How to Shop for Your Next Trip Using Rent the Runway
As a travel editor with something of a shopping problem, I'm forever hunting for destination-appropriate outfits. I want to see the world and look good while doing it. That either requires a big travel-wardrobe budget or a membership over at Rent the Runway. I test-drove the fashion start-up on trips to the beach, Brazil, and weddings in Chicago and New York. There were some bumps along the way (including a dress delivered, um, three days after the event it was for), but I’ve still come out the other end with major RTR praise, especially for travelers. Read on for my honest, no-details-spared review of Rent the Runway to decide if the clothing-rental service is right for you.
Rent the Runway Review: What Are the Pros and Cons of Rent the Runway?
Rent the Runway Pros
- Incredible designer inventory for every occasion: vacation outfits, gala gowns, workwear, etc.
- Accessories including designer handbags and sunglasses
- Never repeat an outfit on Instagram (the horror!)
- Two subscription options: Unlimited and Update (details below)
- One-time rentals available without a subscription
- Free shipping and returns anywhere in the U.S.
- Travelers can have items shipped to their destination, and have fewer things to pack!
- Items are delivered in eco-friendly bags (most of the time)
- All RTR pieces include free dry cleaning—one less thing to worry about
- Subscriptions include free insurance against minor damage and stains
- Chance to buy items you really, really love at a discount
- Memberships are month to month
- A more environmental alternative to fast fashion
Rent the Runway Cons
- You may find your dream dress, only for it to be unavailable in your size
- Tech and delivery glitches are a risk
- RTR doesn’t offer pick-ups; you must bring packages to a UPS location
- No shoes or menswear
- Only available in the U.S. (but including Alaska and Hawaii!)
- Despite the eco-friendly garment bags, items are wrapped in plastic inside (come on guys!)
My Rent the Runway Review for Travel
I pride myself on buying a few destination-appropriate pieces for every trip, but it’s not cheap. One recent example: In the days before an April trip to Sicily (where locals dress to impress), I stress-shopped online for chic jumpsuits, palazzo pants, and a good-looking straw hat. Order total: $270. That’s $110 to $180 more than what the Unlimited and Update memberships would have set me back, respectively. And while yes, I’ve gotten plenty of mileage from those pre-Sicily purchases, do I need them hanging in my closet year round? Not really. To me, renting clothes and accessories (Gucci sunglasses! Circle straw bags!) before a trip can be the way smarter way to go. Luckily, I had a few chances to put this theory to the test, with upcoming trips to the beach, Brazil, and Chicago, plus a wedding upstate.
For My Family Beach Trip
My first foray into the world of Rent the Runway. Given that I was going to hot, humid North Carolina in August, I wanted to bring an arsenal of breezy, breathable pieces in fabric like linen, as well as a fabulous pair of sunglasses. Beach garb, but elevated. These striped wide-leg Vince pants were ideal for lounging on the deck and protecting my legs from the sun and bugs, and a nautical-ish cotton-blend cover-up by Rails was awesome for walking in the surf and keeping my shoulders safe from UV rays. This was also the perfect opportunity to finally test out a pair of Karen Walker sunglasses without dropping $250.
For a Wedding and Sightseeing in Chicago
I needed quite a few pieces for this Labor Day weekend trip. For the wedding itself, I wanted a really beautiful dress appropriate for the formal event at the historic Chicago Cultural Center. I was convinced only Reformation’s Wildflower dress would do. Other needs: a party dress for pre-wedding drinks at Fulton Galley, plus some easy pieces that would work for all the Chicago sightseeing I wanted to do. I was planning on having RTR send everything to Chicago for me. I’d booked a Basic Economy ticket with United, which only allows for one personal item onboard. By shipping my RTR to Chicago, I could skip the whole suitcase thing and extra luggage fees.
