How Rent The Runway Helps You Consume Less Clothing

This subscription service combats the environmental impact of fast fashion with designer clothing you can rent.


Nov. 19 2020, Updated 9:38 p.m. ET

The last time you opened your closet, what did you see? While we’d all like to say a neat row of clothes we love and wear all the time, that’s often not the case. Peer inside and you’ll spy an errant blazer that’s two sizes too big, some shirts that haven’t seen daylight since 2009, and at least one sundress with the tag still hanging off it.

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It’s tough to keep your wardrobe in good condition. Between changing seasons and trends, cheap items that tear after a few uses, and disastrous spills, we’re constantly losing and gaining new clothes. And that’s a problem, when you consider the enormous toll the fashion industry takes on the planet. Some reports claim that fashion contributes more greenhouse gas emissions than international flights and shipping combined, and textile dyeing alone is the second biggest polluter of clean water around the world.

There’s a simple way to curb your shopping while staying chic, and it involves renting outfits.

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Rent the Runway supplies you with everything from cocktail dresses to warm wool coats. Customers select items in their sizes for a fraction of the retail price, because they’re not purchasing these clothes — they’re renting them.

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Here’s how it works. First, you choose a rental plan. The first tier is RTR Reserve, a pay-as-you-go plan that lets you borrow items one at a time. RTR Update gets you four pieces per month for $89, though you’ll get 20 percent off the initial trial month. Finally there’s RTR Unlimited, which provides four pieces “on constant rotation.” You can hold onto clothes for as long as you like, swapping anytime. It starts at $159 per month, or $99 for the trial run.

RTR Update and Unlimited subscribers also get a members-only discount to purchases pieces they truly love — clothes that won’t provoke buyers’ remorse, since they’ve already taken out for a spin or two.

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Once you have a plan, you can scroll through thousands of clothes from all kinds of designers. Choose something you’d like to rent, then pick your size. Rent the Runway provides a free backup size, in case that jumpsuit runs a little large or small.

Next it’s time to pick a timeframe. You can keep clothes for 4-8 days, but you need to specify the exact dates. After you’ve taken care of that, choose a delivery date and wait for your new duds to arrive. When you’re done wearing them, return them with your prepaid shipping label at any UPS drop-off location.

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You won’t have to worry about washing or steaming anything, since Rent the Runway does the dry cleaning. So don’t stress over that strawberry stain — the $5 insurance fee covers most accidents. (And if you have an Unlimited plan, it’s included.)

Rent the Runway hopes its business model encourages people to “rent, reduce, and reuse.” It’s striving to chip away at the 82 pounds of clothing the average woman throws out each year, according to the company’s numbers. Take the the quiz to discover the environmental impact of your current wardrobe, then browse the online shop or five retail locations to see if Rent the Runway is a good fit for you.

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