FAST-fashion addict Nicola Fahey, 35, from London, tried hiring outfits for party season instead of buying new.
But was she persuaded to change her shopping habits for good?
Nicola says: Pre-pandemic, my shopping habits would have landed me in hot water with the green police. A repeat offender of one-time wears, I was spending around £250 a month on outfits for work events or special occasions – a terrifying waste of money and materials.
Then, during lockdown, with my social life on hold and pregnant with my first daughter Isla, now one, I got to thinking about the impact I was having on the environment. Our love of fast-fashion contributes to a whopping 206,000 tonnes of textile waste emptied into UK landfill each year, which made me feel very guilty.
Post-lockdown, the UK fashion rental market has boomed and is predicted to be worth £2.3billion by 2029. So, with party season kicking off, I decided to follow in the footsteps of the PM’s wife, Carrie Johnson, who famously hired her £2,870 Christos Costarellos wedding dress for just £45.
For most hire sites, there’s usually no deposit needed – you just pay the rental fee plus a shipping cost (around £3-£6), and the site provides free returns and covers dry cleaning after every wear. If an item is damaged, any repair work is charged accordingly, and you’ll only have to foot the total price of the item if it’s damaged beyond repair, lost or stolen.
After spending lockdown wearing ugly maternity bras and sick-stained joggers, I knew this experiment would be a great chance to rediscover my identity post-pregnancy, as well as finding out whether borrowed clothes can really compete with buying new.
From friends’ birthdays to work dos, I had a social diary of occasions calling out for new outfits. Would I finally be convinced to change my fast-fashion ways?
Look 1: Wedding reception
Rental fee: £91 (four-day minimum)
Rental site: Hurrcollective.com
After Covid cancelled the majority of weddings in 2020, this year has turned out to be a flurry of events. I said “I do” to this ruffled showstopper for my friend Joanna’s wedding party, though I was a little worried about getting baby sick on it, so my partner Jack held Isla for most of the evening. I was careful that nobody came near me with a cigarette, and was even more worried about spilling my dinner – choosing fish and clear drinks over the steak and my normal red wine.
However, despite the stress, it was worth it for the lovely compliments from people, especially from Jack, who told me he could see I was getting my confidence back again. According to Hurr, by renting rather than buying something new, I’d saved the CO2 equivalent of 11 trees from being cut down and 1,713 miles in a car. This helped to ease the pain of posting back this dress of dreams the next day.
Look 2: Best friend’s engagement dinner
Designer: David Koma
Rental fee: £88 (four-day minimum)
Rental site: Mywardrobehq.com
To celebrate my best pal Tas getting engaged, I wanted to feel sexy and sophisticated, like a mother who’s got her s**t together. This jumpsuit – from London-based designer David Koma, who’s dressed A-listers including Beyoncé – made me feel like a total power player.
Splurging over a grand on an outfit would never be an option for me, so renting it allowed me to wear something that made me feel great for a relative steal. And as it’s black, I wasn’t worried about spillages. Who says you can’t buy body confidence?
Look 3: Movie premiere
Rental fee: £34 (four-day minimum)
Rental site: Mywardrobehq.com
Standing on the red carpet in this Gucci suit – from the rental home of Carrie Johnson’s wedding dress and the amazing Jenny Packham gown that Kate Middleton wore to the No Time To Die premiere – a stranger asked if I was in the movie!
I’ve never been mistaken for a celebrity before, and as an entertainment journalist I’m usually the unglamorous one huddled in a press pen trying to get quotes from the stars. However, my faux celeb status was short-lived when the ankle strap of my £20 heels fell apart and I had to hobble down the carpet with one bare foot…
Look 4: Mini-break at Soho farmhouse
Rental fee: £29 (four-day minimum)
Rental site: Hirestreetuk.com
I loved how this red asymmetrical dress clung to me in all the right places. While more high street than high-end, featuring brands such as Zara and French Connection, what I love most about Hirestreetuk.com is its inclusive sizing on offer, ranging up to a UK size 24.
Many of the designer pieces on other rental sites are only available in sizes 6-10 and for people of model height. I’m 5ft 5in and a size 10, and during this experiment I had to send several pieces straight back because they were too long. Luckily, most of the hire sites offer a refund, exchange or rental credit minus shipping for items that don’t fit, if returned within 24 hours and with tags intact.
Look 5: London Press Club Ball
Rental fee: £51 (four-day minimum)
Rental site: Hurrcollective.com
I urge everyone to have their Kate-Middleton-in-the-gold-dress moment. I had mine in this gorge Ilta gown, which I wore to a journalism industry ball and had people stopping me to tell me how much they loved it. I was so nervous about this dress fitting for such an important occasion that I ordered two rentals.
The other, a Nadine Merabi dress from Byrotation.com, was loaned to me by Made In Chelsea star Francesca Newman-Young. She’s one of a number of stars who are sharing their wardrobes via hire sites, including Lady Amelia Windsor and Stacey Dooley, who both donate profits to charity. Fran’s dress was stunning, but just a bit too big around the bust to make the cut for the ball.
Look 6: Girls’ reunion
Designer: Giuseppe Di Morabito
Rental fee: £11 (Two-day minimum)
Rental site: Byrotation.com
I’ve always been scared of sequins – how much is too much and where’s the line between tasteful and tacky? But I have been trying them more in this experiment and decided to really get the big guns out with this green mini-dress for an annual get-together with the girls.
It’s something I’d never buy outright, so I felt a bit self-conscious walking into the venue, but after a couple of proseccos I was at the centre of the dance floor, owning my sparkle. If you’re going to rent a high-end dress, you want it to be head-turning. And this was the biggest bargain of the bunch at just £22.
Very few high-street buys have felt as luxe as these designer rentals, and none have drawn anywhere near as much attention. I’ve never worn outfits that have stood out as much as these, and they really do make you feel amazing.
The biggest stress for me was worrying about damaging the items, though you can buy damage protection cover on most sites for around £5. But with each costing more than an average high-street dress, this could turn out to be a very expensive habit.
Instead, I’m vowing to stop my fast-fashion habit and rewear the clothes I already have, then splurge on a rental dress for special occasions when I need a showstopper – safe in the knowledge that I’m doing my bit for the planet.
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