A Half-baked Argument for Clothing Rental Services


Nestled in between the clothes that look horrific on you in the dressing room and never get purchased and the ones that work perfectly years after you’ve bought them is a group of very cagey items. These items may fit, but they don’t work. Unfortunately, you weren’t able to figure that out until after you’d worn and washed them a few times, and discovered how odd they look when mixed with other items from your closet. Because you understand your style, you know what you like, and you can tell when something fits well … but you occasionally fail to accurately gauge how well a new item will play with old items.

And occasionally a sweater that looks amazing in the store and works beautifully with your outfits will begin to pill uncontrollably after three washes, or reveal that it is knit in such a way that cat hairs weave themselves in and cannot be removed with any lint roller known to humankind. Occasionally a blazer that looked amazing with the jeans you wore in the fitting room ends up looking horrible with your actual work clothes. Making sure you can think of at least three outfits built around a potential purchase helps, as does bringing it home and immediately attempting to create those outfits. But frequently it takes time and experimentation and wear to know for sure.

And yes, some vendors will give you your money back or store credit even if something has been washed and worn dozens of times. But most won’t. Most won’t even accept something unless it has its tags and zero signs of wear. Which makes sense for retailers, but can bite consumers in the butt.

I would love a grace period, a trial run, a set amount of time to experiment with a new piece and make damned sure it really is worth my money. I would love to be able to rent clothing for a few weeks, and then turn them back in if they don’t work. Rent the Runway uses a rental structure, but is mainly limited to evening and formalwear. Closet Collective is almost there, but still not customizable enough. The Gwynnie Bee model is more what I’m envisioning – pay a flat monthly fee, pick some items, wear them for a while, send them back when/if you’re sure you don’t want them or purchase them to keep. (They meticulously clean worn clothes before putting them back into rotation, of course.) But the service is only offered for women who wear sizes 10 to 32 – which is, of course, amazing since women in that size range often have limited and/or boring choices available. But it also means it’s not available to everyone. And since it’s a subscription, it’s also limited in brands offered. I want the Gap and Nordstrom to do this. I want it universal.

Do I know how to make that happen? Nope. That’s why “half-baked” is part of this post title. This is a daydream of mine, something I chew on when I find myself donating a garment that I bought a month ago and failed to predict would be a problem child. I think about my style frequently and try to make informed, careful purchases. But since I can’t cart the entire contents of my closet with me whenever I try on clothes, I can’t always guess which items are cute and useful and which ones are just cute.

Do you ever find yourself stuck with nearly-new items that seemed like they’d work initially, but failed to really work with your wardrobe after several wears? How do you handle this? Would you try a clothing rental service? Think it could be helpful?

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9 Responses to “A Half-baked Argument for Clothing Rental Services”

  1. Anamarie

    If I end up with clothes that don’t work for me, I have a few friends I offer them to. I don’t get any takers, the clothing ends up in a donation bag in the basement…and will be donated unless I figure out some way to wear the iffy item. I don’t know if I would use a rental service, unless the site had a wide size range which included petites and detailed measurements of skirt length, etc. My sister subscribes to Gwynnie Bee and loves it. She texts me photos of the dresses she receives for my opinion. GB not only rents, but they offer the option to buy the clothing offered. I often tell her to buy and she sometimes takes my advice. She told me the other day she should have kept a leopard wrap dress that’s no longer available. I would find it hard to not buy all the dresses!

  2. mjmoore

    The main time I desperately want a clothing rental service is when I’m pregnant and for a while when I’m postpartum. My size and shape change so fast during this period! And I hate hate hate buying clothes I’ll only wear for a few months at most. I actually floated this idea on the rental service Le Tote’s Facebook page, but they weren’t interested :p

  3. Shaina D

    In high school, my group of friends had periodic clothing swaps, where we all brought anything that wasn’t quite working in our wardrobes to the park on some sunny Saturday and traded pieces to our hearts’ content. Back then, I happened to be friends with quite a few people who were close to my size and shape; six years and a cross-country move later, that unfortunately isn’t the case anymore. Nowadays, anything I buy that doesn’t work quite right tends to get donated right back to the thrift store from whence it came — which isn’t a bad thing, but I sort of miss having the opportunity to trade clothes instead of giving them away! I’m intrigued by the Gwynnie Bee model, especially since I fall into their size range. I may have to try them out.

  4. Leslie Le

    That’s what I consider thrifting to be, usually– “renting” the clothes. 😉

    I have a couple of friends who use GB, and are pretty pleased with it. I don’t work outside my home, so it’s a luxury I can’t really afford.

  5. Jennifer

    I thrift 90% of my clothes and often find this problem of not loving the items. Maybe I’m less picky about fit/flatters/does it mesh than I should be? I still have trouble letting clothes go, but I’ve found that if I give to my mom, a similar-sized friend, or sell through Facebook I don’t mind. I’m starting on a plus-sized mid-summer clothes swap, gotta find a free location to hold it.

    I’m also interested in GB, but through a GB Facebook group, I’ve heard lots of complaints about them shipping slowly, not having much in stock, or not recognizing when customers had enough in their closets to ship.

    I don’t know how many pots you have in the fire, Sal, but I think this is an idea you should run with!

  6. pazzia

    i would sign up for a rental service if i could find one that had a larger selection in my size/fabrics i liked. apparently while gwynnie bee lists clothes from 10-32, most of the clothes are really 20+ (like you said, great for women who frequently struggle to find items in that range.) also heavy on stretchy/polyester. but i’m on the largest end/slightly over for sizes at le tote and the ms collection and would probably also have a hard time finding things available in my size. i’m also petite. so my real size isn’t offered by either of those sites.

  7. Lisa Wong

    Falling for what fits vs. what works still happens to me, and honestly, that’s why I’m leery of shopping sale racks these days. It seems most of the regret-tinged purchases I eventually relinquish were sale finds, while the regular price purchases stay in the wardrobe for a long time.

  8. Rachel

    If Gwynnie Bee shipped to Canada, I would totally try it. I love the idea of being able to wear something a couple of times and then getting something new.

  9. Melissa Keyser

    I wish I could try things on AFTER they’ve been washed a few times. Even supposedly “high quality” pieces, even when washed as directed, often seem to stretch/fade/rip at seams/shrink/etc.