You have likely seen fashion rental services advertised but I'd wager you're yet to actually try them for yourself. Perhaps you have a friend who decided to rent a dress for a wedding last year, or maybe you've toyed with the idea for a black tie event before ultimately dismissing it?
While suit hire has been commonplace for decades, it still feels foreign for many of us to consider doing the same thing for a dress or handbag. But it could be the way of the more sustainably-minded future.
So over the course of #SecondhandSeptember we decided we owed it to ourselves to give the whole dress hire thing a spin and report back. To do this, we linked up with the UK's leading fashion rental app, By Rotation, for a week to see what all the fuss is about. Here are all your top questions answered along with what it's actually like to use a fashion rental service first hand.
How do fashion rental services work?
Fashion rental platforms rely on three things: lenders, goods and hirers. Lenders list goods that are available for rent which hirers can apply to borrow for an agreed time and fee. Lenders can be either brands or, in the case of ByRotation, peers. In short, think of the business model as like Airbnb but for clothes.
What can you rent?
While fashion rental services are mostly associated with dress hire, the truth is, you can rent practically anything fashion-related. Blazers, going-out tops, trousers, blazers, designer bags, shoes, jewellery - heck, even pyjamas - you name it, you can rent it.
In fact, one of the most surprising items available on rental services is secondhand wedding dresses which, for ByRotation at least, have experienced a significant surge in Secondhand September alone.
As for brands, you really are spoilt for choice. From Scandi favourite, Ganni to London-based brand Rixo and onto the likes of Rejina Pyo, Dior and Chanel, there's no shortage of luxe options to choose from.
How much does it cost?
The cost of fashion renting depends on two things: the value of the item, and how long you want to rent it for. For example, if you're looking to rents a mid-tier dress for three days, it will set you back much less than borrowing a high end designer tote for a week. But it doesn't cost as much as you might think.
While rates vary by platform, in the case of By Rotation, prices start from £3 a day and can vary from a minimum rental period of one day to three. But how do they decide on the cost? Well, here's where the value of the item comes into play. The recommended daily rental price is between 3-5% of the retail price. For example, if a dress cost £400, you would likely see it listed for £12-20 per day. When you compare the cost of renting to what you might find on the high street for a similar price, there's not much comparison.
What about damage?
While it's not ideal, accidents happen. It's just a fact of life. If you lose or damage an item borrowed, the platform will normally have a policy in place on their website explaining next steps. With By Rotation, lenders and renters are encouraged to resolve any disputes between themselves but, if the item isn't returned or damaged beyond repair, the renter can be charged the estimated market value for the item.
For those considering lending, you can also require renters to have existing reviews on their profile before they can apply to borrow a specific item, acting as another safeguard.
Is fashion rental Covid-safe?
In light of Covid-19, rental services have implemented various measures to ensure the safety of both lenders and renters, including guidance on what to do if you're self-isolating, along with washing and postage instructions.
For more information on the specific initiatives in place for By Rotation, jump on over to the brand's FAQ section for a detailed breakdown of the safety measures.
The renting process
Unlike those of you with sisters, I didn't grow up borrowing someone else's clothes, or having mine 'borrowed' (AKA stolen) in return.
Working in fashion I'm constantly exposed to the latest trends and brands. When you pair the industry's near-insatiable appetite for newness with an increasingly faster fashion cycle, it's no surprise that waste is such a widespread issue. But renting clothes both satisfies the craving for cutting-edge style, without the stark environmental downside. So when I heard about By Rotation, my curiosity was instantly piqued.
As soon as you install the app on your phone you're asked to enter a bit of information about yourself (what you're looking for etc). A few taps later and you're ready to go. From the homepage you can navigate through thousands of clothes from various lenders and, honestly, the amount of options can feel kind of overwhelming at first. This is arguably the trickiest part of the process - deciding what to rent.
My advice? Filter your search by either brand or lender. If there's a label you've always wanted to try but haven't quite been able to justify buying yet, see what the platform has to offer from them. Alternatively, if a lender has an edit of clothes that matches your own personal style, that's another great place to start.
As you scroll and find items of interest, you can 'favourite' them to a board (sort of like adding to cart) and review them all together:
From here, you can choose the item/s you want to rent, enter the dates you're looking to hire them for, et voila! Your enquiry has been sent on to the lender. The next step will be for them to confirm the booking and arrange the finer details (such as delivery or a public collection point).
Note: I worked with the By Rotation team directly on this piece, sourcing items from the brand's own feed and that of the founder Eshita Kabra-Davies. While many users might rent one or two items at a time, I trialed a week's worth of pieces to gauge the range of items available on the platform.
Now, when your item arrives, it feels a bit like Christmas. Yes, really. Inside, you'll find the item/s requested:
... along with guidance on how to return at the end:
As my delivery was from By Rotation's own edit, I also received this cute little snap of the team member who packed it (thanks, Maruta!):
Once you've received and used the item/s, the next step is returning them. Thankfully, you don't need to factor washing/drying into your renting window - cleaning is the responsibility of the lender. In some instances, renters might include a dry cleaning fee in the price of the hire if special care is required.
As with collection, you can return the goods either in person or via post - it's up to you and the lender to decide what works best.
