We live in rented homes, go on holiday to rented properties, drive rented cars and some people even borrow other people’s pets, but for most of us the idea of renting our wardrobes still seems a step too far.
Is it the prospect of wearing someone else’s sweaty top or accidentally spilling coffee all down a dress you don’t own that stops us from embracing the growing rental market? Or another reason altogether?
It is no secret that the fashion industry is big business – it is worth more than £32bn to the UK economy – but increasingly consumers are realising that environmental concerns and the climate emergency urgently need us to address our shopping habits.
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A 2019 study by Oxfam found the quantity of new clothes bought in the UK produce more carbon emissions per minute than driving a car around the circumference of the earth six times. Another report, by The Ellen McArthur Foundation, found that more than half of the fast fashion produced is thrown out into landfill in less than a year. It is clear we need to buy less.
For nearly a decade fashion fans across the pond have been turning to renting rather than buying their clothes (Jennifer Hudson’s character was already borrowing her Louis Vuitton in the 2009 Sex and the City film) and American rental service Rent The Runway has just celebrated its 10th birthday.
The companies work by letting customers hire an item for a limited period of time for a discounted rate. Can’t afford a Gucci handbag? Rent one for £20. Despite the simple (and cheap) premise, the UK rental market has failed to find the same early success.
It is unclear whether this is down to a lack of awareness of the rental options, a cultural unease about sharing clothes with strangers, or a genuine belief that we can keep buying clothes at the rate we are now (a poll of 1,000 Brits found 50 per cent were unaware of the impact fashion fashion has on the environment).
So where better to put them through their paces than London Fashion Week? Not only does the five-day-long trade show put a spotlight on the industry and sets trends that go on to influence the entire market for the next season, it is nothing short of a wardrobe marathon that sees many editors, street stylers and celebrities last-minute panic shopping to assemble an outfit.
But will the rental market work as well in reality as it does on paper? (Especially when The Independent’s fashion team is faced with a weekend of bad weather). We put a number of rental websites and apps to the test.
Glam black Olivia Petter – Hurr Collective and My Wardrobe HQ
I have been going to London Fashion Week for five years and nobody has ever noticed what I was wearing. Typically, I’ve never bothered too much with my outfit, which was almost always concealed underneath a thick jumper and coat.
That, or my backpack would add an unsightly bulge to my silhouette, stuffed to the brim with chargers, a laptop, water and emergency cereal bars. So the clothes I wore underneath were rendered obsolete. That was, until this season.
For my first day I rented clothes from Hurr Collective, one of the UK’s leading fashion rental sites. It’s a peer-to-peer marketplace, which means members securely rent and lend wardrobe items to another person through the use of geo-tagging.
So you browse the website, pick your item, and then it will be posted to you by the owner. You can rent items for either four or seven days and return it via DPD (a label will come with your order. Easy peasy).
Hurr is bursting with designer garb from names including Jacquemus, Balmain and Stella McCartney. They had everything (well, except the jacquard Gucci suit I wanted, which had apparently been loaned to the model Arizona Muse instead).
Despite the massive range of choice, the tricky thing with rental fashion, I discovered, was finding it in my size. In the end I settled on a pale blue double-breasted suit by Racil with gold lapels. I also rented a pair of Malone Souliers heels, but this was optimistic given that the forecast was, well, Storm Dennis.
I wound up pairing the suit with some Gucci pearl-embellished flatforms, courtesy of another rental site: My Wardrobe HQ. The site is similar to Hurr Collective in that you rent directly from owners, but the owners tend to be celebrities, stylists or social media influencers. You can borrow items from the likes of Poppy Delevingne, Roxie Nafousi and Caroline Fleming.
You can also buy items. And you’re truly spoilt for choice. Like on Hurr, the selection is vast, with items every major fashion house on offer, from Alexander McQueen coats to Leivankash earrings.
My suit caught the attention of street style photographers outside Victoria Beckham, who I suspect were bored waiting for someone famous to turn up. Once inside the show, I bumped into friends who I often see at fashion week, and without fail every single one commented on my outfit. Some said they didn’t recognise me without my layers and others asked whether I’d done something different with my hair.
The compliments filled me with confidence until I got ahead of myself and ran to the Roland Mouret show. Only the rain (and the flatforms) got the better of me and took a tumble. At least I looked glam when it happened.
The next day, I rather gave the Gucci shoes a second chance by wearing them with polka dot Calzedonia tights (my own) and a floral Dolce & Gabbana dress and black tuxedo blazer by Isabel Marant, both of which I’d rented from My Wardrobe HQ.
Overall my rental experience was definitely a good one. Apart from struggling to find things in my size, the selection was vast. In the future I would definitely consider renting clothes again if I’m looking for an outfit for a special occasion.
