As the pandemic sparks a surge in rental fashion, Olivia Petter examines the benefits of renting bridal wear
According to the age-old “something old, something new” rhyme, it’s normal for brides to wear “something borrowed” on their wedding day. A piece of jewellery, perhaps. The veil, maybe… or even a clutch. But until recently this would not likely be the dress. Despite the fact it’ll usually only be worn once, the wedding dress is often the aspect of the day that costs the most, requires the most effort to choose and is typically bespoke to the bride’s measurements.
But in recent years, as concerns around the sustainability of fashion abound, many environmentally conscious brides are opting for an entirely new way of thinking. Introducing rental bridal wear, an alternative that offers people the chance to wear designer items on their wedding day for just a fraction of the price. The only catch is that you have to return it afterwards. It’s a trend that has been steadily rising in recent years as rental fashion continues to become more mainstream – the global online clothing rental market is expected to grow by $990m (£698m) over the next four years.
The financial benefits are obvious when you consider that the average bride spends £1,321 on their wedding dress, according to wedding planning website, Hitched. Renting can save brides hundreds of pounds, offering them the chance to spend more of their budget elsewhere, such as on food or the venue.
As for environmentalism, it’s a no-brainer when you consider that UK adults reportedly only wear 44 per cent of the clothing they own, while around 350,000 tons of clothes go to landfill every year in the UK. Meanwhile, studies have found that rental fashion can hugely lower the carbon footprint of your clothes, with the most significant benefits being achieved with formal garments (such as wedding outfits), which are worn less frequently than casual items.
The latest bride to tap into the growing rental bridalwear market is the prime minister’s wife. On Saturday 29 May, Carrie Symonds married Boris Johnson at Westminster Cathedral in a secretly planned ceremony with just 30 guests in attendance in line with Covid restrictions. The bride wore an ivory tulle and silk gown by Greek designer Christos Costarellos. The dress retails at £2,870; but Ms Symonds rented it for just £45.
Today, there are countless rental fashion websites, and they are increasingly becoming more sought-after among brides-to-be. Take Hurr Collective, the rental site that recently partnered with Selfridges to allow shoppers to try on prospective items before renting them. The website’s bridal edit includes gowns from high-end brands such as The Vampire’s Wife and Mother of Pearl, alongside accessories, shoes, and handbags. Items in this selection have surged in popularity among users in the last year, with CEO Victoria Prew telling The Independent that the site has seen a 268 per cent spike in bridal rentals in the 48 hours since Symonds’ wedding to our prime minister alone.
“Demand is at an all-time high right now,” says Prew, noting how the pandemic has put greater financial strains on brides-to-be more than ever before. “The idea of paying just £150 to wear a dress worth £2,000 is always appealing, but particularly now. And shoppers are proud of doing that too. Very few people are going to wear their wedding dress more than once, so renting one makes perfect sense.”
Demand has been just as high over at By Rotation, a peer-to-peer fashion rental app that has reported an 850 per cent increase in searches for bridal and wedding wear since March 2020. Its bridalwear edit includes pieces from Stella McCartney and Jacquemus.
Elise Santagelino, 32, got married during the second lockdown last year after her planned wedding in Italy was cancelled due to the pandemic. She rented a Cecilie Bahnsen dress from By Rotation for her micro-wedding of 30 guests.
“I came across this dress just three weeks before the wedding day,” says Santagelino. “It’s such a brilliant idea to be able to rent something so special that can go on to be worn many more times beyond a single day.”
There are benefits, too, to being the person renting their own wedding dress out to others, which allows you to earn back some of the money you spent on purchasing the garment. “My wedding dress is just sitting in the back of my wardrobe,” says Hanna Dilley, 38, who wore a £4,000 Jenny Packham gown for her wedding in 2015. “I’ve kept the dress and thought I’d love to re-wear it for a special occasion but nothing has come up. Seeing all of the hype around Carrie Symonds’ dress has made me want to rent mine out. I’d love to be able to give other people the opportunity to wear their dream dress.”
“Over the past couple of years we have seen sustained interest in rental wedding dresses amongst our brides, with more and more wedding dress hire services popping up across the UK, offering brides a range of beautiful dresses by high-end designers for their big day,” says Sarah Allard, editor of wedding planning website, Hitched. “Financial and environmental benefits aside, it’s also a much speedier way of finding a wedding dress, with many options available within weeks or even on the same day.”
It makes sense that rental bridal wear has been a rising trend during the pandemic. Non-essential shops have been closed for most of the last year, thus robbing brides of a key real-life experience when it comes to preparing for their big days. “That is all part of the joy of purchasing a wedding dress,” says Robin Weil, founder and CEO of WeddingPlanner.co.uk. “The pandemic has taken away some of the excitement of buying a wedding dress as there have been restrictions on fittings in front of friends and family alongside a glass of bubbly.” Renting a dress online, therefore, suddenly became a similar experience to buying one.
There are, of course, some who will maintain a degree of skepticism when it comes to renting a wedding dress. One concern is that some dresses aren’t robust enough to be loaned between brides – perhaps the hemlines will become scuffed, or threads may loosen. This is why rental websites tend to be very selective about the items they promote to brides. Hurr, for example, doesn’t include white satin or white silk pieces in its bridal edits, nor does it include floor-length gowns. “Renting bridalwear needs to be strategic,” says Prew. “There are certain materials and styles that rent best, but not all wedding dresses will last time and time again. So we only offer long-lasting, well-made, pieces.”
Then there is the emotional element to consider; if your wedding dress doesn’t belong to you, can it still have sentimental value? Prew explains that modern brides haven’t lost sight of sentiment when it comes to their weddings, it’s just that there might be other things that have become more meaningful to them aside from their outfit. “People are just questioning traditions and shifting how they spend their money,” she explains. “Brides will still want to invest in a number of sentimental items for their wedding, but instead of their dress, it might be a piece of jewellery or a pair of Manolo Blahnik sandals.”
However you choose to spend your money, there’s no doubting the fact that rental wedding dresses are on the rise, and if trend forecasting proves accurate, it may soon become the norm as opposed to the exception. “While brides all have their own personal reasons for renting their wedding dress, I think this is a trend we will see continue to grow amongst brides of all ages,” says Allard. “Rental wedding dresses are ideal for any savvy bride who spends smartly, always looks stylish and stays worry-free without compromising on quality or design. Most wedding dress rental companies cover the same sizes that a normal boutique would, so there will be something out there for everyone.”