What it’s really like to lend out your clothes to strangers on fashion rental apps

More and more of us rent clothes for special occasions, but what is it really like for the people who hire out their wardrobes on fashion rental apps? Writer Olivia Gagan started lending her clothes out on the fashion rental platform Hurr and it brought up some surprising emotions.

On my birthday in early 2020, I went out in a beautiful Liberty print Vampire’s Wife mini dress I’d bought in a sale. It was the last time I’d dress up for a very long while. A few weeks later, as the world changed, I changed into a pair of trackies and a jumper. And that was the outfit I wore pretty much every day until this summer.

During the first UK lockdown, one of the things I did to pass the time was list the nicer bits of my wardrobe on fashion rental site Hurr. Up went a linen Reformation dress I’d worn once to a wedding. I listed a DVF silk skirt that had sat in a drawer for months. A polka-dot Alexa Chung dress was uploaded too.  

To nothing. Crickets. No one wanted to borrow my clothes because everyone was doing, and probably wearing, exactly the same thing as me: sitting on the sofa in their comfies trying to get through a pandemic, not wondering about what to wear on Friday night.

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But this year, as vaccinations kicked in and everyone slowly emerged, blinking, out of their homes, weddings picked up again. Clubs reopened. People started going on nights out. By then, I’d forgotten I’d listed my clothes online – until my first rental request came in. With some trepidation, I wrapped my long-coveted birthday dress up in some tissue paper and ribbon, wrote a card in the parcel saying I hoped they had fun in it, and off it went.

Without really planning to, this year I’ve run my own, slightly more grown-up and paid version of The Sisterhood Of The Travelling Pants. And I can report that lending out your clothes can be a strangely emotional experience.

renting fashion hurr vampires wife dress
“I wrapped my beloved Vampire’s Wife birthday dress up in some tissue paper and ribbon, and off it went.”

There’s a streak of possessiveness. It’s strange to have your dresses return home sweaty, crumpled, scented with someone else’s perfume. I’ve had pangs of wanting to keep my clothing pristine, ‘mine’ as I’ve sent them out. Like lending a much-loved book to a friend, loaning out your clothes means having faith that whoever you’re renting it to won’t trash it and will actually return it.

Then there’s envy. I didn’t think I could be jealous of an inanimate object, but it turns out I can. When I realised that one of my dresses was booked out back-to-back for parties and celebrations, I felt a twinge of jealousy at the fact that I most definitely was not.

There’s also joy. In a world where socialising has been severed and in-person connection is still being re-established, getting a panicked message on a Thursday asking if I could get a dress to someone in time for Saturday feels like the pre-Covid days. I’ve missed friends asking me for my opinion on their outfits, or wanting to know what I’m wearing to the pub tonight. I’ve never met Hollie in Oxford or Gemma in Yorkshire, but it felt good getting a card or thank you note back in the post from them detailing the fun nights out they had in my clothes.

As the rentee is paying for the clothing to arrive in excellent condition, the whole experience means you start to really look after your things and take care of them. I’ve fast become an expert in removing all vestiges of dancing, drink and decadence from my dresses. Sweat? A paste made from bicarbonate of soda and water will remove it. Foundation? You’re gonna need some biological detergent for that. Dior Poison perfume? It’s like getting actual poison out of a dress.

Fashion rental hurr alexa chung dress
Olivia’s polka-dot Alexa Chung dress ready to be sent about to a rental customer.

Lending out my clothes has felt warm, useful and communal. Fashion sustainability experts Eco-Age advise that we should try to wear each piece of clothing we buy at least 30 times to consume clothes sustainably. For evening wear, that’s a lot of nights out, and renting out your clothes can really help you reach the 30-wears target. Then there’s the added bonus of getting paid: a couple of my dresses have almost made their purchase price back in rentals.

But, renting still isn’t a silver bullet for solving fashion’s overproduction and overconsumption problems. Many rental items are professionally dry cleaned with chemicals and a recent Finnish journal study suggests renting still has a huge impact on the environment once you factor in the repeated transport, packaging and dry cleaning required. 

However, if you are thinking about lending out your wardrobe there are ways to make it as low impact as possible. Instead of new plastic packaging, try re-using simple brown paper bags (I still try to make it feel luxe and personal with tissue paper, ribbon, and a note). You can also wash and iron clothes yourself once they’re returned. Or, as a renter, you can opt for platforms that use carbon-neutral, non-toxic dry cleaning (Hurr uses sustainable laundry service Oxwash, for example).

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Renting gives your clothing use beyond a single wear. It makes you take better care. It’s a reminder that things are re-wearable, repairable and that they can and should have a lineage beyond a one-off wedding or party. It makes expensive or designer pieces more accessible. It slows the relentless churn of production, driven by our collective obsession with newness that has led fashion to a cliff edge and fuelled unethical, unsafe working practices.

I’ll probably take my wardrobe off the site for a while now, to give it (and my trips to the post office) a rest. While I’m delighted that my dresses have had a life, it’s time for me to go out and have a life in them, too. But I’ve become a believer in borrowing and lending clothes. With its basis in sharing and caring for our wardrobes, renting might just be the thing to bring soul, thoughtfulness and pleasure back into our relationship with fashion. 

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Images: Getty, Olivia Gagan