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I got a Rent the Runway Membership—Is it actually worth the money?

Access to designer clothes expanded my wardrobe considerably

A Staud Mini Moreau bag, a Slate & Willow Long Puff Dress, Great Jones Multi Floral pants. Credit: Reviewed / Staud / Slate & Willow / Great Jones / Rent The Runway

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If you’re sick and tired of wearing the same four or five outfits on repeat, you probably wish you could expand your wardrobe. However, buying new clothes is often quite expensive, especially if you want high-quality pieces. This common woe has given rise to a variety of clothing rental services that let you “borrow” clothing for a reduced price. None are better known than Rent the Runway.

Sign up for Rent the Runway

This popular clothing rental service launched in 2009, and originally, it mostly offered designer dresses that people could rent for special occasions. However, it’s since grown to include a subscription-style membership, as well as thousands of garments from popular designers and brands. Reviewed contributor Samantha Matt first tested Rent the Runway in 2018, and I wanted to see how the service has evolved since then. I spent a few months renting different clothing and accessories to see if it’s worth signing up, and here’s what I found.

What is Rent the Runway?

A woman posing in a dress with a dog. A dress to the right.
Credit: Reviewed / Camryn Rabideau / Rent the Runway

Rent the Runway offers plenty of styles, so there's something for everyone.

Rent the Runway is a popular clothing rental service for women that specializes in designer apparel. It allows you to rent a wide range of clothes, including everything from ball gowns to sports bras, as well as accessories like handbags, jewelry, hats, and sunglasses.

Rent the Runway is a popular option for special events like weddings, where you might need a new outfit. By renting instead of buying clothing, you’ll save quite a bit of money and also prevent your closet from being clogged up with garments you’ve only worn once or twice.

How does Rent the Runway work?

There are two different ways to rent clothes from Rent the Runway: one-time rentals or membership plans. These two options cater to different needs, so it’s important to figure out which option will work best for you.

One-time clothing rentals

A dress hangs on the back of a door in a plastic sleeve.
Credit: Reviewed / Camryn Rabideau

Clothing rentals are shipped straight to you, each garment in protective plastic.

The first option is a one-time rental, where you pick just one garment to rent for either four or eight days. This is a popular option for special events like weddings, photoshoots, or even job interviews where you might need a fancy outfit but don’t necessarily want to purchase something new. To get a one-time rental, you simply select the garment and rental dates, wear the clothing to your event, and return it when you’re done. You don’t need to clean the clothes after wearing them, and the brand includes a pre-paid shipping label for easy returns.

One-time rentals are usually quite affordable, starting as low as $30, though certain designer garments can cost over $100. With one-time rentals, Rent the Runway also gives you the option to order a free backup size—so if you run between sizes, you can order both a size 8 and a 10, for example, to ensure that you get the perfect fit for your special event.

Rent the Runway memberships

If you’re looking for a way to keep your everyday wardrobe fresh without buying new clothes, a Rent the Runway membership is likely a better option. When Matt first tested Rent the Runway, the membership options featured an unlimited plan offering up to four shipments of four new items per month. Since then, the program has evolved, allowing you to rent a predetermined number of items each month for a fixed fee. Currently, there are plans that allow you to rent up to four, eight, 12, or 16 items per month.

With a membership, you have access to thousands of garments and accessories, and with the three more expensive plans, you can even rent designer apparel worth up to $3,000 (the basic four-items-a-month plan is limited to garments worth up to $350). Matt points out that you can keep items from Rent the Runway as long as you want (as long as you're still paying the monthly subscription fee). If you'd like, you can return everything the very day you receive it, or you can keep the items for months at a time. In fact, Matt kept a Zac Posen bag for months until she was sick of it, leaving three open spots for her monthly shipments.

You never have to worry about cleaning the clothing, as dry cleaning is included with your membership, and each delivery will come with a prepaid return label and a reusable garment bag to send your rentals back.

How much does Rent the Runway cost?

One-time clothing rentals from Rent the Runway vary in cost, generally costing somewhere between $30 and $150, depending on the garment and date. Naturally, expensive designer gowns are going to cost more, and you’ll also pay a premium for in-demand dates.

If you opt for a Rent the Runway membership, there are four tiers to choose from. Here’s what they cost:

  • 4 items/month: $69/month for three months, then $94/month after
  • 8 items/month: $101/month for three months, then $144/month after
  • 12 items/month: $135/month three months, then $193/month after
  • 16 items/month: $165/month for three months, then $235/month after

Can you buy Rent the Runway dresses?

If you absolutely fall in love with something you’ve rented, you have the option to purchase it outright and keep it. Because the clothing is used, it’s generally available for significantly less than its original retail price, and you simply tell Rent the Runway that you want to buy it instead of returning it. Alternatively, you can purchase directly from the Rent the Runway website without renting first—it’s a great way to score deals on lightly used designer items.

What are Rent the Runway clothes like?

The author wearing the pink Saloni midi dress.
Credit: Reviewed / Camryn Rabideau / Rent the Runway

The pink Saloni Fleur Midi Dress is just right for a night out.

To get a better sense of Rent the Runway’s clothing, I rented a variety of items—including dresses, pants, shirts, and accessories—through both a monthly membership and one-time rentals. The items I tried included:

One of my biggest concerns was that the clothing from Rent the Runway would look used. After all, dozens of different people have likely worn the same garments before you! However, that wasn’t the case at all. Everything was in very good condition, and while you could tell it wasn’t brand new, all of the clothes I ordered were better taken care of than any of my own clothing. There weren’t any stains, rips, or even general wear that would indicate the garments were used.

