Can We Talk About Rent the Runway's Unlimited Service?

Image via Rent the Runway/Facebook

Image via Rent the Runway/Facebook

Women have been using Rent the Runway since 2009 to borrow fancy dresses for a fraction of their retail price. Years ago, you may have been willing to buy and repeat the same gown, but—in the Instagram age—major looks now tend to be one-and-done affairs. That’s unfortunate when you consider how pricey formalwear can get. Then again, that’s why RTR is booming.

What you may not realize is that RTR isn’t just a party resource. The company is now offering a monthly unlimited service to set you up with clothes for everyday life. For $139 per month, you can borrow up to three pieces at a time, including formalwear.

Last week, I received an invitation for RTR’s try-on event in Neiman Marcus, and immediately signed up to test all the things. (I was their first client for a try-on session.) I spent about an hour in the fitting room to build a list of my favorite looks. Between the pieces I liked in person, those my RTR stylist added to my closet (after my very specific “don’t give me lace or ruffles” instructions), and a few that I found online, I now have 58 items stored. Most are for day, like dresses and jackets, but I threw a couple of ballgowns into the mix because there was a grand Monique Lhuillier number on the floor, and why wouldn’t I try that on when I have nowhere to go? (I might just borrow it and wear it around my apartment for funsies.)

If you can squeeze in a session during their try-on event, which ends Friday, February 9, I highly recommend it. (Sign up here.) But if you can’t spare an hour to play dress up and pepper RTR staff with questions on the minutiae of the program, I’ve got you covered.

Image via Rent the Runway

Image via Rent the Runway

Shipping

RTR ships Unlimited subscription boxes via ground delivery, so it can take about 5 days to get a box. I don’t think that time frame is ideal, so my stylist suggested that I could ship items to Neiman’s instead. Because the RTR department gets daily shipments, subscription pieces can arrive in as little as three days if you choose to pick up your box at the store. (If you live or work near Neiman’s and can pop by during store hours, that may be more appealing.) You can either return garments to the RTR inside Neiman’s, or ship them back via UPS. It’s your call.

Currently, you can’t just pick an item off the RTR rack in the San Francisco Neiman’s and borrow it on the spot, but the staffers tell me that the option is coming.

Pricing

Once you have your picks, you’re welcome to keep them as long as you want, but you won’t get a new item from your closet until you return one of the old items. (You can return all at once, or piece by piece.) The $139 fee is auto-billed to your credit card each month, but you’re free to cancel at any time. Based on my past rental service experiences, I think I could manage about 9-12 pieces in a month, which would bring the cost-per-borrowed-item down to $11.56–$15.44 per piece. If you generally go the fast fashion route to keep your wardrobe fresh, this would give you a comparable number of pieces per month, but you wouldn’t have equity in your wardrobe. (While I know that H&M and Forever21 pieces aren’t especially valuable, you can still resell them, so I’m counting that as partial equity.)

Image via Rent the Runway

Image via Rent the Runway

Borrowing

Unlimited includes dresses, jackets, tops, bottoms, jewelry, accessories (like scarves, hats, and sunglasses), and bags. The service applies to most items on the site, but bridal and vintage accessories, any dresses with a retail price of $3000+, and items from select designers are excluded.

Sizing

RTR carries both standard and plus sizes, but I didn’t see many plus sizes in the boutique inside Neiman’s. (The largest size I came across was a 12, but, admittedly, I didn’t look at every tag in the shop.) Most pieces were available in the 4–8 range, but there weren’t full size runs of any of the pieces. With that in mind, even if you’re trying on pieces in the shop, you’ll be working with a staffer to guess that size you actually want to order.

Nitpicking

If you’ve ever borrowed from RTR, the Unlimited subscription is probably looking pretty good right now. I paid $125 for the last jumpsuit I borrowed, which is now available on the $139 subscription plan. My inner math whiz looks at those numbers and screams, “Eureka! For only $14 more, I could have the jumpsuit and a bunch of other clothes.” That’s not necessarily true.

The traditional RTR service lets you book an item weeks in advance. With that full-price rental service, you also receive a backup size for your rental. With Unlimited, you can only borrow a piece that is not currently reserved, and there are no backup sizes.

I like examples, so let’s use one here to demonstrate the Unlimited reality.

Image via Rent the Runway

Image via Rent the Runway

Pretend I’m going to a gala next week. If I want to borrow that Monique Lhuillier ballgown that I tried on, I can only get it through Unlimited if no one else currently has a reservation for the dress. If Tracy in Tennessee has it reserved in a month, I can’t borrow it now because RTR doesn’t know when I’ll send it back. (Remember, Unlimited members keep pieces for as long as they want.) If the ballgown is currently available, the only way for me to guarantee that I can have it for the gala is to borrow it right now, which would take it out of rotation for the other RTR customers. But while I’m hoarding the ballgown, I can only swap out the two other pieces on my Unlimited subscription. Then my cost-per-item increases. Still, it’s likely more cost-effective that a traditional RTR rental.

If you’re really committed to securing a party dress in your subscription box, your best bet is to order it on Friday when the new pieces go live. You’ll still have to deal with the hoarding problem, but at least you’ll know that you’re literally covered for your event.

Image via Rent the Runway

Image via Rent the Runway

Conclusions

Overall, I’m pleased with the RTR Unlimited offerings. Some of the brands, like BB Dakota, are cheaper than I would expect from RTR, but there are enough luxury and contemporary labels to justify the cost. I could snag a Proenza Schouler midi (retail $1695), a Veda leather jacket (retail $990), David Koma separates (retail $580), or an Adeam maxi dress (retail $1600) without fretting over my cost per wear. I’ve been trying to clean out my closets without going full Marie Kondo, and RTR Unlimited seems like the perfect solution.