I was recently confronted by the idea that “I don’t own all of my clothes.”
Let me clarify: someone I’ve never met happened upon my Instagram account, and came to the conclusion that there was “no way” I could own all of the clothing depicted in my photos. This person was convinced that I either a) bought clothes, kept tags on, took picture, returned or b) rented.
I’m sorry to admit that neither is the case. I really am this shameless and insatiable a consumer. I once fell into Kris Jenner’s daughter-pimping money-sucking vortex (lol sry Rob). I buy legitimate clothing and accessories for my tiny, awesome dog. I need another pair of shoes like I need a hole in the head, and then I also need a hole in the head where shoe-buying decisions are made.
I should explain that my consumerist tendencies derive from a kind of aesthetic hedonism, as well as my belief in nonproductive expenditure as a necessary part of existing in this particular universe (thank you, Professor Kaiser and Bataille, for formally introducing me to my own insane spirituality). I give precisely zero fucks about status or trends or which Hansel is so hot right now. “Practicality” is equally as irrelevant. I just really, really take pleasure in looking at, holding, wearing, and living in things – even if they aren’t exactly meant to be lived in, or don’t count as actual clothes in the first place. If the law says we can’t be naked in line at Starbucks then, by George, I’m going to at least try to enjoy abiding by it (but actually, fuck the poh-leece I’M JAYWALKING MOTHERFUCKERS).
And consumption isn’t limited to material goods. I am, after all, unashamedly Gen-Y, happy to spend on skydiving, wine safaris, and getaways. I’d like the roses and the diamonds too, fanks.
ANYWAY. This notion that I would “rent” or “return” my clothing raises a couple of interesting points. Firstly, we can all agree that social media has been disrupting our ideas of fashion and style in many ways. It used to be that only models were worthy, but now anyone can post their #OotD and broadcast it to the universe. And if enough users see it and like what they see, these people become influential stylists (usually based on what they wear to every fucking music festival ever).
And of course, social styling is tipping the scale when it comes to people thinking they need to buy new clothes – as if the rules weren’t enough. As Rent The Runway founder Jennifer Hyman says, “Now you can’t repeat outfits because your friends have seen that outfit on social media.” You can’t show up looking like your last Insta photo because people will judge you – but most women can’t afford to buy new outfits for every occasion. That’s pretty much the premise of her company: fashion is a “rotten investment,” so why not create “catch-and-release” couture?
Now I’ve never used RTR, but I’m pretty appalled by the idea of bringing the sharing economy to fashion in this particular way. I can sort of, kind of, distantly appreciate what the company is attempting to do in addressing the “needs” of countless women across the country, but unfortunately I think it makes personal styling an empty, meaningless experience that really is all about money in the end. Even worse – money without luxury. You “get” to wear a dress that “costs $6,000” for “just $450 instead.” For $450, I’d rather buy something that WON’T make me throw up if I shine a blacklight on it.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t ever remember putting on a Marc Jacobs dress and singing like Maria in the fucking hills because HOLY SHIT it cost $2,000 MSRP.
Did I mention their philosophy is “Everyone deserves a Cinderella moment!”? Who needs feminism when you can be Cinderella, the enslaved orphan-girl who was apparently highly exposed to carcinogens before she got to wear a gown and GLASS heels with a pumpkin carriage and horse mice and oh no honey, you’re tripping balls.
In addition to the ew factor of sharing a dress with someone who may or may not have herpes, what we wear is a deeply personal, intimate experience. It’s a choice you make every day that psychology would probably argue is eventually responsible for waging world wars and finding the cure for cancer. Even if clothing isn’t particularly important to you or you claim to “hate” fashion, I’ll bet you a million galleons you’re not out there wagging your pickle at coeds, so HA you made the choice and the world gets to judge you eternally for it.
Perhaps there’s a way for RTR to move past the status of rent-a-swag and instead elevate the user experience by cultivating a true community of fashion lovers around their brand. First things first, if the reviews are anything to go by, the company will need to address its customer service practices and product quality issues. But beyond that, RTR should be leveraging its presence on social media to develop an experience for their users that extends beyond returning their rentals. #renttherunway has been used in less than 10,000 photos on Instagram, for instance, whereas #blackmilkclothing tallies in at over 311,000 photos (both companies were established the same year).
Social isn’t just for broadcasting, self-promotion, and handling customer service issues. It’s for deepening your connection with customers and turning them into fans.
I’m not saying that buying brand new clothes is the only option for expanding your wardrobe. I’m a big fan of curated upcycling, for instance – Wasteland wins at this. I’m also not saying the sharing economy can’t work for fashion – I just don’t think the answer is renting out dresses ’til they fall apart. I’m constantly astounded by the Black Milk Clothing BSS group, which, if you’re not familiar, is a global community-run-and-driven network of thousands of people who love nylon. I’ve also been experimenting with Depop and Poshmark, which are both promising and yet somewhat terrifying, and probably warrant their own post at a later date.
Ultimately, I think that if there’s a future for fashion that utilizes a sharing economy, it should first and foremost strive to create a meaningful, enjoyable, and connected experience.