Carrie Johnson may be a Marmite character, but one thing she unanimously praises is her penchant for renting clothes — an advocate for sustainable fashion. She hired a Savannah Miller dress for her “second” wedding reception in the Cotswolds with Boris last weekend. It would have cost her a staggering £3,500 to buy, but instead she paid £25 a day to rent it. And in May 2021, for her downsized Covid-safe wedding, she rocked the boho bridal look in a lace rented dress by Christos Costarellos for a similar fee.
So that we understand each other. I think renting clothes is a brilliant, eco-friendly idea. And just as Carrie is making headlines for renting her dressing room this week, my boyfriend invites me to the Royal Yacht Squadron Ball at Cowes Week. I’m suddenly looking for a “wow” number.
While I’m used to fashion parties where invites are handed out by number of Instagram followers, this is the next level exclusive: think kings, lords, and knights.
I want to look just as chic in the garden as in the main room. I want to be able to drink and dance. And breathe.
As a fashion magazine graduate, I’ve dabbled in designer dresses and I know what makes them different: quality fabric, thoughtful construction, clever design. The best dresses flatter and wow, they hold you in without making you feel constricted and don’t need constant adjustments or revealing your VPL. But they also cost thousands. Enter rental locations.
I have to admit that there are several factors that make rental fashion a bit unnerving. Especially if it’s a big event. What if the dress arrives damaged? What if I damage it? What if it doesn’t fit? What if it’s not flattering? Or look remotely like it does on the website?
There have been some improvements since I first clicked on rental sites a few years ago. More stock. Easier to work filters. And you can now try on some of the clothes when you go to the department stores.
In the name of investigative journalism, I throw myself into testing different sites. I recognize as suitable: By Rotation, My Wardrobe HQ, Front Row, Selfridges Rental and Rotaro. I discard Rotaro as it looks too cool and edgy for me. Overall, my first impressions are positive – there are definitely some beautiful dresses out there that I can afford. Tick.
First riddle. What size will I be? I like a fitted dress, but am I an 8 or a 10? I don’t know until I try them on. tricky.
I book appointments with the fitting services (Front Row, Harrods and Selfridges) and let them know which dresses I want to test.
Rosie wears Azure Floral Gown La Metamorphose
Cost: from £30 rent to buy used £1,861 to buy new £3,000, plus, MyWardrobeHQ
In the My Wardrobe HQ pop-up concession at Harrods, although the manager was friendly and helpful, unfortunately only one of the four pieces I requested was there. Then the dress I loved on screen wouldn’t fit. hmm
Luckily I found another wonderful dress from the same designer that fits beautifully (strangely the same size). But with a £1,861 purchase and a long train that looked perfect for stepping in, I was concerned about damage. Another dress I loved had a broken zipper. While I’m there I look at the beautiful wedding dresses and wonder why anyone would buy one when you could rent one?
I go to my next appointment at Front Row to meet one of the founders and try on a selection of dresses, but when I arrive at the showroom, she’s not there and the doors are locked. I’m at a loss. I can’t get through on the phone. I later discovered that her purse had been snatched from her by a man on a motorbike. Front Row confirms they ship the dresses to my house instead. In the meantime, I’ve received a message from Selfridges that the dress I wanted (the only one on the website that I found suitable) is not available as it is being repaired. hmm
Rosie wears: Green dress from San Sloane in Nailah
Cost: rent from £31, buy new £170, Selfridges Rental
I head home to Oxfordshire a little discouraged. So I start to delve deeper into By Rotation and discover that they act as a middleman between the tenant and the owner. This means that the dresses are kept by their owners and you can effectively rely on Sandra from Surrey or Carla from Cheshire to send you their dress. That makes me very nervous.
I ask that the dresses arrive one day before the ball. Front Row is to be delivered on time. An email from Selfridges says a replacement dress will be sent.
Ironically, the By Rotation dress I was most worried about arrives on time. A wonderful strapless Oscar De Renta. I try it on. It fits perfectly.
Rosie wears Sequin dress Oscar de la Renta
Cost: from £167 to hire, used £1,042 to buy, similar new to buy around £6,000, By rotation
Finally, the Selfridges dress arrives exactly (just barely) within the requested time frame. It’s pretty fabulous, but definitely not a replacement. It’s knitted and hugs every curve, leaving lords choking on their canapés. If I relied on that, I would be disabled.
Then on the day I am expecting the dress from My Wardrobe I am told to collect it from Harrods. I’m having a mild heart attack. I tell them I live in Oxfordshire and not only is it inconvenient but the cost of the train ticket to London would be more than the rent. They arrange for it to be sent by courier and arrive the morning of the event.
According to UPS, the front row dresses are stuck at the depot. Then they are officially AWOL. Renting wasn’t hassle free. Buying my dress now feels like a much more attractive offer.
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 costs £6,500). But my advice if you are planning to rent would be to make your choice a few days before you need it. Try them on first and always have a backup plan.
Would I rent a wedding dress this way like Carrie did? No way. My nerves couldn’t take it.
The five most rented dresses in the UK
1. The Vampire’s Wife’s Falconetti Dress
Worn by the Duchess of Cambridge on several occasions
Real price: £1,595. Rental price: from £115 for two days, after rotation