I’ve finally reached the age where wedding season has me looking up online formal dress rental services—these events are adding up.
Between navigating vague dress codes (what is semi-formal, anyway?) and juggling invites, renting a dress online feels like a practical way to a. save my precious NYC closet space and b. keep my bank account intact.
I’ve dabbled in clothing rentals only once before when I tried the now-defunct Rent the Runway Unlimited for NYFW. It seemed like a practical solution at the time for piecing together three looks a day for a week, but ultimately, limited inventory in my size drove me to cancel.
While I can’t justify a rental service in my everyday life (I can’t justify the utter lack of ROI), it makes perfect sense for a special occasion, especially if you’re like me and prefer higher-quality pieces. You’ll probably only wear that black tie-appropriate gown once—why spend hundreds on it as a wedding guest or for a charity gala?
In my research for formal dress rentals online, I came across several companies, each bringing something different to the table. I haven’t had the chance to try most of these yet (outside of RTR), but they’re on my radar for future events.
It makes sense given URBN’s ultra-popular brands that Nuuly’s inventory feels fresh and modern. The rental company caters to what I’d deem the “wardrobe support” renter, offering just one plan for six styles each month.
Renters can add items to their Nuuly closet to keep track of what they want to add to their next box—members are totally in control of what they receive each month.
Nuuly’s proximity to of-the-moment retailers like Anthropologie and wedding label, BHLDN, lends its hand to being able to rent formal dresses that are entirely fashion-forward.
It girl favorites like ELLIATT (which I’ve deemed the wedding guest dress brand), Significant Other, For Love & Lemons, Selkie, and Katie May frequently make appearances in Nuuly’s inventory. It’s like getting access to all of Anthro’s greatest hits with none of the boho glam retailer’s price point. My eye is currently on a dreamy dip dye dress from Indian designer, Samant Chauhan.
Renters can choose to purchase items rented from Nuuly. Pieces are often available to customers at a healthy 40 to 60% discount from the retail price. Because Nuuly’s offering tends to be more trend-forward, the service could be a great way to experiment with new styles before actually committing.
If any rental subscription could turn me into a monthly renter for everyday purposes outside of needing to rent a formal dress, it’s Nuuly.
Nuuly pricing: Unlike other clothing rental services, Nuuly offers just one plan. For $98 a month, you can rent up to six items. Subscribers have the option to add up to four bonus items per month at $20 per piece.
Who it’s for: Young professionals, the fresh-out-of-college crowd, and the core Anthropologie or REVOLVE shopper looking for an all-in-one clothing rental service that covers every occasion.
Rent the Runway
The juggernaut and OG of online clothing rental businesses, there’s no doubt that Rent the Runway has crossed your path if you’re looking for formal dress rental companies.
As much as I love an underdog, when it comes to formal dress rentals, I’m starting to think that Rent the Runway just can’t be beat (I was rooting for luxury dress rental service, Nova Octo, to take the lead).
Rent the Runway allows fashion enthusiasts to rent individual pieces or subscribe to a monthly number of items. Though the service has suspended its unlimited membership, it still offers options to subscribe for five, 10, or 15 upscale items per month.
This is what makes Rent the Runway the frontrunner of online formal dress rental shops. Even without a subscription, shoppers can access Rent the Runway’s entire inventory for one-off rentals, which makes it perfect for special events. Brands range from accessible contemporary designers to luxury labels, which makes it easy to find pieces that fit your lifestyle.
Rent the Runway isn’t necessarily trend-forward, but is trend-conscious, stocking familiar cuts and silhouettes like one-shoulder pieces, mini dresses, maxi dresses, and more.
If you choose to keep your pieces, you may be able to purchase them at a slight discount from retail. As a bonus, if you’re just looking to shop, not rent, RTR deeply discounts the clothing that’s being retired from their inventory. For example, I found a stunning embellished lace Marchesa gown that retails at over $1,100 at a buy price of just $132.
Rent the Runway pricing: Rent the Runway memberships are priced at $94 for five items per month, $144 for 10 items per month, and $193 for 15 items per month.
