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Cheapskate's Guide to Designer Fashion: Rent, Don't Buy, That Dress

Why drool over these Badgley Mischka gowns when you can rent them online?
Why drool over these Badgley Mischka gowns when you can rent them online?


My friend Lauren won't pay a dime if she can get away with paying a nickel; it's a trait that I, a frequent spend-thrift, admire wildly. She incorporates her budget-conscious nature into everything she does and still maintains a fabulous life -- she makes it to every party, festival and event and always looks great.

When she showed up to her birthday bash in an adorable and immaculately tailored cocktail dress I knew that she had found another fiscal loophole. It turns out that she rented the thing from a designer dress rental website that ships out gowns for a fraction the cost of actually purchasing them. A new Versace cocktail dress costs the same as the blue book value of my car, but renting one? I can afford it and I don't have to feel financial shame when it gathers dust in my closet.

The concept behind renting a dress seems dated, at least at first blush. It's something better suited for an episode of Laverne and Shirley than for modern working women. But our generation can't afford to be flippant with spending; we've fought our way into this job market's scant available positions and fight daily to keep them. We, like the brewery girls from Milwaukee, stash cash away in pleasure funds and fret over dollars spent. It would be reckless to blow hundreds on couture when a 401K beckons. With that said, we still want to look great when we finally nail down a date with Arthur Fonzarelli.

The site RentTheRunway.com bridges the divide. Showcasing a roster of nearly 200 designers -- including Vera Wang, Nicole Miller and Diane von Furstenberg, the photo-friendly website allows you to graze brand name dream pieces to wear on loan.

The site is easy to navigate; you can peruse by brand, style, or category the last of which includes anything from "Date Night" to "Weekend Getaway: Miami." The rental prices range from $50 bucks to a couple of hundred, depending on the cost of the item if purchased new. So while the above pictured flirty, green cocktail number by Opening Ceremony is a $75 rental, this evening gown by Vera Wang will set you back $300. (Purchased new, that Wang would cost $1,995 and would offer very little versatility once stationed in your closet.)

Like most women, when I'm getting ready to go out I search through my Dress Army, hoping to find some forgotten frock that doesn't remind me exclusively of one event, be it a wedding or a birthday party, and I'm tired of hoarding things that can't cross openly from one situation to another. With time nearly as valuable as money earned, I don't want to waste entire weekends poking through uppity boutiques in hopes of finding that special item for that one night I have coming up. This website solves that conundrum by combining the ease of online shopping with the impermanence of renting.

Since online shopping doesn't tell you if that dress will fit your hips, RentTheRunway asks you to select two sizes and mails them both. With one click, I can now find a dress I like, rent it cheaply, have it shipped to my house or work and scoot it back when I'm done. If neither item fits (or it just looks hideous) I can drop it in the mailbox within 24 hours and get a full refund. This is very appealing.

When your night is over and you're ready to send them back, no problem: they arrive in postage-paid return envelopes, like a fashion version of Netflix. You are left with one less thing hanging in your closet's purgatory, the "Someday There Will Be A Gala" clothing queue.

Would you ever rent a dress, or does the idea rub you the wrong way? Let us know.

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