Or that was the plan. Unfortunately, this trip coincided with a months-long operational fallout at Rent the Runway, where hundreds of customers—including me—wouldn’t receive packages on time. When I got to the Lincoln Park address, there was no RTR package in sight. Instead, I received an odd cardboard box (not the signature reusable bag) and it only contained a pair of pants—Gunny Sack Trousers by The Great—from my multi-piece order. The wedding and sightseeing dresses were MIA, and I was out of luck. Thankfully, I had stuffed a silk jumpsuit in my purse, just in case, so I was covered for the ceremony. And I alternated between the cotton paperbag pants and my airplane outfit for the rest of the trip. Not ideal. On the plus side, how cute are those pants? Oh, that final package did arrive actually—three days after the wedding.
For My Life in New York City
When I wasn’t renting for trips, I filled my orders with sophisticated, city-chic articles several notches above my usual style, like Rag and Bone’s plaid pants (wish I’d had these when I hit Tokyo earlier this year!), an indispensable black See by Chloe tee that I must have worn no kidding 20 times, and a black crepe minidress by Equipment. (Yes it’s true: Black is the default NYC shade.) For visitors to New York or any other fashion-conscious city (Paris, Berlin, Milan, London, Seoul, Tokyo, L.A., etc.), Rent the Runway has foolproof styles from brands like Scotch & Soda, Opening Ceremony, The Kooples, and Taylor Swift-fave Self-Portrait.
For a Wedding and Fall Activities in Upstate New York
My dream of renting the perfect wedding-guest dress would get one more shot. Sadly, RTR was still recovering from their operational collapse and my options were limited. I finally landed on this bright printed crepe Shoshanna dress, which wasn’t the vibe I was going for, but it worked. And since I was off to do cute fall stuff upstate, like hiking and pumpkin-picking, I added this Fair Isle turtleneck by A.L.C. Obsessed. This piece got me so many freakin’ compliments, including the most coveted one of all—praise from the glamorous executive editor at Jetsetter. I hoarded it until the very last day of my trial membership.
For My Trip to Brazil
This was the trip that earned Rent the Runway my full and everlasting devotion. My Rio wish list? Bright party-ready maxis, cotton wide-leg pants, bohemian silk dresses, and loose-fitting caftans that would work just as well on the sand as in town, plus a sexy wrap dress for dinner on the beach. See this striped yellow dress? I had purchased at a big discount from an earlier RTR order—a nice perk for members. And it was really just the thing for a day in Vila Madalena, a hip neighborhood in Sao Paulo known for its vibrant street art, indie shops, and avant-garde art galleries.
Frequently Asked Questions About Rent the Runway
What Is Rent the Runway?
Rent the Runway is a fashion-rental service launched in 2009. Originally, it was all about renting a one-off piece for special occasions—think weddings, galas, and black-tie events. RTR introduced the subscription element in 2016, allowing customers to rent multiple items for a fixed monthly cost. Now, women rent clothing and accessories for every sort of occasion, not just special ones. Fresh looks for work and weekends are just as big as for weddings and big parties. In fact, the majority of subscribers are working women who are sick of their closet and simply want new things to wear to the office and for nights out.
What Makes Rent the Runway Good for Travel?
While RTR is great for sourcing office looks and special occasion dresses, what ultimately drew me to the service is my ongoing quest for great vacation outfits while still packing light. The fact that customers can ship clothes to their destination (within the U.S., including Hawaii and Alaska) means more outfits with less packing. How perfect is that for, say, a weekend getaway to Palm Springs or a bachelorette party in Vegas? Skiing in Jackson? Skip packing your bulky, space-hogging parka and send one from RTR to your ski lodge. That’s the idea, at least. If you’re heading abroad, you can’t ship your RTR there, but you can still select stylish and destination-appropriate pieces for home delivery—think cotton maxi dresses for Morocco or a chic blazer and polished handbag for Paris—then pack them in your suitcase. If you love to document your travels on social media, you can treat your followers to an endless parade of cute vacation looks.
How Does Rent the Runway Work?
Rent the Runway works by giving would-be shoppers access to thousands upon thousands of clothing/accessory rentals from more than 600 brands—from mainstream and mid-range (BB Dakota, Rachel Rachel Roy) to high-end designer (Halston, Paco Rabanne). Most women opt for the “Unlimited” membership, which lets you have a rotating selection of four items, but you can also book one-off items without a subscription.
