Have you tried a rental service yet? If not, you could now be in the minority. Back in 2020, despite global lockdowns and a distinct lack of events for which to dress up, fashion rental platforms saw a sharp rise in the number of people renting their clothes, shoes and accessories. Since then? It's only grown even more popular. By Rotation, for example, has seen a whopping 600% increase in rentals, with the most popular brands including Jacquemus, The Vampire's Wife and Rixo. Similarly, Rotaro, Hurr, HireStreet, MyWardrobeHQ (which made headlines when Carrie Johnson rented her wedding dress and several outfits for the G7 summit) and DCEY have all seen rentals soar.
But if you're new to renting, how do you know what to expect? We asked fashion editor Frankie Graddon to try out the UK's leading clothes rental platforms to give us a full account of exactly what renting entails. Be warned: you might just become obsessed...
Is clothing rental sustainable?
'Ooh, I love your frock – where’s it from?’ I’m standing in a queue for the toilets at a swanky restaurant receiving my third outfit compliment of the day, and feeling rather smug about it. The dress I’m wearing is a beautiful embroidered Vilshenko midi, which would typically be accompanied by a four-figure price tag. I got it for just over £100. How? I rented it.
A study by Westfield shopping centre found that the UK clothing rental market has a potential value of £923m, and is forecast to boom over the next few years. While the concept has been big in the US for a while, clunky technology and an uninspiring fashion offering meant that it was slow to take off this side of the pond. However, thanks to a bunch of glossy apps and online platforms, that has well and truly changed.
‘Our goal is to build the Net-A-Porter of rentals,’ says Victoria Prew, co-founder of HURR Collective. Launched in 2018, HURR allows shoppers to peruse a covetable selection of pieces from contemporary and designer brands – think Rixo, Reformation, Ganni, JW Anderson – via its stylish website and Instagram feed, before renting them out for a fraction of the RRP.
So too is MyWardrobeHQ, which, having launched in November 2019, counts many celebrities and influencers as fans. Offering frocks, bags, jumpsuits and more from a roster of luxe brands, founder Sacha Newall explains that the inspiration came from her background in car rental initiatives. ‘For every one car shared, 11 are taken off the road. We wanted to apply that to clothes: is sharing a way to keep the joy of fashion and not feel guilty about it?’ Last year, MyWardrobeHQ partnered with Harrods to launch the department store's first clothes rental service, offering a curated edit of dresses which are made for going out in.
Guilt-free fashion consumption is certainly one force behind the UK’s rental appetite. A survey from Barnardo’s found that in 2019, before Covid-19, Britons looked set to spend £2.7bn on summer outfits that would only be worn once before being chucked. As well as contributing to landfill, our wear-once- throw-away mindset has fuelled the textile industry’s 1.2 billion tons of greenhouse gas emissionsa year – more than international flights and maritime shipping combined. With the sustainability conversation more insistent than ever, we’re all looking to shop more consciously.
‘Extending the life cycle of something you already own is one of the best things you can do in terms of lessening the impact of your wardrobe on the environment,’ says Prew. Where shopping sustainably once meant hours spent trawling charity shops, renting has positioned itself as the stylish solution; here’s how to wear the clothes you want, safe in the knowledge you’re keeping them out of landfill. Eco alternatives to dry-cleaning, such as steam-cleaning, and reusable packaging also help to keep the rental process as planet-friendly as possible.
The fashion rental movement speaks to our current sharing economy too; in a world where we rent Airbnbs, share Spotify playlists and borrow our doggies, why wouldn’t we also rent our clothes? Add to this the fact that it offers access to luxury brands that are otherwise out of reach for most (can’t afford a Prada handbag? You can when it costs £20 for an evening) and it’s easy to buy into Prew’s declaration that ‘renting is the future of how we will consume clothes’. In theory it all sounds great. The question is, of course, does it work in practice?
How does clothing rental work?
I start with DCEY, a service that offers everything from beachwear to bridal dresses. I choose two different midis and follow DCEY's advice to order at least two days before I want to wear them. They arrive in plenty of time and, while one fits perfectly, the other looks like a potato sack on me. Thankfully, it's easy to contact customer service (via the website) to organise a return. Exchanges or credit are offered by most rental sites, but it’s worth checking individual policies before you commit.
