If you get this kind of opportunity, an invitation to a wedding or an award night is an occasion to dress up and assemble a fancier version of yourself, stimulating your creativity. That is how I see it. It's fun. I used to make these events a fashion moment, buying something new each time. That is how I ended up with a closet full of many cute, too-affordable, low-quality dresses and jumpsuits. Yet, with the rise of my environmental conscience and appreciation for quality, these have found a new home. My formal party outfits collection has shrunk considerably—inflation paired with a perpetual rental situation doesn't help with budget and space to build up an improved collection. This inflexible frame is for the best, but that doesn't mean I do not miss the thrill of kindling my imagination, looking for and trying new garments. And that is when renting clothing popped up as an ideal alternative bridging the best of all the fashion worlds.
When my good friends Pierre and Elle decided to get married in September, I knew I would be part of a tasteful, considerate and joyful wedding. I wanted to make them honour and wear something red-carpet-worthy yet fun—also treat myself by wearing a designer frock I'd like but wouldn't necessarily buy (or couldn't afford!). I had heard of The Dress Room rental space through Designer Wardrobe Marketplace, its buy-and-sell sister platform; both were founded in 2013 by Donielle Brook under the same name, Designer Wardrobe.
The Dress Room rental is a dual, online and physical space where you can rent garments from a curated collection of local and international designers in Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland, New Zealand. With a mindset rooted in fashion circularity and inclusivity, TDR has an average of 18 rentals per garment, some going out up to 40 times, and sizes for all figures. They will also sell retired garments through their page, Relove. You can learn more about The Dress Room's sustainability commitment here. The week before the wedding, on a rainy grey afternoon, I grabbed Trace, and we drove down to Newmarket, where the store is located, to check on what was available to rent. I had made a first selection prior through the online platform. I was looking for a dress made of natural fabric, colourful, ideally pink (got wiped out by the Barbie wave, sorry), with a couture detail, an extravaganza vibe yet elegant, a la Carrie Bradshaw (every-single-time).
The TDR team had moved location a few weeks before. The new space is sophisticated and neutral, with vibrant colours from the racks loaded with frocks. I imagine that the large shop front windows catch the early morning or late afternoon golden sunlight. There are three or four changing rooms with giant mirrors. And they also have shoes to help trial the clothing. On a winter Saturday, the shop was busy with the lovely stylist/shop attendant here for advice, a group of bridesmaids looking for their attire, and Trace and me trying on pink dresses.
This rental service claims they have thousands of garments to try. It is not an understatement. The range was substantial, in all sorts of colours, patterns and multiple sizes per garment, organised by shades, which made them easy to peruse. Yes, even if I had a preselection in my mind with a good idea of what I wanted, I could not resist going through the racks. I found the shop was an agreeable and airy space to spend a rental-shopping afternoon.
How The Dress Room rental works is simple. Either through the online page or if you are in Auckland, popping at the shop during opening hours as I did, you pick your favourite piece in your relevant size (fit is guaranteed). Afterwards, you book online from your TDR account, select potential extra insurance, and pay. You also choose when to receive the piece of clothing, by courier or at the shop. It will then be yours for the next four days. After that, the return step is either courier back or drop off as is. Dry cleaning is unnecessary upon return, as the price includes washing.
As I was having dinner while wearing my rental, I opted for the Rip & Stain Protection supplement. Another interesting option for those not living in Auckland and hesitating between two styles is to receive two garments for a supplement fee. They call it "Backup style". You will pay the most expensive price of the two, no matter which one you wear, plus the extra fee.
Back at the store, I tried at least ten dresses, mainly for entertainment. They were all original and cool, but I selected my first choice anyway, a Leo Lin's Katy bustier short dress, pink with sunflower print—my bride friend's favourite flowers! Perfect circumstance. I didn't know this Australian-based ready-to-wear designer before. The dress was made of silk and cotton, a corset boning with a draped effect, and a funky "floating" skirt thanks to some tulle tucked into the lining. And it had pockets! This dress was quite comfy with the va-va-voom effect I was looking for.
Benoit picked up the dress the day before the wedding, and off we went on the D-Day. As expected, it was a lovely day, and I got many compliments for my outfit. No food or beverage accident occurred, and the dress was also amazing to dance in all night. I brought it back to TDR the day after, not without a slight twinge in my heart. I would have liked to keep this dress, maybe?
I find that, with the designer clothing renting process, the most challenging step is to let go of ownership. I started looking at the dress to buy it online after the wedding in a moment of weakness, and the price, even discounted, put me back on track to reality. There was no need to spend this kind of money on a dress like this. It got me to question the notion of owning all our clothing, particularly those occasion pieces. If we are lucky, we will probably use these garments once or twice a year. Do they really need to take up space in our wardrobe?
I paid $137 to rent this Leo Lin dress. It currently sits at $515 on sale on the brand's website, with an original price of $858. I believe renting this lovely dress was a pretty good deal for something that, for me, would be complex to re-wear again. It is connected to a great memory without dusting into my closet and opened the way to use this rental service again, without a doubt.