Editor’s note: This article first published in the Fall 2022 issue of Beyond the Meeting Room, ALHI’s printed magazine, a luxury lifestyle publication focused on sharing compelling, inspirational and educational stories from beyond the four walls of a meeting room.
Edie Ellis, a business turnaround consultant based in Chicago, spent more than 200 nights in hotels last year. Instead of packing—and unpacking—dresses and blazers for each of her business trips, though, she subscribes to a clothing rental service that gives her access to a revolving closet of designer clothes that she can have shipped straight to her hotel, ready to wear.
“This year, I’ve worn a different outfit every day,” said Ellis, who subscribes to Rent the Runway, which is considered a pioneer in the clothing rental space. “It’s so nice to leave for work feeling well-dressed in something new—new to me, anyway.”
A fast-growing industry that’s valued at $38 billion and was poised for 22% growth in 2022, subscription-based fashion rental services are becoming increasingly relevant among business travelers today who want to keep their style fresh without contributing to the growing textile waste problem. The Environmental Protection Agency reports that Americans generate 16 million tons of textile waste a year.
Consumer Demand on the Rise
To keep up with consumer demand, many retailers have been launching subscription services, with of-the-moment inventory available to rent. (Think business-casual plaid dresses and pleated pants by Lauren Look from Ralph Lauren and fashion-forward blouses and tweed pencil skirts from designer Rebecca Taylor’s RNTD clothing subscription service.)
Most clothing subscriptions currently are tailored to women, but the men’s rental market has begun to move beyond special occasion tuxedos into more everyday wear with business-casual offerings.
For instance, Vince.unfold is a subscription rental service available to men and women that gives members access to endless classic styles for a monthly fee of $160. Cashmere cardigans and tapered trousers are available in the men’s section and shirt dresses and satin blouses are ready to be styled by women. Meanwhile, Taelor is a new rental player that exclusively offers menswear, with stylists and AI picking styles based on preferences.
Memberships look a little different across the different rental platforms, but the overarching theme is to rent an allotted number of items at a time, return them and then pick new pieces.
Services like Rent the Runway, for instance, have different membership tiers, including one plan that allows customers to rent four designer items at a time, and swap out their rentals three times throughout the month for $193 a month. Members have access to 750 brands, with a range of rentable items fit for everything from the boardroom to a bridal party.
- $38 Billion: current value of the clothing rental industry
- 22 Percent: expected growth in 2022
- 16 million tons of textile waste Americans generate each year, according to the EPA
Fashion Flexibility, Dry-Cleaning Savings
For Ellis, the flexibility of clothing rental makes sense for her lifestyle. She saves on dry-cleaning bills because Rent the Runway handles that, and if she goes up or down a size, she’s able to order the right fit.
Sahra Schukraft Brandt—the stylist behind Shop the City, a leading wardrobe consulting agency in the San Francisco Bay Area—says she often recommends rental services to her clients.
“I love that renting is having people really invest in quality basics to pair with, and then having more fun with fashion by renting bolder pieces for the short term,” she said.
Some of her favorite looks right now for women are wide-leg trousers paired with a classic silky blouse or a tighter-fitting basic turtleneck or mock neck under a slightly oversized blazer. For men, she’s taking note of a corduroy resurgence, which could be incorporated with small wale styles and a wider cropped trouser or a dark navy blazer.
Many of the brands and designers that are available to rent are also in stores, so Schukraft Brandt recommends trying on pieces to get an idea for fit.
Taylor McCaig, the director of marketing for a startup that helps small businesses get government contracts, travels about four to five times a year for meetings and conferences. She relies on Rent the Runway to punch up her wardrobe with blazers in a fun print and professional jumpsuits. For a nontravel week, she considers pieces that will look good on Zoom.
“I love mixing unexpected colors and styles together in a professional way,” said McCaig, who is based in Dallas. “When I go into a meeting, my goal is for people to know that I’m the artsy one.”