Renting Your Next Ball Gown

I went to a lovely ball last night.  These English really know how to put on a party!  As usual, I spent some time and money stressing about what to wear.  And you know what?  I think I’m going to try renting a dress for our next event.

Renting formal wear is something that men have done for years, but it is fairly new for women to rent dresses in the strictest sense of the word.  Girls have always been great about borrowing and lending, and if you buy something at the consignment shop or thrift shop and then donate it back, it is almost like renting.  But to have businesses that do rental dresses is new-ish, and the internet has made it very easy.

I did a quick internet search for rental formal wear, and I found a lot of results that weren’t quite right – sites that didn’t ship to the US, sites that only did accessories, and sites that didn’t do rentals.  However, I was able to sift through and find several sites so that I can compare and contrast options.

The principle is simple:  go online, pick a dress that you like, and rent it for a short period of time.  The upside is a decreased cost up front, plus you don’t have to pay for having it cleaned after your event.  (Cleaning is usually included in the price.)

The main downside to renting a dress online is that you can’t try it on.  What if it doesn’t fit or it doesn’t look good on you?  Some sites try to minimize this risk with various policies.  For example, Rent The Runway offers a free second size, and you can choose another style for a reduced rental price.

The other problem with renting is that you are paying a high “per use” price for the dress.  I tend to wear the same formal dresses numerous times before consigning them for resale.  In this way, I am lowering the price per use AND I am getting money back when I resell the dress.  For this reason, I’m unlikely to rent a dress unless it is a particularly special occasion that I truly won’t ever wear the dress again.

Have you ever rented a formal dress?  How did the process work for you?  Would you do it again?

About the Author

Kate Horrell
Kate Horrell is a military financial coach, mom of four teens, and Navy spouse. She has a background in taxes and mortgage banking, and a trove of experience helping other military families with their money. Follow her on twitter @realKateHorrell.
  • Jane

    I have rented dresses from RTR many times and I love having the option. I don’t like to wear the same dress twice and I can get a designer dress for the same amount of money, or sometimes less, than I would have spent to buy a gown from a department store. I have had dresses that didn’t fit in either of the sizes I selected when they showed up and RTR has always sent another dress overnight at no extra charge. Last I checked they did not ship to AK or HI so that is a downside if you happen to live in either of those states.

  • Cynthia

    I have used RTR many times, as recommended by my daughter who also uses them. Only once did I receive a dress that did not fit in either size. I highly recommend them. They have dresses, jewelry and outerwear as well. There is a wide range of prices for their large inventory. I feel good renting a dress for a low price instead of shopping for hours and purchasing an expensive dress that I might wear just once.

  • Katherine

    I have never hired an evening or ball gown. I am lucky, because I have a huge wardrobe of almost 70 dresses to choose from including some vintage haute couture (an authentic Christian Dior dress from 1955/56 – thanks Aunty Rosemary) from the 1950s and 1960s. I also have evening separates, i.e., long silk skirts and bustiers/tops that are suitable for black tie and even some less conservative white tie events. This means that I have no need for a hired frock, but even if I did, I would be worried about proper fit and length. With my 2.5 inch heels I wear for dancing, I am 5’10.5″ — which is not short — but despite my height I have had to hem most of my gowns. I recently bought a beautiful Theia ball frock and it was at least 5cm to long even with shoes. As the top layers are silk organza, hemming was an art (tiny seam) and not cheap due to the skirt’s width and circumference. How would you deal with that in a hired dress? I doubt that you can simply cut it off; and hem tape or similar tricks are visible through thin fabrics like organza and chiffon, which might also get damaged easily if you step on it. Do you have to pay for the dress if it gets damaged? We go to many balls and formal events (husband and I are Brits) per year, and sometimes I wonder about hiring, but my concerns shan’t go away – particularly in the absence of a satisfactory answer to my questions, and besides, I have absolutely no need.

  • Lovely!!!!

  • Watchin’ the fun

    Caitlin Jenner might have an extra one soon that you could borrow !