Formal wear

Whether you’re planning to go to the prom, attend a black-tie benefit, or walk down the red carpet, you’ll want to look your best. Traditionally, this has involved a series of frantic phone calls to formal wear rental places or dizzying tours of expensive designer boutiques, dressmakers, and shopping malls. Not anymore!

Now, you can relax in the comfort of your own home while you peruse through the hundreds of available formal wear fashions and accessories available for rent via the Internet. Not only will most online clothing rental sites tailor your rental to suit your unique size, shape and style, many will deliver your outfit, together with any requested matching accessories, right to your front door!

If you’re game for giving up the hassle of in-store clothing rentals and want to try the online route, here’s a brief tutorial.

How to Rent Clothes Online

Visit one of the sites listed below or do a Google search for “online clothing rental” to find your own source. Read the “how to” directions provided on the company’s website and register for a membership, if necessary. Click around to find your favorite styles and sizes, then make a list of the duds you’d most like to hire.

Before going further, have someone take detailed measurements of your body and use a template or chart to ensure you have an accurate record for future use. (You can measure yourself, but it is probably worth the expense to have a professional seamstress or tailor do an accurate set of measurements for you. After all, what good is renting expensive designer attire if the fit isn’t just right?)

When you have your measurements, go back to the site, make your selection, and provide your payment information. Some clothing rental companies will require a hefty deposit. Don’t worry — you’ll get this back as soon as you return the clothing in good condition.

Once you’re done with the outfit, place it in the pre-addressed envelope provided by the company and stick it in the mail. Do not attempt to clean the outfit, as most companies prefer that you leave the clothing care up to them. If you notice damage to the outfit, be sure to take a photograph of it before sending the clothing back to the company. This will ensure that you have a record of the extent of the damage, should a legal issue arise. In general, most companies will allow you to purchase damaged or lost clothing for around 75 percent of its retail value. Though not mandatory, it is always a good idea to buy a bit of insurance for anything of worth you send through the mail. A couple of dollars will pay for peace of mind should the dress get lost in the mail or stolen.

A good rule of thumb when trying to decide between purchasing an outfit or renting one is estimating how many times you plan to wear the clothing over the next few years. Multiply that by the cost of rental and, if the number you come up with is more than the retail price of the clothes, you’re better of just purchasing the outfit. Otherwise, renting is the way to go.

Here are a few more things to keep in mind when considering online attire rental.

Pros of Renting Clothing Online

  • Convenience: With just a few clicks, you can shop online for rental-wear that will arrive in a day or two straight to your doorstep. Wear it, stick it in the prepaid envelope, and send it back. Done.
  • Time-saving: By shopping for your rental wardrobe online, you’ll save yourself up to two hours or more of driving, browsing and dealing with salespeople and crowds.
  • Thrift: Why spend a fortune for formal wear that you’ll only wear a few times? For a tiny fraction of the cost — roughly 15 percent, in most cases — you can dress like a diva without spending your life savings.
  • Selection: Your glamorous wardrobe will make you the envy of your friends… and you’ll never show up wearing the same thing twice! Many online formal wear rental sites offer the latest designer duds and accessories, jewelry, purses and shoes to match any outfit in their collection.

Cons of Online Clothing Rental vs. Local, In-Store Rental

  • Sizing: Because designer fashion sizing can be inconsistent, it is harder to ensure that your rental outfit will fit properly when you get it. Many sites offer sizing charts and detailed instructions on taking your own measurements. Still, without actually seeing yourself in the clothing before renting it, you won’t know how it will look on your frame until it comes to your door.
  • Lack of Flexibility: Because most online clothing rentals are for a week or less, you have less wiggle room to cancel your order should your plans change. Also, if the clothes don’t look the way you hoped, it’s harder to make a last minute exchange.
  • Smaller Selection for Plus-Sized Women: I had a hard time finding anything larger than a size 10 when browsing through several of the sites. The selection seemed much bigger for smaller gals: size 0 to 6.

The Inside Scoop with Dress Vault

We interviewed Patricia Harr, CEO and founder of DressVault.com, to get the scoop on clothing for hire. Here is what she had to say:

Q: What happens if I spill cranberry juice on my dress? Do I have to pay for cleaning or am I liable for the replacement cost of the clothing?

