Rent The Runway Unlimited: In-Depth Review

HELLO and thanks for tuning back in! Since the completion of last year's sampler wardrobe project, I've been thinking a lot about how I'd like my styling to evolve going forward. In particular, I've been seeking opportunities to refresh my creativity within a minimal, capsule-like structure. Today I'm excited to present a review of something which helped to shake up that creativity: my one-month trial subscription to Rent The Runway Unlimited!

Rent The Runway* is a fantastic service which lets you borrow designer brand pieces for a monthly fixed price. It started as a way to rent clothing for specific occasions -- i.e. a bridesmaid dress for a wedding. Since then, it's expanded to two monthly plan options: Update, which includes four fixed pieces per month, and Unlimited, offering four pieces at a time, but with endless exchanges. I was able to try the Unlimited option free for one month and in that time managed to test out eighteen unique pieces. The cost to purchase all these items at their retail price would have set me back approximately $6500. By comparison, the Unlimited subscription is $159/mo; so even at the usual rate it's a steal for anyone with a taste for designer fashion.

In spite of the minimal winter light in my apartment, I was able to photograph most of my trial pieces (except for a few that didn't fit properly or which I kept for under 24 hours.) I've shared the results below along with various pros and cons I encountered during my service trial, to give you a full perspective of the experience. Ready? Let's dive in!

Floral Francine Dress by Rebecca Taylor

PRO: Experiment With Unique Styles

One reason I leapt at the chance to try this service is I've always been fascinated with runway fashion. Designer clothing does tend to be of a higher stitch quality -- though not always -- and usually fits better. It's also just more fun! This dress by Sea is a perfect example of something I would have drooled over in Vogue but shied away from actually trying myself. As a petite, I've been cautioned against midi-lengths or any bright patterns and colors that might overwhelm me. This dress threatened to do both, but look at the results! I felt like a mermaid-turned-human. It was so good I wore it twice: once to the theater and once to work. While it may not be a style I'd keep in my closet forever, it was so fun to shake things up for the time I had it. And it taught me not to be so fearful of venturing out of my comfort zone.

Lola Lace Dress by Sea New York

PRO: Try Out Trends On The Cheap

The moment I saw this pink blouse I knew I wanted to wear it. I'd been looking for some light-colored, "feminine" pieces to wear to my light-colored, "feminine" restaurant. At the same time, I wondered if it would be practical to invest in something with such wide sleeves and dangling ribbons. I also wondered about the polyester material being too warm. As it turned out, I loved how the top looked on me as much as I thought I would -- but I was also right about the other stuff. Had I purchased it off looks alone, I would have been disappointed with the cumbersome sleeves and synthetic sweat-trap. I probably would have avoided wearing it to work again for these reasons. In this situation, though, I was simply able to return it, thank it for the fun, and carry on with my search for a top that better suited my lifestyle. (How cute, though?!)

Pink Elva Lace Top by Unitedwood

CON: (Some) Planning Required

There are worse problems to have than finding yourself in the company of four designer dresses with no occasion for which to wear them. Nevertheless, advance-planning outfits became a definite priority in my mission to maximize the Unlimited service trial. Much of my time was saved by making returns directly to the RTR flagship store, which happened to be on my work route through Manhattan. This meant I could swap out items within minutes, rather than waiting the 2 - 4 days between UPS shipments. That said, the store obviously has less inventory than online, and sometimes I would arrive with high hopes for a blouse-and-trouser pairing only to find nothing but cocktail dresses in my size. In the case of this maxi dress, a series of bad-fit orders meant I wore it to work twice, when I'd actually intended it as a weekend piece. To get the most bang for your buck, it's ideal if you structure your outfit game plan about a week ahead of time. This sort of planning is my bread and butter, but even I was glad for a break from it by month's end.

Floral Attire Midi Dress by BB Dakota

PRO: Keep Favorites As Long As You Like 

One of the best aspects of the Unlimited rental plan is the permission to keep a garment as long as you like (so long as you're a member, that is.) Of course a dress like this one will eventually require laundering, but in the case of coats, jewelry, or handbags -- which are all available to rent as well -- this is a perfect option. As it happened, I wore this Mara Hoffman dress on a weekend, loved it, and wanted to wear it again. But I had to wait five days for my next day off. No problem. I just swapped out the other garments I'd rented, held onto this one, and ordered three more instead of four. The next weekend, I was delighted to be able to don it again!

