Clothes Call: Should You Buy or Rent Evening Attire?

Question: I have some formal events that I need to attend, and I’m not really interested in investing a lot in evening gowns I may wear only one time. I have noticed that there are a few places and websites that allow you to rent evening wear. But how do you begin to select the right dresses? And how can you tell if the pricing is good?

clothes-call-BCBG-Max-Azria-dressAnswer: I’m glad that women finally have the option to rent evening wear, just as men have had for ages. Whether to exercise that option depends on a few things. My own bias is that a woman should own one basic evening gown, just as a man should own a tux. It makes evening dressing easier: Pull out that basic gown, pair a different shawl or wrap, earrings and necklace with it, and you’re good to go. One example of a basic: This pleated Karolina gown from BCBG ($224, pictured top right), which will look different each time depending on how you accessorize it. Another basic piece is a long black skirt, such as Maria Pinto’s Ali ($465, available in white, black or violet) or Katerina ($350, black, midnight blue or red) designs. A different top/necklace combo—say a white or cream silk blouse knotted at the waist and a bold statement necklace—and you’re good to go to as many events that are on your social calendar. If you attend more than a few events a year, a basic black evening gown or skirt is a smart investment. It’s in your closet, ready to go, no need to fuss with rental sites.

Renting can be a smart move, particularly if you have a role to play (gala chair, speechmaker) at an event and need to look memorable, or the event is themed and begs for a certain type of gown, say a summery floral for Chicago Botanic Garden’s Summer Dinner Dance. Rent the Runway rents designer gowns for a fraction of what you’d want to pay. One example: This lace, cap-sleeve Reem Acra gown (pictured bottom right) rents for $800 (it retails for $6,500) and looks red-carpet worthy.

clothes-call-Rent-the-Runway-Reem-Acra-gownAnother reason to rent: The dress is for a business occasion and you’re able to expense the cost of the rental.

To get the best deal for your rental, really work the site. Rent The Runway’s users post honest reviews as well as photos; helpfully, you can sort photos and reviews by women who are your basic size and shape. Take time to read them, as the reviews note whether a dress fits right, whether it’s comfortable, and whether it garnered lots of compliments. Rent The Runway also lets users order two sizes—in case you’re unsure of which one may fit—and for a small fee, you can order a backup dress. Start looking six weeks before the date: During spring and fall gala seasons, great gowns at reasonable price points ($70-150 or so) do get “reserved” by other renters.

In summary: A basic black gown or skirt in your closet is easier, and more cost-effective, than renting if your black-tie dance card fills up quickly. If basic black’s not your thing, and you have the time and money to spend on rental sites, then that’s your solution to black-tie dressing.


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