Dresses for Rent: A Chic Idea That’s Catching On

Sep 13, 2010 2:33pm

ABC News on Campus reporter Miriam Smith blogs: For fashionistas on a budget, a $1,000 dress is something to admire from afar, but a growing company called Rent the Runway is making big-name designers more accessible to the rest of us, if not cheap. It’s becoming a big hit among college women. By renting designer dresses and jewelry for 10 percent of their retail value, Rent the Runway provides dresses of normally prohibited prices at a decent value.  For example, the Carlos Miele “Knock Em Dead Gown” normally retails for $2,750, but you can rent it for four days for $350. On the less expensive side, you can rent the Catherine Malandrino “Black Bombshell Dress,” normally $495, for $50.  With more than 500,000 members, 100,000 of whom are college students, Rent The Runway has seemed to strike a chord among the young adult crowd. “We all read magazines, watch Gossip Girl, and see fabulous dresses,” said Jenn Hyman, CEO and co-founder. “We were once confined to window-shopping. Rent the Runway enables you to have that exact look celebs wear.” Hyman, a Harvard business school graduate, brainstormed the idea when she was visiting her sister for Thanksgiving in 2008. She recalls a feeling many college women have: peering into a jam-packed closet and still feeling as though she had nothing to wear. “[My sister] wanted to wear a new dress for a wedding, but she didn’t want to invest in something she was only going to wear once,” Hyman said. “So we thought, what if we could have a different dress for every occasion?” Hyman returned to school, teamed up with co-founder Jennifer Fleiss, and started reaching out to designers. Now, 10 months after opening, Rent the Runway has partnerships with 120 designers, including world-renowned names such as Hervé Léger, Proenza Schouler, and Yigal Azrouël. “It’s all of the brands you’ve always drooled over,” Hyman said. Hyman speculates that having a new dress for each occasion has become more of a necessity in this age of social media. “All of the photos are being posted on Facebook,” Hyman said. “They used to be able to repeat outfits. Now, you really do need a new look.” Some young women agree that the pressure to debut a new look for every occasion has become overwhelming. Bayley Bash, 20-year-old UT student, feels the pressure to dress well due the multitude of events she attends, including football games, sorority formals, and fraternity formals. “I love trying out different designer dresses instead of re-wearing things I’ve bought,” she said. “It’s designer on demand.” Caitlin Phillips, 21-year-old UT student, also says she’s bogged down with countless events and chose the renting option for a sorority date party. “I just didn’t want to buy a Tibi dress for $400 and only wear it once,” she said. The company says one of their missions is to build confidence, especially among social college women on a budget. “Women are having magical Cinderella experiences,” Hyman said. “People are going out wearing dresses of their dreams and feeling confident and fabulous.” While dress rental isn’t entirely a new concept, Rent the Runway is the first company to go directly to designers for merchandise and to solely carry current season designs. They have grabbed the attention of students with savvy marketing, teams of college interns who promote the business at their schools, and a user-friendly rental process. They have a team of stylists to answer fashion and fitting questions. They always send two sizes to ensure proper fit. You can rent a “back-up” dress, also in two sizes, for an additional $25, and shipping and dry cleaning are included. And, most importantly to the college crowd, renters are covered against every snag and stain. The website adds a $5 insurance fee to every order during checkout. “We want you to go out to that frat party and not have to worry about anything,” Hyman said. Both founders, Hyman and Fleiss, are currently visiting universities along the east coast to build awareness and show students that this is a fun way to develop your own style. Later this year, they plan to hit Southern California and Texas.

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