Should You Rent Your Next Dress?

Dress and bag renting companies make it easy to borrow designer goods – for a price.

Dress and bag renting companies make it easy to borrow designer goods – for a price

Also, because people often post photos of big events to social media pages like Facebook and Instagram, customers can avoid duplicating looks. "Women do not want to be seen in the same dress twice," Burrell says.

Even financial experts say dress renting can be a savvy move, with a few caveats. Manisha Thakor, founder and chief executive of MoneyZen Wealth Management based in Santa Fe, N.M., says, "Since these dresses are worn very infrequently, if you buy the dress, it just sits there collecting dust on the days you're not using it. By renting, you're stripping down your costs so you're just paying for the portion of the dress that will truly bring you value."

But Thakor warns that customers can end up on the hook for the cost of the dress if they accidently stain or damage the material – or, of course, forget to return it. She also points to a potentially dangerous snowball effect. "Once you have this great dress, you might think, 'Well, now I need new shoes, and a new clutch, and a new haircut and new makeup …'" she says. "That's my biggest concerns with these sites."

Financial expert Ornella Grosz similarly suggests that while there's nothing wrong with renting a dress for a special night or two, customers could run into trouble if they start relying on rental services more frequently. "A favorite designer you're just dying to wear? Rent it … [but] it's not cost effective to continuously rent dresses."

[See: 50 Smart Money Moves.]

Dianna Baros, creator of the frugality-minded, has used Rent the Runway several times for work-related events, as well as events when she was pregnant and didn't want to purchase a fancy maternity dress she'd only wear once. "It's convenient, and it saves closet space, too," she says. She also warns, "There's a slight learning curve to the experience. Make sure you understand all of the policies and details before you rent."

Rosen of Lending Luxury acknowledges some of those downsides. "If you don't return the dress within five days, you could incur late fees, which could add up, so you have to be responsible and return the dress," she says, adding that if someone rips the dress or it's otherwise damaged beyond repair, then the customer is responsible for the retail cost of the dress. (Dresses at Lending Luxury come with $100 worth of insurance.)

Rice, the law student, says she would rent a designer dress again – but, given the cost, only for very special occasions.