Whether you’re a member or not, RTR will deliver your items in an eco-friendly black fabric garment bag, either to your house or workplace. If you’re traveling, you can have the delivery shipped to your hotel, Airbnb, or vacation rental—that means less to pack! Rent the Runway announced an official partnership with W Hotels in December 2019, but you can have your shipment delivered to any hotel. A pretty great perk on top of not having to buy the clothes to begin with. When you’re ready to return your items, just use the free return label and drop off the bag at any UPS.
Is There a Sign-Up Fee for Rent the Runway?
Nope! No sign-up fee. The only fees are your monthly membership fees (either $89 or $159) or the various RTR Reserve fees for one-off items. (See below.) Simply sign up for free to start selecting items.
Rent the Runway Pricing: How Much Is Rent the Runway?
Rent the Runway offers two subscription plans—Unlimited and Update—plus one-off rentals that don’t require a membership. The Unlimited membership—far and away the more popular of the two—is $159 a month, and it allows you to select four items with as many swaps throughout the month as you want. With RTR Unlimited, you can keep your items as long as you want (provided your membership is active). The Update membership option is $89 a month, and it allows you to select four items to keep for the month. If Update members want to swap out before the month is up, they can do so for a $12.95 swap fee.
Both memberships allow you to add more items for an additional charge each. Unlimited members can add extra slots for $39; slot price is prorated if your item is added mid-month. Update members can add extra slots only at the beginning of the month. And If you fall hard for an item and can’t bear to part with it, you have the option to purchase the item at a discount. (Me? I might have mentioned earlier that I just couldn’t imagine life without a certain yellow shift.)
Can You Use Rent the Runway Without a Membership? How Do You Rent One-Off Items?
You don’t have to be a Rent the Runway member to use the service. RTR Reserve offers one-time rentals for a set price (like a Rachel Pally jumpsuit for $27 or a Club Monaco blazer for $38). With RTR Reserve, find the item you want and select the size that you want it in. A cool thing about Reserve is that all rentals come with a free back-up size, in case the style runs big or small. Select whether you want the item for four or eight days (more days, more money) and use the calendar tool to select your delivery date. (The calendar tool will show grayed-out dates when the item is unavailable for rental.) Once you’ve added your one-time rental to your cart, RTR will serve up easy add-ons like earrings and necklaces to rent for a couple of bucks. You can also purchase items like Spanx shorts or pasties here.
My advice to RTR members with either the Update or Unlimited plan: If you have your heart set on a specific item for a specific event on a specific date, book it through RTR Reserve and pay the extra one-off fee. (You’ll get a discount!) I was dead-set on a Reformation maxi gown for a wedding, and not once during my three-month Unlimited trial was it available in my size. That’s likely because it had at least one future Reserve rental. Once an item has a Reserve rental booked, it becomes unavailable through Unlimited, since Unlimited members can keep it as long as they want and RTR needs it back for the Reserve order. In hindsight, I would have just paid the extra rental price on top of the Unlimited fee to secure the dress for the wedding.
What Brands Are on Rent the Runway?
Brace yourself; this is where things get really fun. RTR carries everything from Madewell and Levi’s to Rag and Bone and Reformation to Derek Lam and Iro. If you’re looking for a perfect party dress, might I suggest RTR’s collection of Tanya Taylor and Kate Spade (grab a bag while you’re at it). If you’re going on a beachy vacation and want to look amazing in every photo, RTR’s got Ulla Johnson and Mara Hoffman. Sick of your work clothes? Try Vince and M.M.LaFleur on for size. Or maybe you just want to test out a pair of Agolde or Re/Done jeans that you’ve been hearing so much about. My point is: the selection is incredible and there are brands and styles for every imaginable use case. And because Rent the Runway buys designer styles en masse, you’re likely to find pieces that have sold out everywhere else. Perhaps you, like me, were burned when that gorgeous pale-pink J.Crew sweater blazer sold out on Nordstrom in a flash. It’s on Rent the Runway. Those leopard-print Levi’s that sites like Shopbop and Anthropologie have a hard time keeping in stock? You’ll still find them on Rent the Runway.
