Manikin wearing ball gown in pink and purple color referencing the idea of renting formal dresses for special occasions covered in this article
April 25, 2024
Slow Fashion

Rent Formal Dresses: 9 Fantastic Places for Circular Fashion and A More Sustainable Wardrobe

Pinterest Icon.Instagram icon

id you know fast fashion, such as that once-in-a-lifetime statement dress, contributes to nearly 10% of global carbon emissions?

As the world wakes up to the ecological impact of this trend, the fashion industry is undergoing a dramatic transformation. This shift is driven by the need for sustainable alternatives that break our dependence on fast fashion's wasteful cycle.

So what should you do if you are in need of a show-stopping designer gown, but without the hefty price tag or the environmental guilt? A great option to consider would be dress rental services.

By letting you borrow a dress instead of buying one, you can embrace sustainable style and high fashion without breaking the bank or the planet.

Table of  Contents

Why Rent Your Formal Dresses And Other Short-Term Wear?

While it would be ideal to have a never-ending wardrobe, the reality is that our lives, jobs, and styles change. However, purchasing new clothing every time a new trend emerges is not sustainable nor financially smart in the long run - which is where renting comes in. 

With short -term rentals, you can treat yourself to your favorite luxury brands at a fraction of the cost. There's no need to worry about only wearing the articles once because renting allows you to give back the article so someone else can experience it. Here are more reasons why renting may be a great option: 

  • Create extra space in your base wardrobe for rotating items
  • Contribute to a sustainable environment and economy
  • Relinquish the guilt of owning something pricy that can be worn a handful of times
  • Keep your style relevant with a few trendy pieces you can swap out every once in a while
  • Get more creative with your choices without straining your budget by accessing luxury brands affordably
  • Explore different fashion choices and refine or freshen up your closet
  • Conveniently find the perfect outfit for any occasion
  • Experience the joy of sharing clothes knowing someone else will get to rock it too
  • Receive a unique and satisfying service that keeps you int he circular fashion loop

The History Of Clothing Rental Services

The concept of renting clothes may appear to be a recent phenomenon driven by social media, a desire for a continually refreshed wardrobe, and of course avoiding waste. But the truth is, clothing rental services have a lengthy history, extending back to the early days of theater and special events.

Clothing rentals originated in the early twentieth century. Costume rental businesses developed, providing theatrical costumes to professional organizations and even ordinary consumers. These shops offered a low-cost alternative for actors and performers to prepare for their parts without having to buy clothing they might only wear once.

As the century progressed, the idea of renting garments grew beyond the theater. Tuxedo and evening gown rental businesses began to thrive. This was geared toward guests attending big events such as weddings, proms, and galas. Renting allowed people to enjoy the luxury of high-end apparel at a fraction of the retail price, making designer brands more accessible for special occasions.

Fast forward to the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, and clothes rentals have seen a revival. This time, the emphasis shifted. With the rise of fast fashion and increased awareness of its environmental impact, a new generation saw clothing rentals as a sustainable and cost-effective method to keep their outfits fresh.

Rent the Runway, which launched in 2009, pioneered the current apparel renting business. They provided a membership service that allowed members to rent designer outfits and accessories for a fraction of the retail price. This model appealed to fashion-conscious people who wanted variation without the commitment of ownership.

Clothing rental services are no longer just for special events or expensive designer items. Companies today provide a diverse range of options, from casual to professional clothes. Subscription boxes provide selected selections, and some businesses even offer the chance to buy products after renting them.

Why Is Formal Dress Rental Considered Circular Fashion?

Circular fashion is a system that tries to keep clothing in use for as long as possible while reducing waste and increasing resource efficiency. 

Formal dress rental services are an example of circular fashion because they extend the life of garments by sharing them with different users. Instead of purchasing a dress that may only be worn once, renting allows the same dress to be enjoyed by many people, decreasing the need for ongoing manufacture and disposal.

9 Of Our Favorite Places To Rent Formal Dresses

1. Rent the Runway

Three women styled in Rent The Runway rented clothing

Rent the Runway has transformed the fashion rental industry by providing an extensive selection of high-end designer clothing. What distinguishes them from other rentals is their comprehensive subscription plan, which allows for limitless rentals each month, making high fashion affordable and sustainable. 

A fellow renter praises the simplicity and variety, writing, "The endless options and easy returns have made my wardrobe limitless." 