Brown Gwyneth Knit Dress by Mara Hoffman

PRO: Buy What You Love

This Milly dress was one of the first things that caught my eye while scrolling through the RTR app. I had such a good feeling about it, I immediately saved it to my favorites and made a mental note to order it for my birthday. When it arrived a few weeks later, I fell head over heels. Not only was the fit comfortable and curiously flattering, it had major twirl potential -- which if you know me is pretty essential to my general mode of being. After my birthday, I found myself wishing it could stick around for my next special occasion. The RTR app seemed determined to grant my wish: While plotting my next order, I noticed a "purchase now" option was listed alongside each of my current rentals, at varying discounted prices. In other words, I could forever-home my dear dress for 80% off the retail price. As secondhand scores are the sunshine of my life, I decided it was worth treating myself for my birthday. As an added bonus, immediately after I purchased the dress, I was able to rent something new. Score!

Corded Lace Aria Dress by Milly

CON: Fit Can Be Hit Or Miss

The try-on experience of my first four items completely spoiled me. Same with the fifth item. And the sixth. In fact, thanks to the app's plentiful and thorough customer reviews, I skated by on perfect fits until item #9, when I got cocky, pulled something I liked off the rack, and didn't bother to try it on before taking it home. After that, I hit a wasteland of bad luck: a dress with a too-roomy chest, a pair of too-tight trousers, and a blazer which made me look like a teapot. Again, this is a situation where I was thankful for flagship store access, which allowed for fit-by-brand research and faster turnarounds on my no-go pieces. For members planning outfits for specific events and waiting on UPS processing, this could be more of a frustration. Overall though, the best prevention for this is reading the reviews submitted by other users. With the exception of the teapot jacket, they were spot on!

Blue Abstract Floral Dress by Slate & Willow

PRO: Prompt Customer Service

While trusting postal carriers with anything valuable can always be a little nerve-racking (further thoughts on that below), I can only report one panic-inducing incident during the month's eight deliveries. It involved the dress pictured below. I received the usual app notification informing me that my garment had been delivered, but when it was nowhere to be found in our postal room I immediately assumed the worst. First I started an online chat through the RTR app, then called their customer service line for good measure. Both elicited prompt responses from cheerful staff members who clarified and resolved the issue by sending me an alternate item of my choice within 24 hours. (As it happened, this was an internal mistake by UPS, who somehow rerouted the garment back to RTR before it ever passed through my hands.) Later, I made a bit of a fuss about not having had an opportunity to actually wear the dress I wanted (I mean, can you blame me? Look at that dress!!) Within three days, my "stylist" reached out to me via email, confirming the original dress was back in stock and on its way to me. This was one of my favorite pieces, and I'm so grateful to the staff members who ensured I had the opportunity to enjoy it!

Floral Clusters Carti Dress by Tanya Taylor

PRO: Extra-Special Special Occasions

Special Occasions. Holidays. Weddings. We've all been there, staring into our closets and wishing we had something new to wear -- something novel and fresh, like Cinderella. Once I knew I'd be spending Valentine's Day at the restaurant, I got straight to work planning an outfit that would transport me beyond the stressful reality of 100+ guests all competing for the "most romantic table." This number by Marchesa Notte immediately caught my attention on the app, and once in it I drifted onto a splendid cloud of princess-y ecstacy (princesstacy?) Those Aurora sleeves, that lace detail, the double-zipper back--! Forgive me while I swoon over my own style choices. But truly: it would have been worth signing up for the chance to wear this dress on this one day alone.

Wine Cuipare Dress by Marchesa Notte

CON: Potential Delivery Risks

Shipping packages is one of those things that seems like no big deal -- until it is. We've probably all experienced the terror that comes with lost mail, when holiday gifts or treasured letters randomly disappear into the blackhole that is the US postal system. Imagine now that you're waiting for a $525 dress to fall on your doorstep. In a fairly identifiable garment bag protected only by zippers. In the middle of a workday afternoon. I had the luxury of a doorman receiving my rentals, and I know other renters who skirt the issue by delivering their items to work. But there's no way around it: packages can and do get lost or stolen, and if you're one of the unfortunate ones, you not only owe the price of the lost item -- but double it's retail value! This scared me a lot and may have steered me from the service trial entirely were it not for the comfort of my doorman for deliveries and proximity to the flagship store for returns. My snafu with the red dress ended up costing me nothing, but it was enough to make me think twice before ordering anything beyond what my savings could cover!

