What if we told you could wear that prized Off-White jacket you saw on the ‘gram or that super rare Yeezy sneaker, for a fraction of the usual price? There’s a catch, of course. You’ll only have it for one week. You can wear it every day of that week, take as many selfies with it as you want and wear it to impress your date. But once that week is over, you’ll never don that Off-White jacket again.
This way of thinking is known as the sharing economy. Goods are not restricted to a single owner but are instead shared and rented. It’s a mindset that has taken other industries by storm. Airbnb has revolutionised how we plan our holidays, car sharing is a big bucks industry led by BMW and its DriveNow program, and the way we consume film, TV, and music has been turned completely on its head by Netflix and Spotify.
Analysts at PwC predict that by 2025, the five key sectors of the sharing economy — staffing, finance, car sharing, travel, and music and video streaming — will generate £260 billion a year, up from about $11 billion today.
And renting designer clothes could be next.
Will Fashion Catch Up?
Renting fashion has been growing in popularity, and we’re not talking about hiring a morning suit for your friend’s upcoming nuptials. The rented wardrobe might include designer gear, hyped sneakers or a luxury watch. Most of us want those things, but few can afford to buy them outright.
The demand has been there since at least 2016, when a study by Westfield shopping centres found that more than 25 per cent of those surveyed would rent clothing. Half of 25-to-34 year-olds said they would spend £200 or more a month on clothes they don’t get to keep.
Until recently, the majority of these firms – such as industry leader Rent The Runway – have catered mainly to women, who have snapped up the chance to wear a look straight from fashion week or the red carpet.
“There’s a real indication of our attitudes changing,” says Lorna Hall, head of retail at trends forecaster WGSN Insight. “We don’t have to own it. It’s access to the brands but without the cost.
“The Westfield survey showed that renting clothing wasn’t the taboo everyone thought it was. Everyone thought it was just for an occasion, but there now seem to be businesses who think they can get real viability in other areas – casual wear especially.”
That’s where menswear comes in.
How It Works
There are two models for renting clothes, brand-to-consumer and peer-to-peer. The first is what Moss Bros has been doing for years with tailoring. You go to a company with a broad stock, rent what you like for the amount of time you need it, then just take it back for it to be washed and rented out again.
What’s new is that rather than just wedding suits, companies are now offering different kinds of occasionwear: designer jackets, must-have sneakers and expensive accessories.
The other style, peer-to-peer, is basically Airbnb for your wardrobe. Let’s say you have an embroidered Gucci jacket hanging up at home. It cost a fortune and, shockingly, doesn’t get the wear you thought it would – but you can’t quite bring yourself to put it on Depop. Instead you can list it on a rental service and loan it out to people who want to borrow it for a night, a weekend or a holiday. In the process, it might even pay for itself.
Likewise, you can nose around other people’s wardrobes for items you know you’ll only wear once or twice a season and save yourself the cost of buying it outright. Alongside a rotation of affordable basics, you can add statement designer pieces as you see fit.
The Instagram Effect
According to Hall, there are four wider trends that are influencing the growth in the market. Firstly, millennials (broadly speaking) don’t have the disposable income to buy the labels they covet the most, thanks in part to increasing house rental prices and ballooning education fees. Cost-effective renting therefore makes sense for fashion-hungry, image-aware young people.
At the same time, drop culture, big-name branding, and the envy-inducing world of Instagram have created more pressure than ever to be seen in the latest trends and in the buzziest labels. Research by environmental charity Hubbub, found that 41 per cent of all 18-25 year-olds feel the pressure to wear a different outfit every time they go out, while one in six said that they didn’t feel they could wear an outfit again once it had been seen on social media.
This has fuelled the flames of fast fashion – copycat pieces that borrow from the luxury market and are reproduced cheaply, unsustainably and en masse.
The Sustainability Of Renting
The third trend, a growing public understanding of sustainable fashion, aims to combat this. One of the biggest factors that makes fashion’s environmental footprint a problem is the fact that people buy more clothes than they need and throw them out much sooner than they ought to.
Sacha Newall, founder of fashion sharing service My Wardrobe HQ, argues that it will take time for us to see the eco-friendly returns from clothing rental but other industries show a way forward.
“BMW says that for every car shared, 11 are taken off the street. So imagine you’ve got the designer piece that you can now rent for close to the same price as the fast fashion copy. If you know you’re only going to wear that fast copy once then you might as well have the original.”