Glam black Harriet Hall – By Rotation
Like many people, I’m struggling to reckon my sartorial addiction with a desire to live an increasingly sustainable life in the face of the climate crisis. Fashion is my environmental Achilles heel and I’ve cracked under the pressure to look good and panic bought items for fashion week many times.
I’m a little apprehensive at the idea of fashion rental: will I fall in love and be in mourning at the point of return? Will I be able to truly relax knowing I’m wearing someone else’s clothing? (I am a notorious clutz after all; most of my clothes don’t last a day without a spillage), and how much of a faff will it be to organise?
The rental platform I’ve opted for is By Rotation. This is a peer-to-peer fashion rental app: the Air BnB of clothing, if you will. Users with enviable wardrobes lend out their clothing to other users, giving the vibe of borrowing from a very stylish mate.
By Rotation has more than 10,000 users – “rotators” – across the UK. Much like Uber, users rate and review rotators and you can gain discounts by inviting friends onto the app. Prices are determined by lenders, but the app recommends users charges 5 per cent of the item’s RRP as a daily rate. A Rixo dress, for example, can cost around £10 – £15 a day, and handbags range from £10 for a small mid-range evening bag to £80 for a larger Chanel one. With no stock purchasing required, By Rotation is entirely circular and the app encourages users to collect items directly from users to reduce courier emissions.
After downloading the app, I begin furiously scrolling, imagining myself in all the items – and loving the guilt-free affordability of doing so. I find the long Max Mara camel coat I’ve always pined for, the Jacquemus Chiquito bag I’ve been hankering after and some utterly impractical white lace-up Prada boots (impractical and uncomfortable? Perfect for fashion week).
What I like immediately about By Rotation is its community feel – you quickly develop a sense of people’s personal styles, and it’s almost like shopping your favourite fashion influencer’s wardrobe.I fire off about 10 requests and wait for my new wardrobe to roll in.
But – alas, alack! – I am met with the first barrier in peer-to-peer rental: most of my desired items have already been claimed by other users. It’s the day before fashion week and I have been treating the app like it’s Amazon with a one-hour delivery window. D’oh.
I scroll through for some alternative items and go for a Ganni printed mesh wrap dress with a ruffled, asymmetric skirt (RRP £230, rental: £24 for two days), a ruffled lace Stine Goya baby doll dress (RRP £205, rental: £20 for two days), a pair of black Solace London culotte jeans with frills (RRP £300, rental: £18 for two days) and I find the next best thing to the Chiquito bag in the form of a miniature Charles and Keith one (RRP: £75, rental: £15 for three days).
When my clothes arrive, I’m as excited as I would be if I’d made a new purchase. But the magic subsides somewhat once I am met with a plastic hanger wrapped in an old suit bag and a dress infused with the whiff of someone else’s perfume. I’m immediately reminded that these clothes aren’t mine.
Casting aside my preconceptions (this is about rejecting the need for new, after all), I whip off my clothes and get trying on. The Ganni wrap dress, long, elegant, flowing – is everything I am not. I wouldn’t buy a dress like this, but I’ve always been tempted to wear one and feel like the other floaty women at fashion week. I like that fashion rental could allow me to dip a toe into unchartered sartorial territory. I don’t feel quite ready to dip the toe, though, so I pop it back on its hanger.
Next, the jeans. Sadly, my thighs are a little juicier than the size 10 I’d optimistically ordered, so those go back in the bag too. I move on to the Stine Goya dress. I like it but, looking out the window at the weather, I realise I’d be better off renting this come May.
Abandoning the clothes, I return to my own and slip my on my new miniature Charles and Keith handbag. All I can fit inside it is a credit card, a lipstick and a stick of gum, but I’m hooked. The bag lifts my entire outfit, turning it from a normal day in the office to something cheeky and playful. When I arrive at the shows, the street style photographers go wild and I’m showered with compliments. The best part? I get to live out my miniature bag fantasy without actually investing in one myself – and thank goodness for that, because I lug around the rest of my belongings in an overstuffed tote bag all day.
When it comes to the end of my rental period, I realise I’d approached it all wrong, treating By Rotation like a shop. I’m used to being able to scroll for hours and find something I like, but as it’s peer-to-peer, the selection on the app is limited in terms of taste, style and size and it takes a little getting used to not being able to pinch zoom. A level of discernment – and awareness of specific brand sizing – is vital to avoid paying to rent items you don’t end up wearing.
But, as a fashion journalist, I know all too well that trends are as fickle as the guy you meet at a bar one drunken Saturday night – and likewise, they’re often not worth investing in. That’s where By Rotation comes into its own. It means I can opt into a flash-in-the-pan trend without my credit card – or more importantly, the environment – taking a hit.