How were the clothes?
The quality of the items was brilliant. I trialed six outfits over the course of a week and was amazed by the condition - they felt (and looked) brand new. While working from home meant that I wasn't able to wear these outfits to the office, I was still able to take them out for a spin for the odd socially distanced event.
First up was this midi dress by Faithfull The Brand (£5/day), accessorised with the swoon-worthy Dior saddle bag (£65/day) which I wore for a friend's birthday dinner:
Ever since Kate Middleton wore that Faithfull floral dress, the label has been on my 'to-try' list and boy, the fit was incredible. This number fit like a glove and I didn't want to take it off. The main event, though, was the bag. Ask any Fashion Editor and they'll agree: the Dior saddle bag is one of the defining pieces of our era. So I was equal parts thrilled and nervous to use it. This specific bag was, however, ever so slightly worn, which helped me feel more at ease carrying it around. At £65/day, though, this is the most expensive item in the entire trial and I could understand how others might find the scuffing more of an issue.
I still guarded it with my life (obviously) and, having considered saving up for one myself, using it in my everyday life meant that I found the style wasn't quite right for me. The top flap and shorter strap meant it wasn't as accessible for grabbing things on the go - something I do quite often - so I was glad I got to try it out, but also somewhat relieved (for the sake of my bank account) that it wasn't the perfect bag for me.
The second day I went to watch a film at a rooftop cinema and opted for this navy bow strap design by 19.04 (£12/day) with one of Rooper's signature Furoshiki bags (£5/day):
Again, I loved the dress and would 100% shop from this brand again. The quality and fit was even better than I'd expected it to be - and my expectations were already high. The Rooper bag was also phenomenal (I mean, how cute is it?) although, after using it for a night I came to the conclusion that, like the Dior, I need a much larger handbag to hold alllll of my things, so it might not be the right one for me to invest in permanently.
Day three was, you guessed it, another midi dress - this time a relaxed midi by Kate Middleton's other go-to brand, Ghost (£4/day). This was paired with, you guessed it, the Dior bag (spoiler alert: despite my small issues, I barely put the Saddle bag down all week):
Day four's outfit was the one I was most excited for from the outset: Sleeper's incredibly photogenic feathered pyjama set (£9/day). You know, the one that's all over Instagram, worn by stylish influencers and chic bridal parties alike?
Not only was this OTT set on my fashion bucket list, it was even more comfortable than I anticipated. Oh, and it put my regular working-from-home get-ups to shame. When the end of the day came, though, I couldn't bring myself to actually sleep in the pjs - those feathers were so delicate that I realised that this really is more of a loungewear option than actual bed wear.
Day five was all about this ivory Staud gown (£8/day) which, I'll admit, was also a bit much for my local high street, but hey! It was super comfortable, if a little long, but I was paranoid about any muck getting on the hem (because, yep, it's not mine) so I held it up with my hands for most of the day like an overwhelmed bride:
This was, perhaps, the least relaxing outfit to wear of them all as I felt like I was on guard ensuring it remained in pristine condition - the age old struggle of wearing floor length white. I was very aware I was hiring this item and felt a huge wave of relief when it made it back into the box at the end of the day without any marks - phew!
By the time day six rolled around, I couldn't believe how quickly the week had flown. And it was time to wear the most extravagant item in the haul - this breathtaking magenta Rejina Pyo gown (£50/day):
I wish I had a Fashion Week party or extravagant event to go to on this day - this dress was, arguably, too extraordinary for a regular day of working from home. The puffy sleeves contrasted against the fitted bodice was just a dream. The rave reviews of Rejina Pyo are definitely warranted. My neighbours also now think I'm some supremely extra Instagram wannabe, so there's that too.
Is fashion renting worth it?
Absolutely. Especially for something like Fashion Week or if you find yourself suddenly swamped with wedding invitations (there have been plenty of engagements recently, so I feel like this is a real possibility for 2021). Suddenly, the stress of sourcing an incredible outfit for an eye-watering sum for just one day is alleviated. In that sense, shopping starts to feel much more indulgent. You can shop the items you might have only dreamt of being able to wear before, for less than the price of a high street piece that you might, realistically, only wear once.
The other thing I'd really recommend it for is if you're contemplating buying a pricier piece, like a designer gown or bag. Whereas before we used to be able to go into stores and try pieces on, the pandemic has meant that's no longer possible. Of course, you can always order items to your home and try them there, returning them if they're not as you might've hoped. But I think there's something to be said for being able to wear an item out and about, without the tags, as you would if you actually owned it. You get a feel for what it's like to wear that dress you're contemplating buying for drinks with your friend. Or understand how a handbag actually works in your wardrobe. This, for me, is an unexpected upside of a service like By Rotation which is just as, if not more, useful than using it to hire an outfit purely for a special occasion. In short, it seems rental fashion services can help reduce industry waste and also make us more considered with it items we do decide to purchase.
Editor's note: All items used in this trial were received and returned at the same time, rather than individually. As a result, the writer had the items for longer than the average customer and didn't pay for rental but has included the daily rate for each throughout to give an indication of prices.
Follow Natasha on Instagram.
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