Red Floral Embroidered Dress by Badgley Mischka

PRO: Dry-Cleaning

What's the number one obstacle that prevents me from thrifting designer pieces? These three words: Dry Clean Only. Really, who has the time or money to dry clean? Not this girl. With natural fabrics, it's usually worth risking a handwash, but when it comes to certain synthetics, embroidery, beading, velvet, and printed silks, there's no denying it's best left to the professionals -- and most of these beautiful pieces involved one or more of those elements. It was nice to relive myself of the burden of caring for such precious garments. Plus, even my weird laundry-loving self enjoyed time off from doing my own washing.

Red Imperial Garden Sheath by Carmen Marc Valvo

CON: Dry-Cleaning

On the other hand... You know what's really terrible for the environment? Dry-cleaning. It's also pretty terrible for us humans. The most common dry-cleaning solvent perchloroethylene or "perc" is identified by the American Cancer Society as a probable carcinogen. While RTR's website claims to refrain from using this particular chemical, it's unclear exactly what their solvent of choice is -- and therefore difficult to evaluate its eco-friendliness. Just about any chemical can leach into surrounding air and water sources, causing non-direct risks as well. While I strongly support the reduce/reuse aspect of RTR, I'm still troubled by these cleaning practices. As someone who typically dry-cleans one garment yearly (a winter coat), it's unsettling to learn you've contributed toward a rotational cleaning average of 30 garments per hour. That aside, the company does try to pull its weight in other areas of sustainability. Their shipping bags are reusable (though each comes with two doses of plastic: the protective garment bag(s) and a single-use zipper lock for security upon return.) They accept and encourage return of the plastic bags and hangers for recycling and reuse. And there's certainly something to be said for inspiring folks to borrow more and buy less.

Taber Dress by Shoshanna

PRO: Try Before You Buy

Since I thrift the majority of my clothes, it's rare I have the safety net of returnability. This often makes shopping decisions all the more stressful. While thrifting, it's not uncommon to find me guarding my loot under one arm while desperately trying to price-compare on eBay without overstaying my welcome in front of the shop's sole mirror. Secondhand stores these days are not guaranteed to be cheap -- especially when you're seeking quality brands in New York City -- and for a gal on a budget like me, it's easy to worry about making an expensively wrong decision. Once I chose to purchase my Milly dress, I got clever about using the service not just for fashion, but for research. What had I been coveting lately? High-waist gray skinny jeans from Rag & Bone and a colorful, quality handbag. Oh, look what I found...

Gray High-Rise Ankle Skinny Jeans by Rag & Bone // Ocean Keeley Satchel by Mackage

While these pieces were too far beyond my budget to keep (even with the discount), I now know exactly what size and style to look for on secondhand websites and can eventually go forth and purchase with more confidence.

By the end of my trial period, I was nowhere near through all my saved "likes", and it was hard to bid farewell to the pieces I hadn't had an opportunity to try. I'm still considering the idea of paying for the service just for a month or two -- specifically once wedding season starts up again -- and in the end I did choose to "pause" my membership for a period while I mull over that cost.

Overall, having Unlimited access to all these beautiful garments reminded me of three things:

1) I'm ready to reawaken the wacky fashion urges which first inspired my personal style journey.
2) It's worth investing in high quality garments for better construction and fit.
3) When you present your best self, it generates a special kind of confidence -- and it radiates to those around you!

On that last point -- you needn't rely on expensive or even high-quality garments to be the best version of yourself. Just giving yourself permission to play, explore, risk a bit, and therein cultivate your unique personal style can have a curious effect on your confidence. For me, Rent The Runway helped me crawl back out of a rut I was in, but for you it might simply mean wearing a different color, going vintage shopping, or giving yourself leeway to buy something fun instead of practical.

With that, I wish everyone a very happy spring!

*This post is not sponsored by Rent The Runway. All views expressed are my own.


14 Outfits for September 2018

Happy Autumn, everyone! It's bittersweet to announce that this is my twelfth and final sampler wardrobe outfit post. I've kept up the process for exactly one year (see this page for the archives!), and while I intend to continue exploring wardrobe construction and personal style, to post another series of lookbook photos would soon prove redundant. After all, the purpose of this whole process was to wear less, more often. Especially in the case of my work wardrobe, which has really become a true capsule now, you've seen just about every outfit combination I've come up with!

Employing and fine-tuning this method of wardrobe minimizing was so fun for me. I learned a great deal about what shapes & fabrics I love, what kind of uniforms I gravitate toward, and what color palettes already exist in my closet. The great thing is, now I have a full year's worth of photos to use in further analysis and discussion! So expect to see future posts detailing what I learned throughout the sampler process.