As a borrower, you do not clean or alter the dress. You return the dress, which will be cleaned appropriately by the owner. Therefore, borrowers are not charged a cleaning fee. Dress owners are in charge of caring for the dresses returned to them by cleaning in the way they see fit.

Lenders receive a warranty (insurance) on the protection of their dress(es) while in the possession of a borrower. The state of the dress when received by the borrower is the state of the dress expected when the dress is turned in by the borrower. If not, and when the dress can be proven to be more than 15 percent changed from its original state, the borrower will be charged a dress care fee of 5 percent of its original value. If more than 35 percent damage is proven, the borrower’s account form of payment will be charged 45 percent of the original retail value. If a dress is not returned to a lender within the one week described period, the borrower will be charged 65 percent of the dress’ original retail value and will be banned from the site. Additionally, the lender will have the option to press charges with the assistance of DressVault.com and reporting the event to PayPal services.

Q: What if I try the outfit on and decide it looks terrible on me? Can I replace my rental without charge?

DressVault.com offers an implied warranty stating that the dresses listed in the lenders’ closets are of wearable and respectable quality for the price paid by the borrower. Therefore, there are no returns allowed on our site. This is because the dresses listed in members’ closets are empirically described with text and images, thus borrowers should always be well-informed of the dress they agree to borrow. Borrowers are allowed to request permission from a dress owner to temporarily alter a dress in a reversible form. (Example–hems, darts at waist, etc.) Additionally, DressVault.com is a social network atmosphere. Thus, users can communicate with lenders/borrowers as much as possible to develop reliable relationships and ensure successful transactions.

Q: Do I need to reserve clothing well in advance or do you have last-minute formal attire up for grabs at a discount?

No, but again, the network functionality of DressVault.com enables users to communicate about such happenings, so the options of allowing a dress to be reserved would be up to the dress owner (but I can’t imagine anyone would refuse a confirmed borrow).

From my research, it seems like online clothing, shoes, jewelry, costume and accessory rental is the way to go for those with big plans, but a limited budget. Not only is it an environmentally-friendly approach to excess, it offers those of us with less time and cash to spare a way to have fun and look fantastic without going broke.

30+ Places to Rent Clothing and Accessories Online

So, what are some of the top online clothing rental places on the Internet? We’ve rounded up over thirty such websites for your browsing pleasure.

Accessories, Jewelry and Handbags

  • AdornBrides: This online bridal jewelry rental site offers professionally inspected and cleaned designer and fine quality jewels for your wedding party. Browse, pick, pay a deposit of 25 percent of the lease price, and they’ll ship it to you. When you’re done, stick it back in the envelope, and send it home via UPS. Done deal.
  • AllThatBags: This online designer handbag rental outlet offers 25 percent off your first order and a membership rewards program for frequent renters. If you fall in love with your purse, you can buy it for up to 70 percent off its retail value. Now that’s a bargain!
  • BagBorrowOrSteal: This site’s slogan is “Guilty Pleasure, Minus the Guilt.” If you sign up as a member of this designer handbag rental site, you’ll get priority on choosing the newest weekly arrivals and you’ll also get a 20 percent discount on rental items.
  • BlingYourself: This “recession-proof” jewelry rental site is frequented by celebrities and average Joes alike, offering men’s and women’s expensive jewelry. Whether you want to rent a Rolex or diamond earrings, you’ll find it here, and it won’t break your bank. What’s more, they offer free pickup when you’re done and frequent renters can earn bonus points towards future rentals.
  • BorrowedBling: With a full line of evening accessories, including belts, jewels and handbags, this site will rent or sell you what you’re looking for on a budget. You can even keep the stuff as long as you like, provided you continue to pay your monthly membership fee. With four membership levels, there’s something for every pocket book.
  • FromBagsToRiches: This designer handbag rental site even offers a Nintendo DS as a fashion accessory to its preferred members. Become a member of Club Diva and you can earn points towards discounts on future rentals. They also offer gift certificates, so you can share your secret with friends.
  • iRent2u: This is sort of an eBay-like rental site where anyone can lend or borrow any item for cash. Prospective renters and lenders can search by location and a broad list of categories to find what they need, where it is and how to rent it. In addition to rental items, this site offers a link to services for hire, as well. An onsite blog allows renters and rentees to discuss their experiences, network with others, and air any grievances they may have in a public forum. From drills to yachts, if you want to rent it, they probably have it listed.
  • KissMyBag: This affordable designer handbag rental site offers next-day delivery to people that order by 1pm. They require a credit check, so don’t bother if your score is low. You can rent by the month and membership on the site gets you 20 percent off rentals. In order to qualify for membership, you must live in England or Wales, but guest membership is also available and is free of charge.
  • RentMeaHandBag: This site offers free shipping within the U.S, up to $100 free insurance on rented items, and a low, flat rate monthly membership plan for frequent designer handbag, clothing, shoe and accessory renters. It caters to men and women and offers up to 80 percent off the retail price for purchased inventory. There is no fee to join and no monthly charge for access to the collection. You simply pay for the items you rent on a weekly or monthly basis. They even have two-for-one specials!