  • Dress Types: Cocktail, formal, wedding
  • Product Range: Women, maternity, accessories
  • Sizing Range: XS to plus sizes
  • Other Rentals: Bags, jewelry, outerwear
  • Pricing: Unlimited Swap Plan ($99-$199/month), Reserve (one-time rentals)
  • Notable brands: Badgley Mischka, Diane von Furstenberg, Tanya Taylor, Reformation, Stella McCartney

In addition, Rent the Runway actively encourages sustainability with its "Rent, Return, Repeat" mantra. They work with designers who are devoted to environmentally responsible techniques and use recyclable packaging.

2. Nuuly

2 models side by side wearing rented formal dresses from Nuuly.

Nuuly is all about changing the way you view fashion. They are a clothes rental subscription business that allows you to continuously refresh your wardrobe. With over 300 brands to choose from, including exclusive picks from Anthropologie, Free People, and Urban Outfitters, you'll find a variety of styles to suit every mood and occasion. 

A customer review highlights the extensive range and quality of their collection: “I’m always excited to see what’s new each month, and the quality never disappoints!”

  • Dress Types: Cocktail, Prom, Casual, Wedding 
  • Product Range: Women, maternity
  • Sizing Range: XS to plus sizes
  • Other Rentals: Bags, jewelry, outerwear
  • Pricing: Subscription-based at $98/month
  • Notable brands: Anthropologie, Free People, Urban Outfitters

Nuuly handles everything from laundry to repairs, allowing you to focus on expressing yourself through fashion. Each month, select your six favorite pieces, wear them with confidence, and return them for a refresh when you're ready to try something new. Nuuly offers a selection of sustainable brands and provides a recycling program for worn-out clothes.

3. Armoire

Armoire dress rental logo

Armoire takes the guesswork out of fashion with a fun questionnaire that customizes your wardrobe based on your zip code and personal style. They'll match you with on-trend clothes that will keep you looking and feeling fantastic, rain or shine.

But Armoire does not stop there. They believe in worry-free fashion. Minor errors are covered, regardless of whether you're a klutz or a great ketchup spiller. 

Furthermore, Armoire helps you look your best with their popular customized picks. A client praised how effective it was , saying that they “get compliments every time” they wear an Armoire piece, which made them have confidence in and “love the personalized styling service” Armoire offered.

  • Dress Types: Business, Smart casual  
  • Product Range: Women
  • Sizing Range: Includes petite and plus sizes 
  • Other Rentals: Bags, jewelry, outerwear
  • Pricing: $149/month for 4 items, additional items can be added for a fee
  • Notable brands: Rebecca Taylor, Free People, Joie, Parker

Armoire goes beyond the eco benefits. Once garments reach the end of their rental cycle, they are donated to Dress for Success Seattle, which provides financial education, job training, and career opportunities for women.

4. Gwynnie Bee

Two women wearing plus size formal dresses rented from Gwynnie Bee

In terms of diversity among clothing rental sites, Gwynnie Bee is at the top. They are popular for their vast selection for plus-size clients. With Gwynnie Bee's subscription service, you can create a diverse array of looks, from jeans and slacks to shirts and blouses to jackets and outerwear at relatively affordable rates.

  • Dress Types: Casual, Workwear, Cocktail
  • Product Range: Women
  • Sizing Range: 0-32W
  • Other Rentals: Tops, bottoms, outerwear, jewelry, accessories
  • Pricing:  $49-$99 a month for 1-10 items
  • Notable brands: Rebecca Taylor, Free People, Joie, Parker

By extending the life cycle of clothing and lowering textile waste in the plus-size market, Gwynnie Bee supports circular fashion. A "Re-Gwynnie" scheme is also available for the resale of gently worn goods.

5. By Rotation 

Woman wearing gold colored cocktail dress rented from By Rotation.

Meet By Rotation, a London-based garment rental platform that is shaking up the industry and challenging quick fashion's supremacy. By Rotation, founded by Eshita Kabra-Davies, is dedicated to making sustainable fashion more accessible to everyone. The community created is an aspect many of the clients value.

  • Dress Types: All types, including ethnic wear
  • Product Range: Men, Women, children
  • Sizing Range: Varied 
  • Other Rentals: Tops, bottoms, outerwear, accessories
  • Pricing:  Varies
  • Notable brands: Free People, For Love & Lemons, LPA, Likely

By Rotation, the first 100% peer-to-peer service through an app, takes pride in its community-focused methodology. Lenders are in complete control of leasing terms, prices, and any discounts they choose to provide.

By partnering with organizations like Dress for Success Seattle,  Buy Rotation can donate its clothes to charity, giving it a second chance and supporting a good cause.

6. FashionPass 

Woman wearing casual and formal dresses rented from FashionPass.