Next I try HURR Collective and My WardrobeHQ. Thoroughly enjoying the edits on both sites, I pick a leopard-print Rat & Boa slip from the former and a green Amanda Wakeley satin trouser suit from the latter to take on my Ibizan hen do. Though both pieces are slightly out of my sartorial comfort zone, I find myself feeling more liberated in my fashion choices knowing that I’m only renting items for a few days. And with pieces delivered the same day (next day if outside London), I don’t feel the need to do my usual pre-holiday panic binge, which Prew tells me is when people are most likely to turn to disposable fashion.
On a renting roll, I then sign up to By Rotation, a platform that lets you search by location and rent pieces in your vicinity. Deciding I want a new dress for a work dinner the next night, I arrange to collect a Gül Hürgel frock on my lunchbreak, which costs £15 a day. Disaster almost strikes when my dinner date spills a glass of red wine, missing my frock by an inch. While minor stains are covered by rental fees, it’s worth noting that most rental sites will charge you the market value of the rental piece if it gets seriously damaged. It is for this reason I decide against wearing a rented dress to a friend’s BBQ; the combination of free-flowing booze and condiments proving too stressful.
Is renting clothes worth it?
Fears of ketchup explosions aside, my rental experience is a positive one. For holidays and special occasions it makes perfect sense; why spend money on clothes you’ll wear only a handful of times when you can rent instead? Plus, for those seeking a Marie Kondo way of life, sending pieces back rather than having them collect dust in your wardrobe is truly zen-inducing.
Though not quite as straightforward as dashing to the high street – in most cases the ordering process is a little more time- consuming than a quick ‘add to basket’, and pieces are inevitably limited in availability and size – renting successfully gives the thrill of the new without actually buying something. And if it means more toilet queue compliments, then I’m sold.
RENT: The Best Fashion Rental Sites To Try Now
DCEY encourages customers to rent, mindfully shop and have access to environmentally sustainable products. Browse hundreds of styles from international brands such as Cult Gaia, Staud and Coperni
The UK's first peer-to-peer wardrobe rental platform. HURR COLLECTIVE is for members to rent and lend their wardrobes, making economic and environmental sense. From Chanel to Rixo , there's something for every price range.
Rent, Wear, Return. ENDLESS WARDROBE allows you to tailor your rental time. Choose from a 4, 10 or 16-day rental period. And, for anyone that's a bit clumsy, amazingly, you won't be charged for damage or stains. Red wine is your friend again.
Bagbutler specialises in handbags and accessories, giving you the opportunity to rent everything from Chanel bags to Dior jewellery.
ROTARO's carefully curated selection of contemporary luxury designers work for multiple occasions, work events, holidays or as a platform to discover new brands. Designers include: Rixo, Ganni, Reformation, Cult Gaia, Cecilie Bahnsen and Stine Goya, with weekly product drops. Items cost between £15 for a 4 day loan and £80 for a 12 day period, with the option to extend. ROTARO also offers a try at home service, where you can choose two dresses and return the one you don't wear.
FRONT ROW'S mission is to provide a lifestyle service that eliminates the age-old question "Will I ever wear this again?" Featuring up-and-comers and established favourites including Chanel, Fendi, Jenny Packham, Roland Mouret, FRONT ROW offers a rental period of five days, however this can be tailored to your needs.
MY WARDROBE HQ is a social community for buying, selling and renting designer items. Customers can shop womenswear clothing and accessories from the wardrobes of Poppy and Chloe Delevingne, Olivia Buckingham, Arizona Muse, as well as fashion stylists and influencers.
BY ROTATION is the UK's first peer-to-peer fashion rental app. No subscription fee and no waiting list. Do good for the planet, your wardrobe and wallet at the same time.
HIRESTREET might be a relatively new rental platform, but it's already made a significant mark on sustainable premium fashion. The brand is conscious of building a community and empowering women is echoed in its broad range of sizes.