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22 Dec

Would You Quit Shopping If You Had An “Unlimited” Wardrobe Of Borrowed Clothes?

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Shopping changed a lot in 2017, but perhaps the biggest shift was the rise of fashion’s new “sharing economy.” One of the coolest ways to shop right now is through consignment e-tailers, where you can buy a gently-used Chloé bag for a fraction of the price or find an archival Balenciaga dress you spent 10 years searching for. Stella McCartney is endorsing buying (and selling) her secondhand clothes through The RealReal, and indie designers like Ace & Jig have arranged global swap meets for customers to trade pieces they aren’t wearing anymore. It’s all set up for serious fashion fangirl-ing—but these designers also recognize the sustainable benefit of sharing clothes. The logic is pretty simple: The more use we get out of a garment, the better, and the more secondhand clothing we buy, the less brand-new stuff we’ll need to produce.

Rent the Runway founder Jennifer Hyman has an even more radical idea: That we shouldn’t own clothes at all. “I think your closet is going to be as obsolete as a landline phone one day,” she said in a recent meeting. I laughed, but she wasn’t kidding. The whole point of her RTR Unlimited plan is to enjoy a constantly refreshed wardrobe of items you don’t have to keep. For $159 per month, you can borrow as many pieces as you want from a wide selection, including Prabal Gurung dresses, Clare V. bags, Vince sweaters, and Theory suits. If you have a smaller budget, you can rent up to four items per month for $89 on the brand-new RTR Update plan—or, of course, you can rent on a piece-by-piece basis, with prices starting at $30. Yes, everything has been worn a few (or a few dozen) times, but the company’s success is proof that women don’t really care. Maybe we’ve chilled out. (Not so much that we don’t want clean clothes, of course; dry-cleaning is included.) I’ve been sharing clothes my entire life with my twin sister; it feels normal to us, but it still shocks people when I tell them. And as a fashion-loving girl, I’d venture to guess my closet mirrors a lot of women’s: Stuffed to the brim, with only a fraction of it getting worn. As someone who’s conscious of fashion’s massive carbon footprint, I’ve been trying to shop less—and shop better—so I was more than game to try RTR Unlimited for a few months, just in time for a slew of holiday parties.

Photo: Courtesy of Proenza Schouler
Photo: Courtesy of Proenza Schouler

Proenza Schouler’s printed skirt from Pre-Fall ’17, available to rent now on Rent the Runway.

Photo: Courtesy of Tory Burch
Photo: Courtesy of Tory Burch

Tory Burch’s embroidered top from Pre-Fall ’17, available to rent now on Rent the Runway.

Photo: Courtesy of Diane von Furstenberg
Photo: Courtesy of Diane von Furstenberg

Diane von Furstenberg’s scarf-printed dress from Spring ’17, available to rent now on Rent the Runway.

Photo: Courtesy of Derek Lam
Photo: Courtesy of Derek Lam

Derek Lam 10 Crosby’s matador jacket from Spring ’16, available to rent now on Rent the Runway.

I’ll admit I was worried I wouldn’t be able to find anything I wanted to rent. There’s literally thousands of items to choose from, so I realize that sounds insane—but I’m a fashion editor! I know too much, and my tastes don’t match my budget, so I’m pretty much always letting myself down. My goal for Unlimited was to borrow clothes I probably couldn’t buy IRL, specifically pieces I could wear to parties. I skipped over the A-line cocktail dresses and off-the-shoulder tops, but was happy to discover several high-end designers: Proenza Schouler, Tory Burch, Veronique Branquinho, Diane von Furstenberg, and Narciso Rodriguez all piqued my interest. My first order included a graphic Proenza skirt, a brown leather Carven jacket, a multi-print dress from Jonathan Saunders’s first collection for DVF, and a Derek Lam 10 Crosby matador jacket, which was a genuine surprise. I first saw it in the brand’s Spring ’16 collection more than two years ago (which feels like ancient history now). At $695, it was out of my price range back then, so I was thrilled to stumble upon it again. I hadn’t anticipated that sense of re-discovery on RTR, and it’s probably the only place you can find that jacket now.

Many rentals later, it was those kinds of statement pieces that felt the most “worth it” to me. Hyman said she isn’t interested in stocking basics or wardrobe staples; instead, her buyers look for colorful, fashion-forward stuff women might not normally invest in. Renting those pieces gives you a chance to play and experiment—and if you really fall in love with something, you can actually buy it on RTR for half the retail price. I was tempted to do that with both of the Proenza Schouler skirts I rented, because they nailed a tricky balance of bold, comfortable, polished, and unfussy. I wore the black-and-blue floral midi skirt with a ribbed knit sweater and suede boots to a holiday party earlier this week (and fielded several compliments), but I’d also wear it next summer with a T-shirt and sandals. It was hard to give back.

Still, there were a few times I had trouble finding four things to rent. A few pieces weren’t available in my size, and when I landed on an indie designer I love, like Rachel Comey or Apiece Apart, there were only two or three items to choose from. I have a feeling my colleagues and friends with wilder tastes would have a trickier time, but they likely aren’t representative of the average RTR customer, either. Hyman told me that many New York members rely on RTR for their 9-to-5 wardrobes, and “business casual” isn’t exactly in fashion’s vocabulary. If Hyman wants to attract more fashion-savvy clients, her team might consider smaller, more avant-garde brands, too—but that would also require the designers getting on board. I’m happy to see that American brands like Tory Burch, Rebecca Taylor, Rag & Bone, and even Nike have recognized the potential of a rented wardrobe, but how amazing would it be if Gucci or Balenciaga signed up? (That said, there is a “Balenciaga Accessories” tab in RTR’s Designer Index, which is either old or a hint of Demna Gvasalia originals to come.)

Designers big and small who want to remain relevant—particularly those who haven’t yet considered sustainability in their businesses—would be wise to look into it now before they’re late to the party.

From Vogue

Hannah Kim
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