Field Note No. 5: Taking Campus Visit Clothes Shopping from Pain to Pleasure​

Activities for 01/22/2019

I think we are FINALLY getting over all of the stomach bug grossness in our house that has plagued us for the last week…or at least I thought we had until 15 minutes after taking E. to school when I got a call from her teacher that she had gotten sick again!

Thus, I’m back at home with a now 1-year-old little one who is clingy, overly sensitive, and won’t let her mommy out of touching distance. As a result, today has been a day filled with emails and every other type of sedentary activity that isn’t easily impeded by E.’s watchful tutelage. 😂

In addition to powering through my email backlog and getting a handle on the Action Items that need accomplishing for the week, I tackled the one item that I had been loathing since receiving a campus visit invitation three weeks ago: deciding on my wardrobe for the three-day interviewing marathon that I have ahead of me in a MUCH colder climate. Well, I should say that I WAS loathing this activity until my doorbell rang, and I looked down to find a happy garment bag filled with four much-needed items for my trip to the Northwest. Yes, last week I finally joined the thousands of other women who have relied on Rent the Runway, or other access economy services, for the last eight and a half years to help them look their best for everything from special events to the grocery store run.

Analysis

I tend to identify as an Early Adopter of most things innovation or technology. That being said, joining a clothing rental service was one of those things that I was REALLY hesitant in crossing the chasm to do.

Adopting new ideas, services, or technologies can be both scary and rewarding.

But when I got a phone call New Year’s Eve that I had been invited to a much colder climate for a campus visit at the end of January, my logistics-minded brain began processing all of the implications of that visit (which included what to wear). Given that I’m living in Georgia, and thus have no real need for real winter gear, I started having a mini debate with myself about whether it was fiscally responsible to go out and buy a heavy coat, let alone a new outfit, for an interview that may or may not result in a job offer given A.’s job as a post-doc and E.’s school tuition. I know from anecdotal accounts and personal past experiences that it is easy to spend upwards of $300-$800 on clothes for a single interview day (let alone three)! This kind of expense is something that our budget just cannot accommodate these days. Enter Rent the Runway!

Rent the Runway is an online service that provides designer clothing and accessory rentals. Launched in 2009, this Netflix for clothing was created by two brilliant women (Harvard Business School grads, but I won’t hold that against them given my love of Stanford) who have not only become a disruptive force for innovation in this sector, but they are amazing leaders who do what is required to build and sustain a company that is lauded as one of New York’s best places to work. Moreover, by participating in services like Rent the Runway, you’re subscribing to a service that is inherently sustainable and contributes to a sharing economy that has the potential to reduce clothing waste.

When Rent the Runway (RTR) first launched, they offered 4- or 8-day rentals for approximately 10% of the retail price of an item. Moreover, they had reasonably limited sizes at first, catering to the type of woman who could quite literally wear things off of a runway. Thankfully, times have changed, and so has their business model and inventory. RTR now offers two tiers of membership with a vast assortment of clothing in sizes that can accommodate both my smallest friends and real-sized women like myself (who are supported even more by a HUGE online community of women who share their fit experiences, write reviews, and post photos):

  • RTR Update: $89/mo
  • RTR Unlimited: $159/mo
  • RTR Reserve: Item-specific rental prices for specific rental dates

RTR Update and Unlimited both offer free shipping, dry cleaning (yes, that is free laundry), and rental insurance. Moreover, subscribers have the option to buy their rental (if they love it) at a reduced price.

RTR Update

RTR Update is positioned as a way for you to “update your wardrobe.” For $89/mo (although they often offer a reduced rate for at least the first month of $69) Currently, RTR Update provides subscribers access to items from over 350 designers, which are available to become one of the four items subscribers are able to select for their shipment. If a size isn’t quite right, there is a 48-hour window for RTR Update users to request a size swap. are able to select four items and are given 48 hours to request a swap if the size isn’t right for a flat shipping fee.

RTR Unlimited

RTR Unlimited offers significantly more benefit for its substantially higher price tag of $159. Unlimited affords subscribers the ability to rent four items at a time from almost the entire closet holdings of the company: this includes MATERNITY. (I wish I had known about this service a year and a half ago when I was pregnant with E.) The only exceptions to Unlimited include, but are not limited to bridal and vintage accessories, any dresses with a retail price of $3000+, and items from a few select designers. All of these things, however, are available through RTR Reserve at a 25% discount.

