This past spring, Maya Goldberg tossed out half the clothes in her closet.
“As a shopper, I make a lot of bad decisions,” the 30-year-old Upper West Sider says. Trendy items from fast-fashion outposts such as Zara and H&M had been piling up. “Something would look good in the dressing room, but then a week or two later, I absolutely hated it.”
But she wasn’t about to quit trying to look cute. Since March, Goldberg has happily forked over $159 per month for access to an endlessly revolving wardrobe, courtesy of Rent the Runway’s unlimited rental program. Goldberg estimates that she cycles through 30 to 35 pieces per month. “If they shut down overnight, I would have a panic attack,” the married bank marketer says, musing: “Have I gotten rid of too many things?”
Borrowing clothes used to be a behind-the-scenes style solution among besties, but now it’s big business, thanks to companies such as Rent the Runway, Le Tote and the recently launched Tulerie. For women saddled with Champagne taste and a clearance-bin budget — not to mention an NYC-size sliver of closet space — these services are the go-to wardrobe cheat of the moment. They cater to young, tech-savvy fashion-philes who maintain active Instagram accounts as well as demanding desk jobs, outfitting them for everything from high-level board meetings to destination bachelorette parties.
“I don’t want to be a chronic outfit repeater [on Instagram],” explains Goldberg, confessing that the pressures to look good on social media have certainly contributed to her love of rental fashion. To avoid accidentally twinning with her friends, she says, all five of the Rent the Runway users in her circle will get on a group text to coordinate their rentals in advance of a big social event, such as a wedding.
Modal TriggerUpper West Sider Maya Goldberg has pared her closet down to basics, which she bears with bolder pieces from Rent the Runway.
Goldberg even figured out a way to “hack” the system. Users are permitted four garments at a time, which arrive in the mail or can be picked up from a brick-and-mortar store. (NYC’s is near Union Square.) On many occasions, she’s planned her days around trips downtown to the showroom, because it means she can replace her discards immediately, instead of waiting for delivery: “I would book a workout class near the store or rekindle friendships with people who live in that area.”
The showroom is often buzzing — it closes at 9 p.m. on weekdays, which allows women to stop to drop off their wares after work. Lunchtime is popular at the store, too, says Rent the Runway’s Chief Merchant Officer Sarah Tam. In addition to the NYC store, the brand has four brick-and-mortar locations, in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago and Washington, DC. While all of the clothes can be rented at the click of an app, the boutiques provide a more traditional shopping experience, where users can test the wares in person and get style recommendations from fashion-fluent store clerks.
Back in 2009, Manhattan-based Rent the Runway began as a rental service for women’s eveningwear. But Tam says that since the unlimited service launched in March 2016, it’s become so successful that those subscriptions account for half of the brand’s total revenue.
Now, other companies are borrowing the clothing-share concept.
When Tulerie co-founders Merri Smith and Violet Gross started dreaming up their own fashion-tech business, they had Rent the Runway in mind as a model.
“I use Rent the Runway,” says Smith, 35. “I loved the concept, but the inventory wasn’t there for me . . . I wanted more [luxury]brands, and more emerging designers.”
Friends Smith and Gross, 34, conceived of an intimate, app-based community where users who wear top-of-the-line labels — such as Gucci, Christian Louboutin, Altuzarra and Chloe — could pay a small fee to wear one another’s clothes. The service had a soft launch over the summer and officially went live last month.
Now, Tulerie boasts a few hundred users, says Gross, explaining that so far, everyone on the app has either been invited, or was vetted through a 10-minute Facetime chat with the founders. During those interviews, Smith and Gross ask for details about the applicant’s wardrobe, as well as her intentions for Tulerie: The ideal user has enough posh inventory to lend, yet still wants to borrow. It’s nationwide, so fashion-lovers can swap outfits from coast to coast. (Borrowers pay $9.95 for UPS shipping, on top of the rental fee, which averages $70 for four days. The fee goes to the lender, minus Tulerie’s 24 percent cut.)