Josie Ortega reviews Rent the Runway’s monthly subscription service for special event dresses—and learns how to rent clothes for a fun everyday mom wardrobe.
Given my stay-at-home/work-from-home mom status, which for me engenders a deep appreciation for comfortable knitwear, I hardly had considered a clothing rental service like Rent The Runway. For office life, or for childless clotheshorse socialites, sure. Not for me. That is until I realized that I needed to make several Serious Outfit Choices for upcoming events this fall.
One event in particular—an annual gala I attended with my husband last year—called for Black Tie attire. As I mentally selected an appropriate dress from my closet, the photo-op from the prior year’s event flashed into my brain. I love that evening gown! But I wore it last time.
The second, more important occasion was my cousin’s wedding. It became clear to me that I wouldn’t be happy with any of the dresses in my closet. And if the wedding of a dear family member doesn’t call for a shopping spree, what does?
Enter Rent the Runway. [By the way, the third event requiring an outfit choice was a tailgate party. Not as highly prioritized as celebrating lifelong vows, certainly. But still—I had to wear something! And not be too cold!] I figured the fee for a month's worth of RTR's subscription service would be less expensive than any wedding guest dress I'd buy.
Armed with a discount code, I signed up for a month of RTR Unlimited, which offers four items of clothing at a time with as many exchanges as I wanted during the month.
I had a great time shopping the RTR site, hearting my favorites, creating two or three lists of potential pieces to have ready as the month progressed and I needed to be sure to have outfits in time for my events. Clothes are delivered in a garment bag that doubles as a shipping package.
In my first delivery, I was looking for a wedding guest dress. I kept one dress as a maybe and returned three the same day I received the package. My next selections were ready online. The next day, as soon as RTR emailed that they’d received my returns, I hit send on the next shipment, which arrived the following day.
I enjoyed the whole experience, perhaps too much. First of all, browsing the RTR website where you can shop and sort by body type, designer, color, and more provided all the fun of retail therapy, without the parking and the fluorescent lighting. And since I already budgeted the monthly rental fee, the price of each item no longer mattered. I don't usually try on $500 sweaters, is what I'm saying.
We live near a UPS Store, where I dropped off the hanging bag that doubles as a package to return the clothes. Every time, the shipping and turn around time was even quicker than advertised.
Renting rather than buying gave me a freedom that I didn't expect. Hand in hand with not considering the cost of an item, I felt open to trying statement pieces without agonizing, "Will I actually wear this dress again? How many wears would make this worthwhile?"
For the wedding, I enjoyed a higher quality dress than I’d be likely to purchase otherwise. I also used the month to give some trends a test run and see how I felt in them. I didn't love the wide-legged jeans that I packed on my Nashville trip, but I felt fashionable enough in them to wear them, smug in the knowledge that I'm aware of denim trends.
One day I wore a dress from Runway Unlimited, styled with my own white sneakers. My mom called this combination—direct quote—an interesting choice. [Reader, this means she wasn't into it.] I count it as a victory, though, to be trying fun, interesting clothes instead of only what's safe.
In addition to enjoying some quirky statement clothing—e.g. orange sweater for tailgating—I was surprised to find jeans that I loved so much that I found and purchased them elsewhere. RTR offers discounted prices on some of their rental items, so at the end of the month, I also bought a jacket that I loved enough that I hadn't swapped it for anything else.
By the end of the month, I had, in fact, spent more than I normally would in the shopping budget. But instead of throwing that money toward a fancy dress or two, I acquired a couple of long-term staples.
While I won't rent from RTR every month, now it's a tool I have to use when the season calls for it. Or, when I need a style update, I'll experiment with Rent the Runway to figure out what that could look like. It was straightforward and easy to pause the subscription.
Over the last few years, I’ve gone through several different rounds of narrowing down my closet to those items of clothes that fit, that I love and wear a lot. See: the clothing exchange, sparking JOY with Marie Kondo, capsule wardrobes, and our Minimal-ish Mom on the Street’s advice to wear something 30 times!
When my favorite two tops began to show some wear, I panicked. One is a Kelly Kapowski-style short-sleeved sweatshirt from Everlane; the other is a random hoodie with blue embroidery detail from Anthropologie, purchased many moons ago. So I found both, the exact same sweatshirts, on ebay and snapped them up. Now I have two of each!
If you see me around the neighborhood and it seems like I’m always wearing the same thing . . . I am. But it’s not always dirty.
I really liked the way that renting injected novelty and excitement into my Mom Uniform. Wearing new items a few times gave me a little confidence boost. I'm no shopping psychologist, but I conjecture that renting inoculated me from the desire to impulse buy. True: at the end of my month of Rent the Runway, I purchased new jeans and the jacket, but not on impulse. I'd tested them; loved them; they filled a wardrobe gap. I'm sure to wear them 30+ times, which is a much better use of money than a new gala dress.
A gift card toward RTR Unlimited or RTR Update (which includes four items with one swap a month) makes such a fun gift for a pregnant friend! Or a postpartum friend. Or anyone in these glorious childbearing years when body shape and size feels like a dang roller coaster—one that’s being torn down, redesigned, and rebuilt every few months.
I wish I'd had RTR when I was pregnant so I could access high-quality maternity wear that I didn't want to invest in, but still wanted to feel confident sporting for that relatively short stage. When we've got sets of clothing in three different sizes filling up our closets, it amplifies the shame that can creep in from having tons of clothes and still nothing to wear. (And what hormonal mother needs the shame? Not I.)
So, Rent the Runway could be a way to embrace and enjoy all these transitions and phases of motherhood, and life in general. To allow ourselves not to be too concerned with which clothes will ultimately earn a spot in our closets. As we learn over and over, each stage of motherhood and parenting feels like the New Normal. Then as soon as I get in a groove, things change once again!
And it's not only for the new mothers. Giving an RTR monthly membership would be an awesome gift for so many people! This type of gift embraces the spirit of Experiences over Things—and the spirit of letting go of the pressure to choose The Right Gift and allowing the recipient to choose what she wants.
Runway Unlimited would make a great gift for :