Without further adieu, let's dive into my September wardrobe!

As you may be able to tell from these shadowy photos, our daylight is quickly fading -- a clue that cooler weather is finally upon us! We New Yorkers have been patiently (and sometimes not-so-patiently) waiting for the humidty to die down, and in the past two weeks our dreams finally became a reality. I felt pretty clever outsmarting my own autumn-obsessed brain, reminding myself that sleeveless options still take precedence over cozy cover-ups in city-September. But when I woke to a 65-degree morning last week, I was grateful for the sole jacket I'd included!

Stepping out of summer meant banishing white from my wardrobe -- not because I care about all that Labor Day mumbo-jumbo, but because it was necessary to make room for all the black. Devotion to this non-color runs back about three generations of women in my family, and try as I might I've never been able to abandon it entirely. In summer, I avoid black for obvious reasons, so when it comes to lighter transitional items (i.e. the crochet-sleeve boho blouse, black shorts, and military button jacket), I have to make the most of them during this brief period.

One thing that's been really exciting about the sampler process overall is mastering how to identify & maintain a palette. I've never had much success subscribing to set colors in the past, but I finally feel like I've hit upon the secret (which I'll share in a future post.) With the exception of that pop of blue in my work wardrobe (hello, summer holdover!), I've got a nice mostly-neutral thing going here: black, taupe, olive, and cream, plus some orange-y accents for interest. Mmmm... fall.

A mere 24 garments made up this month's capsule, which I believe is my record for the year. It's satisfying to think that in this last week I was still jotting down new outfit combos to parade around before month's end. That's the beauty of mindful limitation -- it often serves your creativity even more than boundless freedom!

I hope that the sampler wardrobe experiment has been useful to some of you on your own style journey. As mentioned, check back soon for future tips and analysis on the sampler year as a whole. Thanks for tuning in!


15 Outfits for August 2018

Dear Reader, I hope you can't tell how absolutely over it I was when I took this batch of photos. It was "the hottest day in August," as the song goes, and between posing, changing, and running back and forth between my tripod, it's a wonder the main feature of this spread wasn't my shiny, sweaty brow! I got so lazy by the end, I phoned it in on two work staples and used previously shot images. To be fair, I've photographed these particular items about five times now and am running out of innovative ways to style them. Without further adieu, here is my sampler wardrobe for the month of August, which up until this mini heatwave has been practically perfect in every way.

As predicted in my last post, the work portion of my wardrobe stayed the same as it has since summer started. I'm happy to report that rather than getting bored with my pieces, the constancy has blessed me with much peace of mind. My getting-ready process is essentially figuring out which top I wore least recently, rotating my bottom pieces the same way, and accessorizing as the mood strikes me. I'll be happy to see my cooler weather pieces again, but in truth I could probably wear these for the rest of the year and be pretty satisfied. Conclusion: A rotating capsule wardrobe is ideal for the day job portion of my life.

Meanwhile, over in the creative sector, I've been incorporating two lovely new pieces, both of which were generously handed down to me from two stylish ladies in my life. One, the white sweater (pictured here with white denim shorts), is made from the floatiest, loveliest material -- cool enough to be worn on an 80-degree day -- and has cheeky little buttons down the back. Two people (men, naturally) have already speculated I have it on backwards, which elevates it to "statement piece" status as far as I'm concerned. The other piece is this dreamy pale blue tulle skirt, something I never would have thought to purchase for myself but immediately fell in love with as soon as I put it on. It's got me feeling like Ballerina-Cinderella, which is really my main goal in life. 

Constructing my wardrobe this month was pretty straightforward; I stuck with the exact same number and mostly same ratio of items. The summer work trouser I was seeking seduced me into H&M for the first time in ages, but I couldn't justify the purchase value-wise*, particularly outside of their conscious collection. So I'll just have to hope I come across them in a thrift shop one day.

While September will no doubt remain very warm, I'm thrilled to be inching closer to long sleeves and cozy knits again. Scrolling through Instagram, I envy my PNW friends, who are already donning beanies and jeans while I cower beneath the sweaty arm of a fellow train passenger and pray the AC doesn't break down mid-commute. Sigh. At least I look like Cinderella. Maybe I can befriend some of New York's finest subway rats...

'Til fall! 

*Value-wise meaning captial-V values, not cost-value. H&M is of course quite affordable.