Individual rental prices vary by the garment’s retail price and designer and can be booked in four or eight-day increments with a free backup size.
Who it’s for: Style-conscious individuals shopping for a special occasion or looking to save on the latest styles for everyday wear.
Clothing brands are catching on to the dress rental trend, and BCBGMAXAZRIA is leading the pack.
The contemporary label operates BCBGMAXAZRIA Borrow, a rental program that allows customers to snag the brand’s pieces for up to 14 days with the option to extend the rental for a daily fee, or purchase.
Rental options range from casual dresses to formal evening gowns for black-tie affairs. Inventory is more limited than it is at traditional rental services, but still encompasses several wear cases and different styles. Plus, all styles are styles currently being sold by BCBG. You’re able to access new arrivals, so you know you’re getting the latest and greatest.
Inventory does skew more towards the need to rent a formal dress rather than everyday pieces, including tulle gowns, pleated chiffon, ruffles, shimmer textiles, glam resort-ready maxi dresses, and the like.
For the relatively attainable price point and lengthy rental period compared to competitor Rent the Runway, BCBGMAXAZRIA Borrow feels like a hidden gem in the dress rental space.
BCBGMAXAZRIA Borrow pricing: Rental prices are roughly 20% of the garment’s current price, starting as low as $20 for 14 days (a steal!). All rental orders include free shipping and returns.
Who it’s for: Trendy women looking for the latest styles for a specific event or night out.
Nova Octo is a candy store for couture lovers. If you’ve ever window shopped on Moda Operandi and just wished you could wear the carefully crafted gowns from designers like Elie Saab, Giambattista Vali, and the like just once, you’re in luck.
The New York-based rental service specializes in luxury eveningwear rentals. Inventory is a little more limited than some gown rental services as a result, but trust me when I say that you won’t miss the endless pages of options.
Each carefully curated gown is the type that makes a statement, whether it be through extraordinary fit, dramatic silhouette, or hand embellishment. Legacy design houses like Carolina Herrera and Oscar de la Renta are on display alongside fresher faces such as Alessandra Rich, Laquan Smith, and Rasario.
You don’t need to subscribe to a monthly membership for access to Nova Octo’s dream closet. Each rental is priced individually.
Nova Octo pricing: Each individual garment ranges from $150 to over $2,500 for a four-day rental.
Who it’s for: Luxury lovers looking to make a statement at a special event, such as a white-tie wedding or gala.
Armoire is a clothing rental and personal styling service all in one. Members get to choose from three different monthly plans: ranging from as little as four items per month, to unlimited.
Unlike many personal styling subscription boxes, Armoire offers their subscribers the option to choose exactly what they want. AI and Armoire’s team of stylists curate a selection of items based on member preferences, but ultimately, it comes down to the wearer to pick what ships.
If you don’t like your curated closet, you can simply request a new one with updated picks based on exactly what you’re looking for. If you have a special occasion coming up, you can rent a formal dress or glitzy accessories as bonus pieces to your box.
Some items come with a free backup size to make sure your Armoire case for the month fits perfectly.
Armoire pricing: Armoire’s most basic plan comes in at $79 per month for four items, $119 per month for seven items, and $249 per month for the unlimited plan (up to six items at a time).
Who it’s for: Professional women needing clothes for work, life, and the occasional special event.
Tulerie is a completely different type of rental service. Instead of renting from Tulerie’s own inventory, the company facilitates peer-to-peer rentals, kind of like car rental company Turo.
Customers can choose to outright buy from individual sellers, or just rent the garment via the Tulerie app. Each seller sets their own prices per garment. As a result, all rentals are priced individually—Tulerie does not offer a membership subscription.
Inventory skews luxury, allowing individuals to capitalize off of investment pieces they’ve purchased, but may not be wearing regularly. As a result, inventory varies from Yves Saint Laurent fur coats and Maticevski gowns to the latest Jacquemus or Aje dress.