Is Rent the Runway Available for Men? What About Kids?
Surprisingly, Rent the Runway does not currently offer menswear, though I can’t help but think that that must be in the works. What dude hasn’t suffered the distress of renting a tux? Or rushed a wrinkly old suit to the cleaner a few days before a wedding? Offering stuff for guys (and not just suits and tuxes, but everyday items like coats and pants) is a no-brainer.
The company did launch RTR Kids this year (aww!), though really, it should be called RTR Girls because there are no options for boys. You can either book a one-off item (say an adorable Stella McCartney Kids puffer or a Crewcuts by J.Crew party dress) for the Reserve fee, or, if you have a membership, you can use one or more of your slots for a kid’s item.
Does Rent the Runway Have Maternity Clothes?
Yes! Women who want to go through their pregnancy without buying a ton of maternity clothes would do really well with a RTR membership. Simply give RTR your due date, and they’ll serve up styles and sizes for each stage of the pregnancy. While RTR has a huge inventory specifically for maternity, you can also rent anything that’s available in a size or two up from your usual.
What’s the Size Range?
Happily, it’s quite inclusive! Rent the Runway offers sizes 0 through 22.
When Is Your Rent the Runway Delivered?
Generally, orders placed before 1 p.m. are shipped that same day. Otherwise, they’ll ship out the next day. Remember, you can have deliveries sent anywhere in the U.S. Once I joined the RTR bandwagon, I started noticing RTR bags everywhere: in the lobbies of apartment buildings, at the UPS Point at my local pharmacy, in the mail room at my office, even at my hair salon in SoHo where a stylist had had hers delivered.
What Happens If You Tear or Stain the Clothes?
Amazingly, Rent the Runway subscriptions come with insurance, so if you accidentally rip or stain something (within reason, I suppose), you’re covered. For Reserve rentals, a $5 insurance fee covers minor damages. All rentals also include free dry cleaning, so you can drink red wine or eat an oily salad with some peace of mind, for once.
How Do You Send Things Back?
RTR will deliver shipments to your home, workplace, hotel, or vacation rental, but in order to return everything you have to pack it back up in the reusable garment bag, insert the free return label, and bring it to a UPS location. All shipping—deliveries and returns—are totally free. Once members’ orders are scanned back at the warehouse, new slots open up. Rent the Runway has drop-off boxes at certain WeWork locations, where you can scan in your items and new slots become available instantly.
How Do You Cancel Rent the Runway?
Rent the Runway memberships are month to month. You can test the service out for as many months as you’d like, and cancel any time. You’ll have to send back your items (sob) to close out the membership.
Finally: Is Rent the Runway Worth It?
Admittedly, Rent the Runway was having a rough go of it right as I was test-driving its service. That time in Chicago? Turns out, the company was in the midst of what Vox described as a “operations breakdown that resulted in tons of canceled orders and a customer service meltdown.” In a late September email to customers, the CEO described the issue as having started two weeks earlier. But I feel I must point out that my no-show delivery was in late August.
Thankfully, I stuck with RTR through those bumpy moments. Now that they’ve come out on the other side, I’ve finally had a taste of how good packing for a trip can be with Rent the Runway. I decided to pass on the monthly $159 for the moment (though I’m still missing the fun of that Fair Isle turtleneck), but, I hatched a plan one night shortly after my membership ended, when I was trying to pack for Barcelona and was in the throes of an “I have nothing to wear” meltdown. From now on, I’ll sign up for the Unlimited before every vacation and cancel when I’m home. I’ll probably do this every December, too, when my need for cute holiday outfits kicks into high gear.
So now, my travel prep is this: 1. book flight, 2. reactivate RTR membership. (Honestly, it’ll probably save me money—remember that $270 of Sicily clothes that I rarely wear?) My seat may be in coach, but my suitcase will be packed with killer vacation outfits starring Marni, Jason Wu, and DVF. And I’ll be rocking Celine sunglasses, of course.
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