From a personal view you can be stunting on Instagram and tagging the brands, but from an environmental point of view if each of those garments has saved 11 fast fashion pieces from quickly going from store to landfill then that can only be a good thing.
Will It Work For Menswear?
Suit rental for one-off occasions like proms or weddings have long had a place in menswear, albeit taking up a slim proportion of the industry. Elsewhere streetwear with its emphasis on constantly changing trends, brands to be seen in and rare, exclusive offerings open up interesting avenues for menswear rental services to provide expensive must-have garments on the cheap.
But do men care enough to rent clothes they’ll only wear a few times? “The changes in men’s fashion are a lot less fickle. Trends move a lot more slowly,” Hall says. “Men identify with brands in a different way. They want to understand how it’s made not just wear it for the brand.”
Even so, Newall believes a combination of convenience and personal styling will sell the model.
“Imagine you’re sitting in the office on a Friday and you get invited to Soho Farmhouse for the weekend. Rather than go home and pack, you could just call someone who knew all your sizes and they could just have a few outfits waiting for you when you got there saving you all this time and energy. I could see that working for men.”
Then there’s also the need for a simple mindset change, one that rethinks the way we rethink at the ownership of our clothes just as we have done with car sharing or Airbnb.
“Once you get into the idea that when you go on holiday you can rent your whole wardrobe, it’s not that much of a step to think, why shouldn’t I just own a core, fairly small amount of garments, rent from other people the statement pieces and then rent out your own few statement pieces that you couldn’t afford but now can as you are able to make a return on them,” says Newall.
“It’s properly circular. You’re seeing your wardrobe as an asset just like the car parked on your drive or the spare room that you never use.”
The Best Clothing Rental Services For Men
You might have been too slow off the mark to cop the latest Yeezy drop, and the less said about the stomach-churning mark-ups on sneaker resale sites like Stockx the better. But with LSwop you can still give the impression you’re a sneaker hound without having to pitch a tent up outside the Adidas store the night before.
The service allows you to rent your selected shoe: $150 will nab you one pair of sneakers for the month, while $250 will get you two and with $350 you can rent three.
It’s still pricey but the site will also send you out a sole protector and a pair of socks, which thankfully are yours to keep, as well as the assurance that your shoe will never have been sent out more than twice – so your rented sneaker will still look box fresh when you slip it on.
London-based Front Row is one of the current leaders in the luxury womenswear rental market and the first of the big hitters to offer menswear. At the time of writing, it only holds three menswear pieces on its books, knock-out statement jackets from Valentino, Berluti and Gucci, but they do have a feature that allows you to upload a photo of a specific item you’re looking for and put it into its voting system feature. From there the pieces with the most votes by its clients will get put onto the site for rental.
Rental of each item lasts five days with a same day courier service and there’s no need to faff about with dry cleaning as the company sorts that all out when they pick it up.
While LSwop may have the sneakerheads covered, Rotarity aims for the streetwear-sporting hypebeast crowd who care for more than what they’ve got on their feet.
You can rent pieces individually for 15 days with prices starting at around $35 for a fetching fleece from trendy New Yorker label Aime Leon Dore up to $327 for a decadent Versace bomber, or pay $195 a month for an unlimited rotation of its streetwear bounty. Shipping, returns, and dry cleaning is all free and they’ll even throw in a discount if you decide you can’t possibly part with the Versace bomber and want to buy it outright.
Much like handbags in womenswear and sneakers for streetwear, a statement watch is a peacocking asset that works well in the rental market. Borrowed Time lists big-name timepieces from luxury watch brands like Breitling, Rolex, and Cartier.
You can loan each watch for between four and 30 days, while the service also runs a membership package that gifts you credits for borrowing watches and gets you invited to special member events put on by the club.
There’s plenty of suit rental options on the high street, with Moss Bros arguably leading the pack, but the higher end of the tailoring market is sadly sparse.
Oliver Brown is one luxury tailor that does let you hire though, with a focus on long tail morning suits (think Four Weddings and a Funeral), traditional double-breasted dinner jackets and tailoring specifically for Royal Ascot, a key event in the horse racing calendar with which the tailor is closely associated. The prices are exceptionally well priced for the quality, topping out at around the £100 mark for a DJ that will make you the toast of the party.