The beauty of this plan is that you can swap at ANY TIME. If one of the items you have rented doesn’t fit or happens to not look as good in person, you can send it back at any time with free 2-day shipping and dry cleaning. Once the item has been processed–the only downside is that it could take up to four days for that to happen–RTR will send you another item from your list. Another plus for RTR Unlimited is that you can pause or cancel this particular subscription at any time. If you’re one of the lucky women who live near one of RTR’s five storefronts, (I, unfortunately, do not…) RTR Unlimited subscribers can even try on items before they rent them.

RTR Reserve

RTR Reserve is the newest feature of Rent the Runway that offers high quality rentals for special occasions and events. Much like their original offering, RTR Reserve renters are able to rent an item for 4- or 8- days with a free backup size and free returns.

Emerging Insights

Rent the Runway is AMAZING!!! First of all, I’m what I like to call a “real-sized” lady–especially after having E. When I first looked at RTR’s offerings before committing to an RTR Unlimited subscription, I was amazed at the fact that…

  1. There were more than just 5 items available in my size.
  2. Of the 50+ items available, 90% of them were REALLY charming.
  3. I struggled to limit myself down to four items for the first shipment to get me through my campus visit.

After finding a New Year’s promo code that gave me $80 off my first two months of subscribing to RTR Unlimited ($40 on month one and month two respectively), I decided to take the plunge. The one hiccup in the whole process has been that my shipment was initially misplaced–a story for another day, another time, and a few drinks with close friends who know the woes of neighbors in a college town. After placing my order on a Wednesday, Rent the Runway’s website said it was delivered on Thursday via UPS. When it had yet to arrive here by Friday, I gave my personal Concierge a call. You would think with the prospect of having lost almost $1,000+ in clothing that an interrogation would have commenced, but no. My new friend at RTR quickly checked their inventory and was able to secure three of my four items for shipment the next day. She then helped me pick out a replacement for the unavailable item and even offered to send me a fifth (yes, a fifth!) item just in case things weren’t cleared up by the time I needed it. She also guaranteed that they would get to me by Tuesday (today) for me to try on and feel comfortable before my Sunday departure. Let’s just say that my fear of having blown $159 on a clothing rental service was immediately erased by this one experience: I am now a RTR subscriber for life!

So this afternoon, I was happier than a kid on Christmas morning when both (yes, this includes the disappearing shipment) of my RTR shipments appeared on my doorstep this afternoon. The reality of the situation was upon me, and I finally was going to be able to see if a clothing rental service could be as good as social media and internet reviews described it to be.

At this point, I know you’re thinking, “Jacque, the items they sent you had to be smelly, gross, and like the clearance rack of a discount shop where you know they were returned after a season-and-a-half of wear.” You would be wrong. I am mad at myself right now for not creating a recording of my first unboxing–or rather, un-garment-bagging–but alas I did not. (Next time, I promise.) First of all, each four-item shipment was sent in a gorgeous garment bag that has the smartest little shipment label pouch on the outside. Utterly brilliant!

An image showing the order details including a red cape coat, a navy coat, a necklace, and a teal blazer.
My first Rent the Runway Unlimited order.

Everything was immaculately packaged, and I was especially surprised by the care taken with the necklace I ordered and the fact that the Draper James cape was brand new (I literally had to unpaper the buttons). While one of the items was too big–oh well for the beautiful blue coat, but hello super adorable black wool jacket–everything else fit fabulously. The only downside to this whole experience is that I now have to run to the UPS Store tomorrow to ship back the three extra items and one wrong size to RTR so that when I come back from my campus visit I can try something fun!

Another thing that I want to note is that Rent the Runway also has the amazing feature that allows its subscribers the ability to create lists for specific dates or events that they call “Hearts.” This feature is quite useful, as you’re only allowed four items in your cart at one time. It seems to be a great way to pre-shop a subscription.

A picture of two dresses and a blouse.
My Fun Hearts Shortlist on Rent the Runway.

In the end, I would HIGHLY recommend Rent the Runway Unlimited for the female academic on the job search. For $159, I was able to obtain interview-appropriate clothing for my trip and didn’t have to purchase a coat that would rarely get used here in Georgia. I anticipate using this service going forward, as it is a great way to have a line-item in the budget for new clothes that gives me the ability “to go shopping” when I want, is flexible to events that arise in my schedule, and at the same time doesn’t further clutter up my closet that already needs un-cluttering. Now commence the Marie Kondo marathon! If you find yourself wanting to try Rent the Runway for yourself, click here to get $30 off your first month (unless you’ve seen a better promo, and if you have HOORAY for you!).

P.S…Rent the Runway, you should really consider opening a store in Atlanta to help all of us fashion-forward academic and entertainment professionals look our best. 😉

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