It’s easy to rent a formal dress for any event on Tulerie. Thanks to the brand prioritizing peer-to-peer rentals, there’s a wide variety of designers and styles. Besides, you’re much less likely to show up in the same dress as someone else than if you opted for a more traditional dress rental service.
Tulerie pricing: Varies by seller and is a wide, wide range.
Maybe the formal event you’re going to doesn’t demand a dramatic ballgown, or you enjoy fashion but don’t feel comfortable in flashy couture pieces. If that’s the case, FashionPass might be the best formal dress rental service for you.
FashionPass carries brands you’d find at Nordstrom or Shopbop. Dressed-up styles include everything from the oh-so-popular ELLIATT Cassini Dress to Sabina Musayev’s beloved disco-worthy shimmery midi dresses, amongst others. I admittedly squealed a little when I found the Sau Lee Teigan Dress I mention in my guide to the best REVOLVE wedding guest dresses that I haven’t been able to get out of my head since.
On the whole, FashionPass styles feel trend-friendly while still being very safe and risk-averse. Flattering, safe bets for any formal event you’re heading to.
You will need to subscribe to FashionPass to access their product closet. Each FashionPass membership tier also includes accessory rentals, which is perfect if you’re looking for a full formal outfit, rather than just a dress. At the same time, if you don’t need the accessories, this could also be a little frustrating.
All FashionPass plans offer unlimited rentals per month, and are priced based on how many items you can rent at a time—you’re paying for convenience.
Use FashionPass code WELCOME for $30 off your first month.
FashionPass pricing: FashionPass pricing starts at $89 per month for the entry Socialite plan which includes two pieces of clothing and one accessory or basic.
The mid-tier Trendsetter plan is $119 a month for three clothing items and two accessories or basics, or four clothing items and no accessories.
The service’s most premium plan, the Wanderlust plan, allows renters to order four clothing pieces and three accessories or basics, or five clothing items and one accessory or basic for $149 per month.
Who it’s for: Young shoppers that want an easy, approachable way to buy into trends.
Brands are still upscale, but more in the breath of Intermix or REVOLVE than what you’ll find on Rue Saint-Honoré.
One of Designerex’s most competitive advantages as a peer-to-peer rental company is its ability to offer highly covetable styles right away, and lots of them. While traditional rental companies may only offer a few of these styles, or get them in after they’re not quite as popular, Designerex’s first page is filled with dresses gracing the new arrivals section of popular brands.
For example, one seller offers the viral House of CB Toira Dress for a $60 four-day rental, while others offer picks from Zimmermann, Bronx and Banco, and PatBo. There are tons of stunning formal dress rental options at Designerex that could easily fit into a destination wedding, graduation, or rehearsal dinner.
Designerex pricing: Dress rentals are priced individually by each seller, most ranging between $60 and $125 for a four-day rental. Of note, cleaning may or may not be included and also varies by seller.
Who it’s for: Trendy Madison Ave frequenters that love a rotating wardrobe.
Formal Dress Rental Services: FAQS
If you’re planning on wearing a single dress several times, it’s more cost-effective to buy it as you’ll eventually be able to resell it and make some of your money back. For formal events, renting a dress can be cheaper than spending hundreds of dollars on a dress you’ll only wear once. However, renting a dress can help you discover new styles, and you’ll likely be able to purchase it at a good discount if you do want to keep it.
Renting a dress is perfect for trying new styles or avoiding paying for a dress you’ll only wear once, however, buying a dress allows you to wear the same dress several times and eventually resell it to make some of your money back. When you rent a dress, that money is gone.
Dress renting is paying a small amount of a dress’ retail price to keep the dress for a fixed amount of time before sending it back. You’re able to wear tons of different clothing without spending tons of money and cluttering your closet.
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Eva Phan is the founder of Eva Darling, a travel and style website aiming to empower women to see the world solo while sharing on-trend, luxury feminine style inspiration. Featured in publications including Forbes, Thrillist, and Yahoo News, Eva has combined her education from Parsons School of Design with her incurable case of the travel bug to create a global destination that encourages others to romanticize their everyday.