It’s also made me consider my own bursting-at-the-seams wardrobe and how wasteful it is to have so many things unworn on a daily basis. Would I trust someone to borrow my clothes and return them in one piece? I’d be nervous, but using By Rotation has definitely got me considering it.
Glam black Sarah Young – The Endless Wardrobe
“I love your dress! Where is it from?” Is there anything better than getting a compliment from a stranger? Especially when you’ve just laboured across London on a sweaty tube before wrestling with an umbrella in gale force winds. Thanks Storm Dennis but slogging around in wet clothes with windswept hair was not exactly how I envisaged arriving at London Fashion Week.
Nonetheless, I was standing in the queue for the Molly Goddard show at the swanky Central Hall in Westminster when I received my second outfit compliment of the day. And honestly, I began to feel rather smug about it because, you see, the dress in question – an Essentiel Antwerp midi dress with puffed sleeves and a feminine floral print – was but a fleeting fashion moment in my wardrobe.
I rented it, and a few others I wore to the recent round of London shows, from The Endless Wardrobe – a fashion rental website that lets you hire designer dresses at a fraction of the retail price.
The reason I selected this website over others is because it specialises in those oh-so-now mid-range brands from Free People and De La Vali to Alexa Chung and Free People.
What’s more, unlike per-to-peer sites – where you hire from other fashion-conscious females – The Endless Wardrobe holds all of its stock in one central location, meaning dresses are available in multiple sizes and can be hired at short notice.
Logging on, I browsed the collection of dresses on the website and while the selection was limited, I already felt that dopamine hit one gets at the sight of a potential new purchase.
Searching through the items was relatively simple, as the website offers consumers the chance to browse by a number of different filters, including brand, availability and size.
That last point was one of the most important to me because, while I wear a pretty average size 10, the fear of not fitting into designer gear set in and I went a size up. It is worth mentioning here that, while The Endless Wardrobe caters up to a UK 18, there is no way of knowing what size you should opt for – so be wary of ill-fitting items if you’re ordering last minute.
After scouring online, I settled on four dresses – the Paris Midi Dress (retail £495, rental £45) and Bessie Dress (retail £235, rental £29) by Alexa Chung and Essential Antwerp’s Floral Print Wrap Dress (retail £270, rental £35) in two different colourways. I just couldn’t decide between them.
The next day, the items arrived cosseted in tissue paper and compostable packaging, which made it feel even more like a luxury purchase. As I tried on the items, I realised that my earlier fears regarding sizing were unfounded as the 12 I had tensely added to my basket were slightly oversized.
I must admit that I was dubious about wearing rented clothes at first – mainly because of the thought of a stranger with smelly pits having worn them before me – but because The Endless Wardrobe dry cleans and steams each item before it’s sent out, the dresses appeared to be in pristine condition.
There was not a single dud among the options I chose but, as I was covering fashion week for just two days, I was forced to whittle the selection down and plumped for Alexa Chung’s Paris Midi and the Essential Antwerp number in black.
Black is always my default during London Fashion Week because it’s easy and doesn’t involve a thought process in the morning, plus given the terrible weather coming our way over the weekend, I figured Chung’s mini dress mightn’t prove the most practical choice. However much I wanted to wear it.
The Paris Midi featured a luxurious jacquard print and elegant bias cut skirt with eyelash lace trimming its deep V-neck and button detailing on the reverse. Meanwhile, the Essential Antwerp number was cut for a flattering, feminine shape with a swooshing hem that whirled as I walked and on-trend puffed sleeves.
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Given that The Endless Wardrobe doesn’t rent accessories, I styled my choices with existing pieces from my own collection, and while I would have loved to have paired them with similarly high-end trappings, it proved that hiring just one piece meant I could get so much more wear out pieces I already owned – a simple black blazer, square-toe boots and a belt that accentuated my waist.
While I don’t think I will ever feel the need to rent something on a daily basis, I realised that the option to hire makes it possible for me to wear beautiful designer clothes without the need to blow an obscene amount of money, especially on special occasions.
It’s all the style, without the waste and is a guilt-free way of keeping the fun in fashion. Of course, as a sector that is in its infancy, there are still some shortcomings. If you’re plus-size you’re likely to have less options and the process requires a bit more forward planning than popping to the shops for a last-minute fashion fix (next day delivery is available but with limited options, you might be pipped to post by a fellow-fashion fan).
However, it’s definitely something I will try again and I love the idea that renting allows you to be more adventurous than you might be with items you buy permanently. Who knows, maybe next time I’ll plump for something with a bit more colour…or not.
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