Unfortunately, not all of the clothing fit me. The Reformation dress was laughably small, even though I had sized up at the recommendation of reviewers. The Great Jones Pants were also a little too tight, which I was really disappointed about because they were so comfy.

With the rest of the clothing, I made an effort to wear each item for at least a day, and it was fun to take everything for a test drive. The Peter Som dress was arguably the most comfortable of the lot, and I fell in love with the super-comfy fit of the AG Skinny Jeans. The Staud Bag was a perfect accessory to take to a Memorial Day cookout, and the Slate & Willow dress came in handy when my boyfriend and I went out to a nice dinner. Unfortunately, I didn’t have an opportunity to wear the Saloni Midi Dress, as it was the most formal option I rented, but it fit beautifully and was extremely flattering.

What are the downsides of Rent the Runway?

While testing out Rent the Runway, there were a few things that I didn’t love about the service.

Limited availability

Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of using Rent the Runway is that clothing items are often unavailable, a stressful situation that Matt also experienced when she tested Rent the Runway a few years back. When browsing through the website to select items for membership rental, the first five or six pieces I liked were unavailable in my size. This makes it time-consuming and frustrating to pick out garments, and while there is a filter that’s supposed to only show products that are available in your size, it didn’t seem to work for me.

The same thing happened when selecting garments for one-time rentals. Matt noted in her first review that you cannot reserve items in advance, and many of the pieces I loved were also unavailable for the dates I needed, forcing me to settle for second- or third-choice options.

Inconsistent sizing

Rent the Runway certainly has more customers than they did a year ago, so there is more competition for items now—but they add new items weekly. The problem: the new items don’t have reviews. And accurate reviews are essential when it comes to picking out the right size.

This is more of a complaint about women’s fashion in general than Rent the Runway, but it was frustrating that the clothing I borrowed varied dramatically in terms of fit. I’m generally either a size 8 or 10, and while some of the clothing I selected fit perfectly, other items were way too small. Because Rent the Runway offers clothing from so many different brands, it’s practically impossible to know what is going to fit unless you’ve worn the brand before. This isn’t such a big deal with one-time rentals, as you get a free backup size, but it stinks when one of your membership pieces doesn’t fit right, as it’s basically a wasted selection.

When Samantha Matt reviewed Rent the Runway in 2018, she noted that each product allows users the chance to leave feedback on the fit of the garment, including their own height, weight, bust size, body type, etc., to give an idea of how items may fit on people with similar builds. Writes Matt, “people often share pictures of themselves wearing the items, too. The reviews are helpful, but SO time-consuming to go through.”

Damaged Goods

Matt found that sometimes, Rent the Runway would receive back an item she had rented from someone else that had been damaged. They would always reach out immediately to request her top picks for a replacement item. They even gave Matt a free extra rental because it happened more than once.

On occasion, Matt also received items in the mail that were already damaged. She returned all of the garments immediately and informed Rent the Runway about any of the issues. While Matt praised their fantastic customer service, she noted that “it's frustrating when this stuff happens” repeatedly.

Worried you'll damage something? Rent the Runway includes rental coverage that will handle any minor dings, but if the item is damaged beyond repair, you'll be responsible for buying the item outright.

How does Rent the Runway handle shipping?

A Rent the Runway garment bag.
Credit: Reviewed / Camryn Rabideau

Rentals are shipped in a black garment bag, that you send back when you're ready to return the garments.

In Matt’s experience, it takes up to two days for items to ship after you order them. And once they ship, it takes up to two days to arrive. This ended up being an issue when ordering clothes on a Tuesday that she wanted for the weekend. Sometimes they'd arrive within two days, but other times it would take four to five days. Matt noted at the time, “If it always took that long for items to arrive, I would only be able to rent a few items a month,” making the 16-items-a-month plan not worth it.

The return process was the same for both my membership items and one-time rentals. There’s a prepaid return shipping label included with your delivery, and you simply put it on the front of the original packaging—sometimes the packages came in plastic shipping bags, while other times they came in fabric garment bags. The brand also asks that you return the hangers and plastic garment bags that come with the clothing.

Once you’ve got the label in place, all that’s left to do is drop it off with the proper shipping carrier. My deliveries came via UPS, so I dropped them off at a UPS drop-off center. However, I learned that you can schedule a UPS pickup at your house with the prepaid label.

Just be sure that you get your packages shipped out on time—especially if it’s a one-time rental. If you’re late returning the clothing, Rent the Runway charges a $50 per day late fee, which is often more than the rental itself!

Is Rent the Runway worth it?

The author wears the Julita top from Alexis.
Credit: Reviewed / Camryn Rabideau / Rent The Runway

The Julita Top from Alexis is big on details.

If you’re looking for a special outfit for a one-time event or simply want to add some new (temporary) pieces to your everyday wardrobe, Rent the Runway is definitely worth looking into. Because there are multiple ways to rent clothing, you can find an option that suits your needs and budget, and you’re sure to find something to wear among their thousands of available products. Matt noted that because of Rent the Runway, she stopped spending money on clothes that were too trendy and could instead focus her attention on purchasing closet staples and investment pieces.

While it’s a unique option for fashion lovers, Rent the Runway does have its downsides. Aside from the cost, which could be prohibitive for some, there’s always a chance that you fall in love with an item, only for it to be unavailable when you need it, and because brand sizing can vary so widely, chances are that not everything you rent will fit you properly.

Sign up for Rent the Runway

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Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.

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