Maternity Clothing Rental

  • ChangesWithStyle: This Ottawa-based maternity rental site offers five-week terms for designer maternity wear, allowing your wardrobe to evolve along with your body. With several prepaid packages to choose from, ranging from $310 for 6 outfits to $640 for 18 outfits, you can ensure a fashionable pregnancy, even on a budget. The only bummer about this company is that you have to physically show up in their Ottawa showroom for your fitting and to make your selections. No pun intended, but if this thing were completely automated through the Web, it could be BIG!

Costumes

  • Costumeholidayhouse: This site offers everything a real costume store offers without the hassle of fighting your way through the mob scene and competing with small children for the salesperson’s attention. Here, you can click your way through the selections, order, pay via credit card and sit back and wait for your doorbell to ring. You’ll have to cough up a hefty deposit for the more expensive costumes, but that’s probably true of most physical stores as well. They offer costumes for all ages and sizes, including wigs and jewelry.
  • CostumeSalon: This luxury costume rental site is not cheap, but if you’ve got the money and want to rent authentic historic, fantasy, plus sized or theatrical show costumes, this is where you should go. Their selection is astounding, and the site is beautifully designed so that you can click your way around a virtual museum of costumes and examine the details of your prospective piece visually from all angles, as well as textually, with boxed descriptions and rental terms. This site is worth a visit even if you’re not planning on renting anything. It’s visually appealing and offers historical interest.
  • CostumesGalore: You’ll need a little advance notice before renting from this site. The costumes ship out anywhere from five to seven days after your order. Also, there is a $25 cancellation fee with cancellation at least three weeks in advance of your order. Otherwise, it seems pretty user friendly and relatively inexpensive. They offer a large selection of costumes for kids and adults alike. If you’re looking for well-known cartoon characters or icons, here’s your one-stop virtual rental shopping site. They’ve got ‘em all.

Dresses, Suits and Tuxedos

  • ClosetElite: Well-designed site offering high-fashion and designer wear for women. Affordable options and a detailed size chart make this site accessible to the average Jane. They carry dresses in most sizes, up to 14 and offer additional insurance for an additional price. I didn’t see anything that would be appropriate for the over 30 set, however.
  • DressVault: This “online closet service” facilitates the lending and borrowing of dresses to and by site members. It is a fashion social network of virtual closets with over 900 current members. The selection is, at present, somewhat limited, but I envision a rapid expansion of membership and available clothing in the coming months. This site provides easy access to reasonably priced off the rack designs, but they need to add a search by size function to make things simpler. Like most sites I visited, there are fewer designs available in the larger sizes. (I counted one size 16 dress!) I like the idea that lending and borrowing clothing is “environmentally friendly,” and with their detailed instructions, you’ll know just what to expect in terms of price, repairs, cleaning, deposits, and so on.
  • JimsFormalWear: This site bills itself as “America’s most trusted tuxedo source.” Although it offers the convenience of shopping for your tux rental online, you’ll still have to show up in person at one of their retail locations to be fitted and make a down payment on your rental. You’ll also have to drop the tux off when you’re done, and if you’re late, there will be a fee.
  • Tuxedo-Rental: This men’s clothing rental site offers 68 designer styles to choose from and ships your tuxedo for free. They claim to be able to suit you up in five minutes! You can also rent ties, vests, shoes and other accessories here, and their set (and reasonable) pricing makes figuring out your bill easy. They give discounts on multiple tux orders, have a detailed measuring chart, and guarantee a perfect fit. If I were a guy looking for an easy tux rental, this would be my pick.
  • AlbrightNYC: You can browse through this extensive designer collection online, but you’ll have to visit the Cooper Square warehouse in lower Manhattan for these luxury rentals. Their fashion library includes designs by Armani, Posen, Chanel and others at a rental price of 10 to 15 percent of the original retail purchase price. Their collection features one of a kind couture dresses and a “fashion smorgasbord” of top designer fashions. They specialize in providing magazine editors with clothing for big star photo shoots, so bring your piggy bank.

