Clothing subscriptions not only free up closet space, but they’re also a fixed cost in your budget. This means your bank account is no longer in jeopardy when it comes to changing seasons, last-minute events, and moments of weakness.
Throughout my early twenties, I was the definition of a clothes horse: I’d only get rid of something because I thought it had bad juju or it was worn beyond repair. (The Vince Camuto heels I splurged on for what turned out to be a terrible New Year’s Eve? Donated the next day. My favorite flats with the holes in the soles? Only disposed of because a cobbler deemed them unsalvageable.) At my worst, I had two clothing racks, two dressers, and a closet filled with duds I’d worn maybe twice. Any self-imposed spending restrictions were out the door as soon as there was a birthday to celebrate or a breakup to mourn.
I kept telling myself that one day I’d be able to afford my habit, and the space to contain it. But I finally put my dream closet to rest when my fiancé and I bought our first home last year. Even after expanding the master bedroom’s solitary closet into a walk-in space, the low ceilings and mortgage meant I had to change my clothes-hoarding ways. Permanently.
After some purging and online research, I decided to transition to a capsule wardrobe and enroll in a clothing subscription service that would make budgeting for work, events, vacations, and the inevitable sartorial whim simpler. I decided to give two a shot in hopes one would keep my closet (and clothing budget) in check.
Le Tote? Non Merci
MONEY SCORE: GOOD
I started with the more affordable option: Le Tote. The service’s first tier ($59 a month) includes unlimited “totes” with three garments and two accessories—but since I’m not big on jewelry, I opted for the next level, which features four pieces of clothing for $69. After a short style quiz and a tour through my virtual closet, I decided to let the team curate my order instead of picking the pieces myself. To be honest, I wasn’t enthused by the options presented online—and I wound up underwhelmed by their selections, too.
STYLE SCORE: NEEDS IMPROVEMENT
Since I’d geared my profile toward workwear, I received a BCBGeneration fitted blazer, a Catherine by Catherine Malandrino button-down, a sheath dress, and a pencil skirt (the latter two from unfamiliar brands). The pieces were decent quality and objectively stylish, but they weren’t anything close to my personal tastes. I sent the box back and chose my own pieces: a Catherine by Catherine Malandrino bomber, vegan leather Free People leggings, and two sweaters from random labels.
The leggings were a gamble; there weren’t any fit notes on the product pages (only member-generated photos), which made it difficult to quickly select the correct size and move on. And they wound up being too small, and one of the sweaters too scratchy. After wearing the bomber with the other knit, I returned all four pieces and cancelled the subscription before I could get billed for the next month.
CONSCIOUSNESS SCORE: NEEDS IMPROVEMENT
Besides getting my closet and budget under control, I was also hoping a clothing subscription would help me adopt more eco-conscious shopping habits. Shipping is an issue all on its own, but there are ways to minimize overall waste—and that’s where Le Tote fails. It relies on cardboard boxes and prepaid envelopes rather than using some sort of reusable container to ship and return orders.
Unlimited Means Outfit Changes
MONEY SCORE: GOOD
I’d used Rent the Runway before, and was torn on its merits.–but the Unlimited option is game changing. You can rent up to four pieces at once as many times as you want for $159 each month. Unlike the original Rent the Runway, orders don’t have to be returned within a specific time frame. You’re also free to hold onto something for a day, a week, or even a month, and exchange the others as you please. If you love a piece so much that you can’t bear to part with it, the membership includes an exclusive discount that allows you to purchase it for significantly less than the retail value.
The subscription is certainly pricey, but I was sold as soon as I received my first order. For one thing, I realized I no longer have to worry about dropping $268 on that ivory Reformation dress I’ll only ever wear to my rehearsal dinner. Instead, I’ll be able to choose four pieces to cycle throughout my entire wedding weekend—while saving over $100. (And then I can switch them out just in time for the honeymoon.)
STYLE SCORE: GOOD
The selection is far more extensive than Le Tote; there’s outerwear, casual pieces, cocktail dresses, formal gowns, and accessories, all of which is included in one price. The brand list is far more desirable for fashion mavens, too: think See by Chloé, Elizabeth and James, Joie, Derek Lam, Diane von Furstenberg, and more.
I had trouble narrowing my selection down to four pieces. I finally chose a J.O.A. denim biker jacket, a Raga sweater coat, a pair of Halston Heritage pants, and a maxi shirt dress by Hutch… and wound up loving every piece. The dress was a bit long and the pants a tad short, but I received a ton of compliments on the jacket and sweater.
The fit notes are a major plus, too. Most products have detailed feedback from stylists and members, making it simple to nav the selection—and pick something that looks and feels good. I’m not ready to pledge my undying allegiance to Rent the Runway Unlimited; it’s certainly not a forever fix. But for now, I see it as a foolproof way of preventing unexpected costs in at least one of my budget categories—without cramping my personal style.
CONSCIOUSNESS SCORE: GOOD
Every order arrives in a reusable garment bag that’s sturdy enough to protect your Badgley Mischka gown on its journey to (and from) your home. When you’re ready to exchange, simply return the garments to the bag, insert a prepaid shipping label into the exterior pocket, and voila. You can even return the plastic dry cleaning bag each piece comes in; they’ll handle the recycling for you.