Would You Bother To Rent Designer Clothes?

Fashion is a mean and fickle industry: You spend one million space bucks on some really fancy designer item, only to be told that it’s “so last season.” That’s where businesses like Rent the Runway come in: They allow you to rent in-season designer garments for the night, or the week or the month so that you can have the look and pay the rent. If that sort of thing is important to you. New statistics from Rent the Runway have just been released, and it turns out that the company’s chief consumers aren’t fashion-happy galleristas and shop girls in New York or Los Angeles, but sorority girls at southern universities. Says a recent Wall Street Journal report on them:

College campuses—and even a few elite prep schools—make up roughly 25 percent of the company’s business and are a big source of its growth. “It starts out with prom and moves on to graduation,” says chief executive Jennifer Hyman, explaining how girls transition into loyal customers as they try out Alice & Olivia, D&G, Missoni, Diane von Furstenberg, Trina Turk and other designers—often for the first time.

And that got me thinking — when did your brand consciousness begin? I can remember when I moved from a small town in Ohio (Madison — where my Lake Erie homies at?) to Fort Worth, Texas. Fort Worth was a bigger, more monied, cosmopolitan city. Suddenly, the clothes I’d worn in fourth grade — purchased at JC Penney with my mom, were no longer good enough. I needed to be shopping at The Limited Kids and Macy’s. I distinctly felt the sting of not fitting in. And likewise, was overjoyed when one day, my mom and I wandered into The Limited and half the store was on sale; my mom let me buy whatever I wanted. Nevermind that three weeks later we moved away — to New Jersey–I distinctly remember the overwhelming peace I felt at finally fitting in.

So, cut back to sorority girls blowing their student loans on renting designer gowns. It’s hardly surprising that girls would feel pressure to out-do themselves and each other in designer clothes. Take Tiffany Chao, a student at UCLA:

Ms. Chao and 21-year-old communications major Melissa Deni say they feel compelled to dress well. “I think there’s pressure. You want to stand out and be noticed,” Ms. Deni said recently at a campus coffee shop.

Ms. Chao nodded. “Because of Facebook, you don’t want to have the same picture of you in the same dress.”

So now we’ve come full circle: Fashion isn’t about fitting in — it’s about standing out. Or is it? [WSJ]