General

  • Zilok: This one year-old online rental marketplace offers a little bit of everything for rent. With an international and nearly-nationwide (New Jersey, you’re out of luck for now!) network of lenders and borrowers, chances are if you need to rent it, it’s here. This is the currently the largest rental network online. It offers items from both private individuals and businesses. It’s user-friendly, visually appealing and jam-packed full of interesting rental stuff and services. If I had to bookmark one online rental site, this would be it.

International

  • DoesMyTumLookBigInThis: Maternity clothing for hire in the United Kingdom. From casual to business, special occasion to evening wear, there’s a designer fashion for every size mom-to-be. (They even have maternity bridal dresses for rent!) If you fall in love with your rental wardrobe, you can purchase it at a heavy discount or just buy it new from the site. Oversees shipping is available by credit card and UK payment is in pounds sterling. There are several physical “for hire” locations in the UK and potential renters are encouraged to shop in person for their rental maternity wardrobe.
  • Edge2Edge: This UK site specializes in all things ski and snowboard rental, including clothing and attire. They offer pickup at two local airports or home delivery for a small fee. You can try before you buy and apply rental charges to your purchase price, which they claim will be the lowest price available.
  • FormalAffair: With 80 different styles of mens’ suits and tuxedos offered for hire, this site claims to have one of the widest selections anywhere. They offer a complimentary swatch service in order to help men match the fabric of their for-hire wedding clothing with the bridesmaid’s dresses. Retail service is available to those that live near one of their in-store locations, and home delivery can be arranged for a small fee. In addition to men’s formal wear, they offer a wide range of clothing for boys as well. They claim they will beat any price and offer 5-day rental for no additional charge and 10 day rental for a small fee.
  • GetAheadHats: You can book your fancy hat online at this lady’s hat shop and rental outfit, but you’ll have to show up in person at one of the dozens of UK showrooms to get it. Not for the faint of pocketbook, if you know what I mean…
  • Joke: This is an online costume rental site for the UK. They offer a wide selection of sizes and styles, and their prices are relatively reasonable. Most items are shipped the same day of your order and priority shipping is available for a small fee. International and oversees shipping is also an option, as well as next-day delivery for orders within the UK. The site is easy to navigate and has icon photographs of most costumes and accessories.
  • MaternityExchange: This claims to be the UK’s largest maternity wear dress clearance agency and clearance outfit. In addition to selling maternity clothes at a discount, they also rent fine maternity wear for business, formal and special occasions. You can click through their inventory and order online or visit their physical location in Bourne End Bucks. Shop by size, make or newest inventory links, and make up to 50 percent on your own used maternity clothing when you consign it to the site.
  • MaternityExchange: This Singapore-based online maternity clothing rental site offers gift vouchers, frequent shopper bonuses, a wide-variety of sizes and styles and even specialty items, such as maternity nursing wear. Click on what you want, order it, pay online, wear it, and return it to the company. Easy.
  • Moss: Expect men’s formal wear for hire and sale from this outlet that offers a wide variety of designer fashions for boys to men. The site is well-designed and visually appealing with detailed information on pricing, sizing, shipping and shopping for formal rentals. You’ll most likely need to be fitted in person, however.
  • RentASuit: This site bills itself as the “Mobile Formal Wear Hire Specialist.” The prices are reasonable, the selection is manageable, and you won’t have to make an in-store appearance to be fitted. Major credit cards are accepted.
  • SkiTogsHire: Difficult to read because of the bright orange, teensy fonts, this Oxford-based UK site offers online ski togs rental. No deposit is required, but if you don’t return your ski clothing on time, they will charge your credit card 100 percent of the value of the items. Free next day delivery is available for those whose rentals cost over 200 Euros, but you’ll have to pay for return delivery yourself.

Image credit: kickstand / iStockphoto

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