I’ve used Rent the Runway’s unlimited subscription for a year — and it’s completely changed the way I shop

Sarah Jacobs/Business Insider

  • Rent the Runway’s unlimited subscription allows you to have four items at home at a time, with unlimited exchanges.
  • For a monthly fee of $159 plus tax – which includes shipping, dry cleaning, and insurance – I rent about 18 pieces a month.
  • The service has saved me time and money, while reducing closet clutter and increasing wardrobe variation.

Shopping isn’t high on my list of favorite activities.

I’d rather spend my excess time and money on travel. But since I can’t get away with wearing jeans and a T-shirt to the office every day, finding a workwear solution that fits my lifestyle and budget is a necessity.

On a whim last year, thanks to my stylish friend Yelena’s recommendation and a Cyber Monday discount, I signed up for Rent the Runway’s unlimited subscription, RTR Unlimited. I assumed it would be fun to try, but not something I would stick with after the initial month.

As I do with any subscription trial period I sign up for, I set a calendar alert to remind myself to cancel it before the full-price charge hit my credit card the next month. But, after the first month ended, I decided to try it for another month. And then another.

Now, one year later, not only am I still using the service, it’s completely changed the way I think about shopping.

Here’s how RTR Unlimited works

For a monthly fee of $159 plus sales tax, Rent the Runway allows you to rent four pieces of clothing or accessories at a time and make exchanges as often as you like. You can pause or cancel your account at any time.

The fee includes shipping both ways, dry cleaning, and insurance. I happened to be at a restaurant, wearing a dress that retails for $1,500, when a diner at a neighboring table spilled an entire glass of white wine on me. So, insurance is important. But keep in mind that significant damage, loss, and theft are not covered.

According to the website, it can take up to five days for items to arrive, but in my experience shipments almost always go out within a day or two. Any time there’s been an issue with one of my orders – such as something arriving with a broken zipper or not shipping quickly – customer service agents have been responsive and helpful, immediately offering a replacement.

RTR Unlimited costs me a little over $1,800 annually – about the same as the average American household spends on clothing in a year. I wear approximately 18 pieces a month, meaning each item costs me under $10. Given that the going price for dry cleaning one dress is $12 in my neighborhood – something I don’t have to worry about with Rent the Runway – the cost is more than worth it for me.

Plus, my spending on other clothing has dwindled, partly because I don’t need anything else, and partly because it’s more fun to direct my online-shopping energy toward browsing the designer pieces I can access through Rent the Runway.

NicholasVermilion Floral Bubble Sleeve Dress, $375 retail. Heceta Head Lighthouse Scenic Viewpoint, in Oregon.

NicholasVermilion Floral Bubble Sleeve Dress, $375 retail. Heceta Head Lighthouse Scenic Viewpoint, in Oregon.
Lauren Lyons Cole

Renting clothes is becoming standard

I’m not the only one embracing the ‘clothing-sharing economy’ – it’s an industry that’s growing. As Business Insider’s Dennis Green reported, Rent the Runway reached its goal of $100 million in annual sales last November, and as of January, The Black Tux, a modern solution to formal wear rentals for guys, saw monthly sales hit $2 million with a two-fold increase year-over-year. Gwynnie Bee, a plus-size clothing rental service, is also gaining traction.

“I wouldn’t go so far as to say the future of fashion is rental, but I would say rental will be a major component of the future of fashion,” Andrew Blackmon, a cofounder of The Black Tux, told Green.

That could be a good thing – for our wallets, our closets, and our peace of mind.

Most of us are looking at clothes all wrong

The average person has 57 items of unworn clothing and spends 15 minutes deciding what to wear every morning, according to a recent survey by non-profit Oxfam and British retailer Marks and Spencer. On average, we regularly wear just 44% of the clothing we own, and nearly half of people admit they need to clean out their closet.

Part of the problem may be that sizes fluctuate, styles change, and sales are hard to pass up – but closet clutter isn’t free. Renting a portion of your wardrobe, and using the rest of your clothing budget to invest in high-quality pieces that last, instead of wasting money on poorly made clothes from fast-fashion brands, could save you money in the long run.

For example, the cost-per-wear of a $150 pair of pants that can be worn 50 times ($3/wear) is better than that of a $50 pair of pants that falls apart after 10 wears ($5/wear). The more expensive pair is likely to fit better and look better, too.

Added bonus: When an event calls for attire outside of your standard wardrobe, an unlimited clothing subscription like Rent the Runway allows you to choose exactly the right outfit for the occasion, instead of buying something you’d wear only once.

Opening CeremonyLandscape Quilted Patchwork Jacket, $595 retail. Overlooking Kirkjufell Mountain, in Iceland.

Opening CeremonyLandscape Quilted Patchwork Jacket, $595 retail. Overlooking Kirkjufell Mountain, in Iceland.
Lauren Lyons Cole

Occasionally, I rent something that I love enough to purchase. For those items, Rent the Runway is the perfect ‘try before you buy’ solution. Once you know your size, you can wait for it to go on sale – even final sale – without taking the risk that it won’t fit. I’ve managed to buy beautiful designer dresses for the same price I’d pay for a dress at J. Crew. Many previously worn items can also be bought at a discount through Rent the Runway.

If you really like a certain piece, but not enough to own it forever, you don’t have to. As long as your account is in good standing, there’s no limit to how long you can hang onto an item. I’ve done this twice so far – both times when a jacket I requested arrived new with tags. By holding onto one piece, it reduced the number of items I was able to cycle through, but not by much – I still managed to rent 12 items during those months.

It’s not just about the money

There are non-financial benefits to using Rent the Runway’s unlimited subscription as well. I spend way less time doing laundry and picking out what to wear. Now, I just scroll through the app, add whatever catches my eye to the cart, and wear it once it arrives. When I’m done, I send it back and start the process again.

Not to mention, having access to a wide variety of items is simply more fun than owning a wardrobe full of clothes that I wear over and over again.

The longer I use Rent the Runway, the more I’m convinced of its value. I happily participate in other parts of the sharing economy – with services like Amazon Music Unlimited, Netflix, and ride-sharing service Via – so why wouldn’t I apply the same principles to my closet as well?

I for one, am sold.

You can try Rent the Runway’s unlimited clothing subscription for $159/month here and get 20% off your first month with the code “FIRST.”