Carrie Johnson may be a Marmite figure, but one thing that has won her unanimous praise is her propensity to hire clothes: a champion of sustainable fashion. For her “second” wedding party with Boris in the Cotswolds last weekend she hired a Savannah Miller dress. It would have cost her £ 3,500 to buy her, but she paid £ 25 a day to rent it. And in May 2021, for her nuptials kept safe from Covid, she rocked the boho bridal look with a lace gown hired from Christos Costarellos for a similar fee.
Let’s be clear. I think renting clothes is a brilliant idea for the planet. And just as Carrie is making headlines for taking over her wardrobe this week, my boyfriend invites me to the Cowes Week Royal Yacht Squadron ball. Suddenly I’m on the market for a “wow” number.
While I’m used to fashion parties where invitations are distributed based on the number of followers on Instagram, this is a next-level exclusive – think royalty, lords, and knights.
I want to look as chic in the garden as in the large room. I want to be able to drink and dance. And he breathes.
Being a student of a fashion magazine, I have handled designer clothes and know what makes them different: quality fabric, thoughtful construction, smart design. The best clothes are flattering and wow, they keep you in without making you feel constricted and don’t require constant adjustment or reveal your VPL. But they also cost thousands. Enter the rental sites.
I have to admit that there are various factors that make rental fashion a bit unnerving. Especially if the event in question is a big deal. What if the dress arrives damaged? What if you damage it? What if it doesn’t fit? What if he doesn’t flatter himself? Or does it look remotely like it does on the website?
Since I first clicked on rental sites a couple of years ago, there have been some improvements. More stocks. Filters easier to work with. And now you can try on some of the clothes if you go to visit the department stores.
In the name of investigative journalism, I throw myself into testing different sites. I identify as eligible: By Rotation, My Wardrobe HQ, Front Row, Selfridges Rental and Rotaro. I discard Rotaro because it looks too good and edgy for me. Overall, my first impressions are positive – there are definitely some gorgeous dresses out there that I can afford. TIC Tac.
First riddle. What size will I be? I like a dress that fits but am I an 8 or a 10? I don’t know until I’ve tried them. Misleading.
I book appointments at places that offer “try-on” services (Front Row, Harrods and Selfridges) and let them know which clothes I would like to try on on the road.
Rosie wears: La Metamorphose blue floral dress
Cost: from £ 30 for rent, to buy pre-loved £ 1,861, to buy new £ 3,000 more, MyWresteHQ
At the My Wardrobe HQ pop-up grant at Harrods, even though the manager was friendly and helpful, sadly only one of the four pieces I had requested was there. Then the dress that I had loved on screen would not have been styled. Hmm.
Luckily I found another wonderful dress from the same designer that dresses beautifully (strangely the same size). But at £ 1,861 to buy and with a long train that seemed perfect for trampling I was worried about incurring damage. Another dress I loved had a broken zipper. While there, I look at the beautiful wedding dresses on display and wonder why anyone would buy one when you could rent it?
I leave for the next appointment at Front Row to meet one of its founders and try on a selection of dresses, but when I arrive at the showroom she is not there and the doors are closed. I am perplexed. I can’t speak on the phone. I later found out that she had her purse torn off by a man on a motorcycle. Front Row confirms that they will send the clothes to my house instead. Meanwhile, I get a message from Selfridges saying that my requested dress (the only one on the site that I found suitable) is not available because it is under repair. Hmm.
Rosie wears: Nailah Green San Sloane dress
Cost: From £ 31 rent, buy new £ 170, Selfridges rental
I return home to Oxfordshire a little discouraged. So I start delving into By Rotation and discover that they act as intermediaries between the tenant and the owner. This means that the dresses are kept by their owners and so effectively you rely on Sandra from Surrey or Carla from Cheshire to post their dress to you. This makes me very nervous.
I ask for the dresses to arrive the day before the prom. Front Row should be delivered on time. An email from Selfridges states that a replacement dress has been sent.
Ironically, the By Rotation dress that worried me the most arrives on time. A wonderful strapless Oscar De Rent. I try. It fits beautifully.
Rosie wears: Oscar de la Renta sequined strapless dress
Cost: from £ 167 for rent, buy pre-loved £ 1,042, to buy similar new around £ 6,000, By rotation
Finally the Selfridges dress arrives just (only just) in the required time. It is quite fabulous but definitely not a substitute. He’s knitted and he clings to every curve and would make the gentlemen choke on their canapes. If I were to rely on this I would be hindered.
Then, the day I anticipate the arrival of the My Wardrobe dress, I was told that I have to pick it up from Harrods. I have a mild heart attack. I tell them that I live in Oxfordshire and not only is it impractical, but the cost of the return train ticket to London would be more than the rental. They make sure it is shipped by courier and arrives on the morning of the event.
According to UPS, First Row clothes are locked at the depot. So I’m officially AWOL. The rent was not stress free. Buying my dress now seems like a much more attractive proposition.
None of this is as easy as Carrie makes it seem. So what’s my verdict?
The black Oscar de la Renta I chose looked incredible and is something I could never afford (a similar design currently retails for £ 6,500). But my advice if you are planning to rent would be to make your choices a few days before you need them. Try them first and always have a backup plan.
Would I take a wedding dress like this like Carrie did? There is no way. My nerves couldn’t take it.
The five most rented dresses in the UK
1. Falconetti dress of the vampire’s wife
Worn by the Duchess of Cambridge on several occasions
Real price: £ 1,595. Rental price: from £ 115 for two days, rolling