Wedding season is upon us and if you’ve received an invite, you’ll no doubt be having the usual thoughts of what to wear. But the outfits we buy for special occasions often end up hanging in our wardrobes gathering dust and becoming unfashionable.
A 2019 survey, which was commissioned by UK children’s charity Barnado’s, revealed that 10 million wedding outfits would be bought that year with the expectation that they will be worn just once. This can be costly. In the same survey, Britons reported spending an average of almost £80 on a wedding outfit.
But it’s not just the strain on our finances that can really start to mount up. As an industry, fashion has a huge environmental cost. The carbon footprint of a polyester shirt, for example, is equivalent to 5.5kg of CO₂ on average, while that of a dress and a pair of leather shoes is 22kg and 15kg respectively.
This article is part of Quarter Life, a series about issues affecting those of us in our twenties and thirties. From the challenges of beginning a career and taking care of our mental health, to the excitement of starting a family, adopting a pet or just making friends as an adult. The articles in this series explore the questions and bring answers as we navigate this turbulent period of life.
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Maybe instead of buying something new, you might consider something borrowed this wedding season.
Rental fashion is becoming a big business. Fashion rental companies such as My Wardrobe HQ and Hurr in the UK and Rent the Runway in the US already allow customers to rent and return outfits. The global rental clothing market is expected to reach a value of £7.5 billion by 2026.
So, here are five reasons why you might consider renting your outfit for this year’s weddings.
1. Reduce your environmental footprint
Across the world, people are buying more clothes. But the number of times we wear each item is falling. This is clearly an issue. The materials, manufacturing, transportation, use and disposal of our clothes all carry an environmental cost. Every second, the equivalent of a rubbish truck full of clothes is either buried in landfill or burnt.
Renting an outfit instead means it can be worn many times by different people, rather than by one person just once or twice. A dress rented from Rent the Runway, for example, goes out to customers 30 times on average before being sold.
But it’s worth considering that rental clothing has several hidden environmental costs too. Every time a rental garment is returned, it will likely be dry cleaned. The process of dry cleaning is energy intensive and the chemical solvents used can contaminate soil and water sources.
Rented clothing must also be transported to and from your home and will come in packaging. This raises further concerns about its true environmental impact.
Despite this, research has found that rental clothing is still the greener option for formal wear (like the maxi dress you might wear to a wedding). When rented, the number of times these clothes are worn increases by so much that the greenhouse gas emissions associated with each wear is greatly reduced.
Some rental clothing services are also taking steps to improve the circularity of their operations by using reusable packaging.
2. Save money
It’s not just lowering your environmental footprint that might appeal to you. By renting you can access a range of outfits that ordinarily you may be priced out of buying outright.
Occasion wear can be pricey, so renting is a great option if you are on a budget. At UK department store John Lewis, for example, a dress that would cost £95 to buy can be rented for as little as £19. You can’t keep it, but if it was just going to gather dust in your wardrobe after being worn then renting the outfit may save you money that can be spent elsewhere.
3. Mix it up
If you have a lot of events this season, the social pressure of not wanting to wear the same thing again and again can mount up. In the aforementioned survey, one-quarter of Britons reported that they would feel embarrassed wearing an outfit to a special occasion more than once.
For these people, renting is one way of wearing different outfits without having to buy each one.
4. Try something ‘new’
We are all becoming increasingly aware of the environmental impact of our clothing habits. But boredom with our clothes can still seep in. So, for those who love fashion and find it hard to resist the desire to buy something new, renting can still give you that thrill of opening the box and seeing a new outfit. And better still, this thrill isn’t accompanied with the guilt of then barely ever wearing the item once it has been unboxed.
5. Free up wardrobe space
It’s all too common to have that section in your wardrobe for formal clothing that, apart from a couple of weddings and maybe a Christmas party, barely sees the light of day. When you rent clothes, you don’t have the hassle of washing and ironing the worn clothes. And by sending them back, you can save some precious wardrobe space.
Renting your outfits this wedding season – and beyond – may not be enough to cut the clothing industry’s staggering environmental footprint completely. If eco-choices are top on your agenda, then consider embracing what you already have in your wardrobe (make alterations or repairs if you have to), buying secondhand or borrowing from friends and family.
But renting your outfits does have some great personal benefits. And if you’re the sort of person who will always buy something new (and perhaps not wear it again), then renting something special this season might be a good idea.