Rented Chic

This week Serah-Marie forwarded me a press release from a company called Cakewalk Designer Dress Rentals. It’s a simple concept: the company offers Canadian women the chance to rent “the latest designer duds” at a “serious fraction of the cost.”

Aside from the ill-considered use of the word “dud,” it almost seems like a good idea. It makes elitist fashion accessible and, as the PR points out, it “greens” fashion by recycling a garment that might otherwise be worn only once or twice. Sounds great, right? So why does this leave a bad taste in my mouth?

When I was in high school, most of the kids in my classes wore Ralph Lauren and Bass Weejuns. Our family couldn’t afford that stuff. I remember feeling like a country bumpkin in my cheap, blue-white Bi-Way shirts. When mom and I went to the Salvation Army, I would scan the racks for secondhand Polo and LaCoste. (To this day I can spot a Ralph Lauren button-down Oxford by only a square inch of fabric on the shoulder.) I quickly learned which eras mirrored others and how to approximate styles. In my painfully insecure teenage years I learned to fit in without being rich.

After high school, I realized my skills could help me “make” runway looks, too. I learned to mix and alter, and to skew a season’s lines to suit my body type and liking. I could spot the quality garments on secondhand racks. My tastes matured and my personal style evolved. I stopped trying to fit in and started having fun. When it came to fashion, all that scrounging had cultivated my imagination. I didn’t have the option to rent a designer dress – and I didn’t need to.

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