There’s something almost bewitching about trying on a new, beautiful piece of clothing. That feeling, especially for some of us ramen-fueled college kids, can multiply when that clothing happens to cost five grand and we’d have the opportunity to wear it at less than half that. It’s that type of feeling that I was expecting to have when I went to Rent the Runway’s new retail shop at the top of Neiman Marcus on Nov. 18.
Rent the Runway lets you rent expensive designer dresses, bags and jewelry for around 30 percent of the retail price that those same items go for in stores. The amount of time you have with the item depends on if you choose to rent it for four or eight days, which can fluctuate the rental price a bit as well. For Unlimited members, who pay $139 per month, the rental period is, well, unlimited. There’s a somewhat complicated shipping process, and a small insurance fee, but a wide selection of stuff from designers like Nicole Miller, Monique Lhuillier and Vera Wang.
The fashion fledgling, founded in 2009 by Harvard Business School students Jennifer Hyman and Jennifer Fleiss, was originally an e-commerce rental site for designer apparel. They have since opened physical stores in a few major U.S cities, including New York, Chicago and Las Vegas. The New York Times called it the “Netflix model for haute couture,” and by just browsing the website, that same sentiment is echoed with phrases like “a fashion company with a technology soul,” and that they’re “changing the meaning of ownership.”
Though the company has become increasingly more popular, some of the critique has been that this type of mail-order fashion service promotes a cultural belief of always having to wear something new, of always creating a visual event for strangers, rather than for your own comfort and, especially, ownership. I mean, celebrities are always wearing clothes that don’t actually belong to them, so why can’t we?
When I walked up to the sleek, white countertop, the assistant girls put my name on a waitlist for the fitting rooms and warmly told me to take a look around. The shop itself is organized by color instead of style and designer, and thus resembles more of a rainbow personal closet than a clothing store. You’ll never find the same item in the same color anywhere else in Neimans, but the shop does often buy from the same current collections as RTR. In response to a begging question of mine, one of the girls informed me that though the store does not have the unlimited choices of the online shop, they do carry a cross section of all sizes. Depending on what occasion you are shopping for, she said, you can choose to look for things in your size. Or, if you look for a particular style you want, they can order the appropriate size on the website.
I ended up trying on a black, long-sleeved lace dress by Naeem Khan that retails for around $695 but I could rent for $115. I was thinking very heavily about fast-fashion chains that make hefty profits over our desire to wear the trends and to always have something new. The horrible reality of that desire means we each, on average, throw away 65 pounds of clothes per year. Maybe something like RTR becoming mainstream could reduce the amount we actually buy, and then by extension, halt the amount of textile wasted.
I was trying to keep this positive feeling flowing, but it dimmed when I saw my reflection in the frilly, lacey frock I found. I thought it was a little frumpy; a shop girl assured me it was a perfect fit and that I could rent it right away. I couldn’t think of any occasion that would demand the hassle of it. In the end, I left empty handed. The foot traffic had picked up a little since I first walked in, with various people searching the rows for statement pieces that would likely impress a crowd. I overheard a woman wondering aloud how she would send her dress back by mail on time while visiting family for Thanksgiving. I suppose a late fee is a small price to pay for a facade of what is really yours.
Photos Courtesy of Rent the Runway