night
One of the benefits of dating a man of the press is that you get to go to events you’d otherwise never get invited to. One of the downsides is that you have to actually dress nice for these events despite what you have in your wardrobe…
The event dress code was blue cocktail attire. So after giving up on my own wardrobe, scouring my friend’s closets to no avail and finding no affordable clothing options, it finally hit me: I had been intending to look into a clothing renting business called Rent the Runway (RTR).
The RTR website boasts scores of beautiful dresses. The options range from casual to ball gown – I was impressed with the selection. In general, the site is structured so that you may select a dress from the website and have it shipped directly to you. When you are finished, you mail it back. Pretty simple.
I happen to live near one of the few brick-and-mortar stores, so I decided to go in and pick up my dress that same night.
One woman, Ariel, attended the store. I went on a Wednesday night, so likely not their busiest time. She was sweet and helpful. I went alone and asked her if she could be my stand-in best friend (sad, I know) to tell me honestly what she thought of the dresses. She seemed to have a good knowledge base for how a dress should fit, what was appropriate for a specific event, etc.
The store itself was very chic and fun. A comfortable sitting area was arranged outside of the dressing room to give friends and family a place to chill and watch you flaunt your picks. They also sold undergarments, jewelry and other helpful accessories. The dressing rooms were large and outfitted with high heels (woo!).
(Excuse the non-classy mirror picture)
The selection in store was obviously smaller than online. Everything in the store is online, but not everything online is in the store. Even so, I was happy with how many options I had. I wanted a long dress, it needed to be blue, a size 0 or 2 and not too fancy. Even with those criteria, I had five solid contenders.
After Ariel helped me decide which dress was a winner, we figured out pricing and I checked out. I paid upfront and walked away with the dress in a garment bag.
The next day, I received an email telling me I had to drop the dress off at a UPS store by Saturday, 12 PM (I rented it on a Wednesday). I was confused because I thought I could rent the dress for four to eight days and I wanted to choose the eight-day option. After looking on the RTR website, I concluded they likely wanted the dress back in four days if possible, but eight days was the limit.
On Monday morning, I called and asked a few questions about the return. I was told the dress did, in fact, need to be mailed on Saturday and there is a $50 late fee per day. I explained my confusion and the Customer Service representative told me that since it was my first time, she would excuse the fees. She was helpful without making me feel like I was inconveniencing her or I was just dumb. That kind of attitude is not as common as it should be in customer service.
So, overall, I'd give the RTR customer service a B+ grade - I have no complaints, they were gracious with me, but they also didn't go above and beyond. The overall experience gets a B+ as well. It was relatively easy, non-stressful and enjoyable. I was satisfied with the product and I will likely use the service again.
I was very happy with the rental. It was a beautiful color (I know that calling it “blue” is contentious, but whatever), it fit well and was long enough for me (which is often hard to find in normal stores). There weren’t any hidden issues - no funky smells, weird stains on the inside or raggedy hems. The dress was in prime condition and seemed fresh. It felt like high quality apparel.
As happy as I was with the experience in the store and with the dress itself, I found myself a little confused when it came to the details of renting and returning. I wanted to save you all any trouble in the future.
Call and talk. As with most businesses, I suggest speaking with someone on the phone. They were gracious with me and I saved myself at least $50 by just calling.
Late fee. Know that you’ll pay $50 for each day it is late.
Free Shipping Label. You should have a free return shipping label that comes with every order, don't lose this! If you do, you pay for shipping.
Coats, Jackets, Rompers and skirts. Keep in mind, they have more than just dresses.
If you’re going in to the store:
20% discount. If it’s your first time ordering from this company, you should receive a 20% discount. If you walk into a store, it's not as prominently displayed as on the website. Ariel was nice enough to give this to me without me even asking, but otherwise I wouldn’t have known I could get it.
Four or eight-day rental. If you're renting from a store, be sure to specifically ask for an eight-day rental so you don't have the same problem I did.
Go in mid week. The stores are targeting cities with large weekend party scenes. You’re more likely to have a larger selection if you beat the weekend, last-minute rush. If you go too early in the week, the dresses from the last weekend may not be returned yet.
Ask for a return label. Even if you pick your dress up from a store, you can still ask for a free shipping label.
Walk-ins are free. I was disappointed when I saw an in-store appointment was $25. They didn’t readily advertise on the site that walk-ins are free. They say that to get any help on picking a style, etc., you’ll need a stylist appointment, but Ariel was readily available to help me despite my walk-in status. I’m not sure if paying for an appointment is really worth it, has anyone done it?
For ordering online:
Order a long. If you’re ordering online, you have the luxury of ordering specific lengths depending on the dress. For certain dresses, you can order a short, normal or long. And all the tall girls say, “yaaaas”.
Free additional size. Don’t forget to add an extra size for free. And also keep in mind that you can order any additional dress for $32.50.
If you're interested in hearing more about this event, check out my editorial on One Night for One Drop in Las Vegas.
It was $100, I recieved a 20% discount and then insurance and tax added up to a total of $91.93. I know it says $160 on the site right now, I have no idea why.
A screenshot of the RTR website.
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I strongly believe in the concept of reuse and reduce. It's generally a maxim that calls to mind plastic water bottles and recycling bins, but this concept shouldn't end there. It's something we can apply to nearly all areas of life. It not only benefits the environment, but also our society and our finances.
Companies such as Rent the Runway appeal to the need to save money without sacrificing elegance and quality. They also allow us to be part of a larger movement - slow fashion. By refusing to purchase a new dress for every event, fill a closet and leave clothing to sit unused, we combat wasteful practices and excessive consumerism. Society says, "You need to redo your closet to match this season's line. Toss the old, bring the new!" Whew, that's hard to keep up with! Why not purchase the basics to last, and bring in some exciting pieces in an economically, environmentally and socially sustainable way?
In an interview with Bloomberg Business, RTR co-founder Jennifer Hyman explains part of the reason why this rental model can be so important:
“When you think about the utilization of clothing, the average American women is buying 64 new articles of clothing per year, half of which are worn three times or less. There’s considerable pressure on women, especially who are professional, to have newness and variety in their wardrobes all the time. And that’s compounded by social media. So if you look at what happened pre the era of Facebook and Instagram, we were actually buying less articles of clothing per year. Now, the only mass-market retailer that can cater to this extreme need we have for variety have right now at an average price point that anyone can afford is H&M and Zara. So, fast fashion. And that’s why fast fashion is the only segment of the fashion industry that’s grown over the last 15 years. So this really provides a substitute to spending your dollars on fast fashion” (see the full interview here).
Now I'm just on the lookout for a company that not only promotes less wasteful consumerism, but that also does it by renting ethically produced clothing! Anyone have any leads?
I will use the service again. I will likely invest in one nice dress at some point in life, but if I come to frequent classy events, I will use this service to add variety to my formal wear in a more sustainable and economical fashion.
The concept of renting is very hard for me. I'm thrifty to the bone and the idea of paying money for something I can't even keep is definitely hard to compute. But in all reality, this service eliminates a significant amount of stress. You have a huge selection of beautiful dresses that are in your price range. A dress that normally retails for $2,000 simply fits and feels better than anything you could purchase for $100. I've searched for nice, full length dresses from my prom days and on; I have never found a dress I liked as much as the one I rented. I felt so good in it, it was worth it.