Fashion Pass is a novel initiative that blends sustainability with innovative style, not simply another subscription clothes service. It’s designed for influencers. Fashion Pass provides unmatched wardrobe versatility by letting you rent 12–24 pieces a month, making it easy to curate your changing style. Customers love how style relevant and reasonably priced they are.

  • Dress Types: Trendy, casual, cocktail
  • Product Range:  Women
  • Sizing Range: XS to XL
  • Other Rentals: Tops, bottoms, outerwear, accessories
  • Pricing:  $59-$139 a month 3 subscription tiers
  • Notable brands: Free People, For Love & Lemons

Fashion Pass offers cleaning and maintenance services to ensure a hassle-free rental experience, so forget about washing and dry cleaning.

7. Vince Unfold 

Woman wearing Vince dress rented from Vince Unfold formal dress rental service.

Vince Unfold is renowned for its luxury brand offerings and high-quality selections. It transforms the way you experience luxury clothing and helps you design a dynamic closet full of premium essentials and on-trend pieces, all delivered straight to your home.

  • Dress Types: High-end, casual, cocktail
  • Product Range:  Women, Men 
  • Sizing Range: XXS-XXL
  • Other Rentals: None
  • Pricing:  $160 a month for 4 items 
  • Notable brands: Vince

8. The Black Tux

collage of man posing by piano wearing suit rented from The Black Tux and a box of how rentals are packed.

The Black Tux distinguishes itself as a premium suit rental service by providing a wide range of high-quality suits and a simple rental process. Shopping for your next rental is simple with their online platform, which includes a Fit Survey and easy instructions for obtaining precise measurements in the comfort of your home. 

For those who prefer an in-person fitting experience, The Black Tux maintains a shop in Brooklyn, NY, and has collaborated with Nordstrom to offer showroom experiences at 26 locations nationally. Customers particularly enjoy the timely delivery, reasonable prices and quality of items: “ Everything arrived on time as expected. The price was reasonable, and the products were good quality.” 

  • Dress Types: Suits, Tuxedos
  • Product Range:  Men’s formal wear 
  • Sizing Range:  XS to XXL
  • Other Rentals:  Shirts, shoes, vests, ties, cufflinks, pocket squares
  • Pricing: Tuxedo rentals start at $110, suit rentals start at $95, and additional items can be added
  • Notable brands:  Their own line of modern, well-fitted tuxedos and suits.

The Black Tux offers environmentally friendly dry cleaning methods for their rentals. They use high-temperature, sophisticated, and environmentally friendly processes to eliminate all cold and flu viruses, ensuring that the clothing is clean and safe for customers. This approach is part of their commitment to providing a quality service that is also mindful of environmental impact.

9. Hirestreet 

woman wearing floral dress rented from Hirestreet dress rental service.

Hirestreet, founded in 2017 in Newcastle by former strategy consultant Isabella West, intends to transform the fashion industry by pushing clothes rental over purchase.

The platform focuses on giving inexpensive rental options for young, working professional women seeking clothing for special occasions such as weddings, parties, and holidays. Hire street has garnered a lot of favor from clients, for their pleasant service and great value for money: “I came across HireStreet when I was looking for a black tie gala outfit. I tried it out and was so incredibly impressed with the price, service, and products that I am back again!”

  • Dress Types: Wedding, Prom, party dresses
  • Product Range:  Women
  • Sizing Range: Varies 
  • Other Rentals: Tops bottoms, outwear, accessories 
  • Pricing:  pay per rental and subscription option
  • Notable brands: French Connection, Whistles, Lavish Alice, Ghost 

Leading the way in post-rental methods, the company sells items that have either reached their rental maximum (at least 20 uses per item, preferably 30) or are no longer rentable. 

They promote sustainable operations by collaborating with ACS, a fulfillment facility dedicated to environmental responsibility. Since 2017, ACS has cut annual waste management expenditures by 70% and reduced annual CO2 emissions by 15.7 tons through measures such as LED lighting installation.

Spin into Sustainable Style with Rentable Formal Dresses

Embracing clothing rental options, particularly for formal dresses and occasion wear, is a significant step toward a more sustainable and circular fashion lifestyle. 

Sharing clothing among numerous users allows us to extend their life cycle, reduce textile waste, and lessen negative environmental effects. From peer-to-peer platforms to curated subscription services, there are various options to suit any style or budget. It is also great to know you can still enjoy fashion trends and change up your style to match your current vibe while not harming the planet. The ultimate win-win situation.

For conscious consumers, finding sustainable fashion options is a great way to supplement other sustainability efforts. A good bonus is that it is now more accessible for everyone who wants to give it a shot.